Signs Of The Times: 7 - The Mottled Moth

Could you make it out, there on the carpet? If you’ve no idea what I’m on about, go back in the archives to Tuesday the fourth of July, to “Signs Of The Times: 6 - A Puzzling Picture”. Can you see it, now that I’ve given you a clue?

It was Saturday night, and I was about to go upstairs. Then, in the kitchen, on the window, in the semi-darkness, I saw it: a ghostly visitor. It was just a pale shape, lit only by the lamplight from the back street. My camera was on the kitchen table, so I tried to get a picture - but the double glazing defeated the autofocus. You can see what I mean below. I was tired; I gave up and went to bed.


In the morning, as I went towards the kettle, something fluttered from the window, out into the middle of the room: the moth! It must have been on the inside of the pane on the previous night, not out in the cold as I’d imagined.

I watched it fly round and down towards the carpet, and then - it disappeared! I blinked. No, there it was: gone! Now there are no chronosynclastic infundibula in my kitchen, I’ve checked, so it was still there somewhere, and somewhere on the carpet. I stood and looked. I walked around slowly, watching where I was putting my feet. I knelt and looked along the carpet. I walked around again, and - ah! There it was! Or was it? Bits of the moth seemed to be missing, as though it was a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I got down on my hands and knees. This is what I saw.


A couple of lines from Laurie Lee’s “My Many-Coated Man” came into my mind.

The mottled moth, pinned to a tree,

Woos with his wings the bark’s disease…

You get the idea: natural camouflage. But how had this particular moth managed to align its markings so precisely with the pattern on the carpet? A coincidence, perhaps? I think not. I left it where it was; half an hour later, it was gone. I searched again. It was only a few feet away. Spot on again, literally as well as metaphorically. I took another picture.


Well, what of it? Turn with me once more to Ritchie’s “500 Gospel Sermon Outlines”, first published in 1910. We’ve been considering his introduction to that slim volume, and how it points up the contrast between what was expected of believers in that bygone age, especially of “all those who go forth in the service of the Lord”, and what we see in the so-called Christian world today.

Here’s a short passage from page thirteen of his foreword.


If you’re about to skip over this section, because of the old-fashioned language, or because you don’t agree with his ideas, or because you’d prefer something rather more interesting and entertaining - don’t do it. Read it slowly, especially the last few lines.

Preach Christ: exalt the Lamb of God, sound forth the fullness and freeness of Christ’s salvation, the certainty of it to all who believe; the blood of Christ to cleanse, the power of Christ to deliver and to keep, with the eternal doom of all who despise or neglect it. Break up the fallow ground, plough deep, assail the conscience, bring your hearers face to face with God. Sin must be exposed, the sinner brought to see himself, own his guilt, justify God, and condemn himself, before he will either heed, hear or believe the Gospel. False profession, light work, and Christless Christianity, are largely due to the lack of the preaching that produces conviction, arouses the devil, and delivers sinners from his grasp. Depend upon it, if Satan’s kingdom is in danger, he will roar, raise opposition, and vent his rage on the preacher and the converts. He did so to Christ and His apostles. He has continued the same in one form or another all along the line of battle. If you are personally assailed, leave your defence in the hands of God, and go on. He will guard your character.

I dare say some of his readers didn’t like the sound of that last section, any more than most contemporary Christians would. “Do we have to live like that?” they might have thought. “In the front line, under fire all the time? There must be an easier, oops, I mean, a better way! Let’s see if we can find one. 1 Corinthians 9.19? Hmm. To the Jews I became as a Jew … I became as one under the law … outside the law … to the weak I became weak Ah! … I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. Time to regroup,  to rethink, time to reposition ourselves, especially in the light of modern science, modern biblical scholarship, and a changing cultural context. We don’t want to go the way of the dodo, do we?”

A crude caricature? Well, perhaps. But let’s go back to Mr Laurie Lee. Why does the mottled moth do what it does? Why did my ghostly visitor seek sanctuary on the carpet, conforming so carefully, blending into the background so as to be practically invisible?

Here is the whole of that stanza describing the mottled moth.

The mottled moth, pinned to a tree,

Woos with his wings the bark’s disease

And strikes a fungoid, fevered pose

To live forgotten and at ease.

The mottled moth?

The contemporary church: in the world, and looking just like it.