MY FATHER has a small square Instamatic photograph he made of me when I was a boy of 5 or 6, just waking up, in a white ridge tent, pitched on the side of Lake Bala in North Wales. I’d gone to sleep dreaming about my first angling success, having landed the tiniest tiddler you ever saw, the night before. Pride and delight was mixed, poignantly and paradoxically, by my sadness at the death of the little chap. So my patient Dad provided a small matchbox into which the little fish was reverently placed before I presided solemnly over my first burial.
I must have slept deeply and well. I remember now the slight chill, and the scent of canvas, a small camping stove, sausages, a boiling kettle. But even then I was never at my sharpest in the early mornings. Colours melded, waking encountered mist and a measure of reluctance. “Wake up, son. Rise and shine. It’s breakfast time.” And Dad’s photo captured the half-awake moment when the night became light and – through canvas and my own mind’s mist – boyish delight and colour glowed, stretching, reaching, like the spectrum in this painting.
TIME AND TIME AGAIN we’re rediscovering at St Michael & All Angels Bramhall the hunger there is – somewhere in the depths of our humanity – for silence. Earlier today – at 3 celebrations of the Eucharist in the parish church and a very large gathering of citizens at Bramhall’s Public War Memorial – shared silences united.
This evening at our Annual Service of Light and Remembering – a focused Thanksgiving for departed loved ones – deep silence, prayer, the simple naming of names, and the slow and careful placing of “resurrection lights” binds as one those who share the common human experience of bereavement and grief, who, in being so bound, thereby recognise themselves nearer loved ones “gone before”.
A war veteran well into his nineties, shivering in the cold, told me this morning “I wouldn’t miss this silence for all the tea in China”. A very recently bereaved widow told me tonight that “this place and this silence have brought me exactly where you prayed they would: to another shore”.
Tomorrow evening we’ll celebrate another of our silent Monthly Monday Meditations. We’re learning again that there is, most assuredly, something to be celebrated in silence. And Silence, to speak of something else we’re learning, is all the time celebrating, and still Creating, us.
ITV’S DOWNTON ABBEY (a quite extraordinary essay on the complexities of our shared humanity if ever I’ve seen one) has held millions in its thrall, and often holding their breath, on the outermost edge of their seats. Julian Fellowes has given us characters we can feel we know personally, and countless echoes of the vicissitudes, storms and tempests we experience in our own lives. But he’s also given us vivid portrayals of the merciless dreadfulness of the First World War, something most of us have had no direct experience of; of innocents marching into the abyss of hell on earth; of a worldwide upheaval bigger than the most violent earthquake anyone had ever dreamed of.
For millions the catastrophe amounted to physical death; for millions more the catastrophe was to burn on and on in a thousand “little deaths”, lifelong regrets, and a view of “civilization” that had been changed forever. To this day humankind is engaged in the double occupations of remembering – not forgetting (“tell them of us and say for their tomorrows we gave our today”) and the slow and painful tasks of re-membering – restoring (rebuilding “arms” and “legs” to the cruelly torn framework of the life that is left).
And yet still “man at war with man hears not the love song angels bring”. God grant us grace, then, this Remembrance-tide, to grasp the truth that the world can be turned upside down destructively or it can be turned upside down positively. Disciples of Jesus Christ will always want to pray and to work for the latter, to make of their religious allegiance something that “binds up the whole” – bringing all of our diverse and colourful humankind together by celebrating our common humanity, in every time and in every place, and always resisting, faith-fully resisting, all the vain distinctions that maintain division, inappropriate nationalism, or false spiritual “certainties” and pride.
There’s a proper innocence in infants and children that we will want to nurture and maintain. And there’s also a blind innocence in parts of the adult world that has people believing they’re marching to glory when in reality they’re headed for hell on earth. In the name of all that is of God we must strive to wake ourselves out of that kind of stupor. May God grant us the wherewithal to Re-member.
WE SEEM TO GIVE THEM BACK to you, O God,
Who gave them to us: yet, as you did not lose them in giving
so we do not lose them by their return; for death is only an horizon,
and an horizon is nothing save the limits of our sight.
So lift us up, Lord of all life, that we may see you more clearly;
and seeing you more clearly may know ourselves nearer our loved ones
who are with you.