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The colour purple

A blog about adventure, delight, riches, Sea Snails and God

In the book (and film of the same name) we witness a lifelong conversation between Celie, the main protagonist of the story, and God. It weaves a story of friendship and sisterhood through the poverty faced by poor black women in America’s south.

The title comes from a discourse between Celie and Shug Avery. While Celie has a very sheltered life, Shug is from the city; she has a car, owns her own home and is very fashionable.

Shug asks Celie if she ever takes time to notice the little things that God does for us, to show us he loves us. “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” Shug adds.

The colour purple has always been significant occuring 48 times in the Bible. It is often used to denote royalty and majesty, prosperity and luxury. Indeed if you follow the plans for Solomon’s temple it was a integral part used in the curtains and the carpets as well as in the garments worn by the priests.

In the New Testament Paul finds Himself at the house of Lydia, a sellers of purple dyes, according to the Bible, Lydia and her household listening to Paul preach, become Christians. Her home made prosperous through purple becomes a place for people to gather to hear and spread the gospel.

Lydia was a first. The first Christian convert in Europe. But, there is an interesting thing about the colour purple: it enabled a number of firsts to happen. To understand this we need to find out a bit more about the Sea Snails.

Hexaplex Trunculus is a medium sized Sea Snail, it is quite ordinary in many ways, a bit of a predator which hunts in groups it does however have one remarkable and highly profitable trait. In order to sedate it’s pray it secretes a purple dye. The dye is highly prized and used by people like Lydia to make top end garments.

Now, the reason the dye is so costly is it takes an awful lot of snails to get just a little amount of dye. So it was not long before the supply of Snails ran short in the Mediterranean. There was a supply and demand problem. What I think is interesting here is how a demand for something as frivolous as a purple dye led to one of the greatest expansions in exploration the world has ever known and the unlocking of the trade routes down the North Africa coast of the Atlantic.

There is sometimes a trait among Christians to focus on the more dour elements of our faith, of sacrifice and denial. I get that there has to be space for this, I recently wrote a blog on the power of the lament.

But there has to be room for the more fanciful, for delight, for whimsy for wonder. After all we serve a fantastic wonderful God. A majestic God that not only created the colour purple but delights in his creation.

Perhaps facing my own mortality recently has brought me into a fresh appreciation of the wonders of serving a techno colour God. It is a shame sometimes when we hid our faith behind grey and beige.

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