Nov 072010

Once again, the time between blogs has got away from me and now that I try and think back over the last week or two, I struggle to find something that is blog-worthy. Blogging, I find, is often ‘of the moment’. Something happens, or makes a big enough impact, to trigger an urge to get it down on paper (so to speak). It’s an opportunity to sort through and make sense of the challenging or the confusing or the annoying.

But I’m finding that life isn’t like that at the moment. There is much that is new, much that is challenging, much that is annoying, but all in a way that needs dealt with simply, not through rushing to make sense of it on a blog in a reactionary way. Perhaps it’s the ‘reality’ of what crops up now in probation. It all seems much more ‘real’ in a way that term-time placements don’t always feel. Perhaps it’s the detachment from the academic that begins to settle the theological reflection down into the ‘real’ rather than a mental exercise in drawing theory and practice together.

What is interesting though is that this past week or so has had ‘remembrance’ as its main theme. And that’ll be true over the week to come as well.

Last Sunday afternoon, the Sunday closest to ‘All saints/souls’, there was a service for those who had been bereaved – an opportunity to remember those who had passed away either recently or in the distant past. Time was not the issue. The issue was permission to remember; to acknowledge the reality of a present grief, however raw and hurting, or faded but still felt. It was an emotionally-charged and very ‘delicate’ service, but very powerful and, I would say, very much appreciated by the people there (of whom there were many more than anticipated).

This week we have the High School Remembrance Day assembly (and it’s Ian and me leading it this year) and next Sunday is Remembrance Sunday when I’ll be preaching. the initial thoughts of this blog entry come back to challenge at this point. If separation of only a week or two makes issues less blog-worthy, less noteworthy, what of events of almost a hundred years ago? Of course, war did not stop with the ‘war to end all wars’ and conflict is in the news still; and more recently than a week or so back.

The grief of a bereavement service is every bit a part of a Remembrance Day service. Separation in time of days, weeks, months or many years does not make it any less powerful. A bereavement service looks back, acknowledges the past; times which can never be recaptured. And yet it allows a space for moving on, not in the sense of leaving the past behind or of setting it aside as if it was of no consequence, but through allowing the present to be shaped by the past, acknowledging that is does indeed shape our present, whether we like it or not.

Remembrance Day also remembers a past which is difficult to acknowledge and which we recognise as never being left behind. War and conflict continue to haunt us, but in a similar way to bereavement, it must never debilitate us and render us utterly hopeless.

The High School assembly has an interesting mix of musical and performance pieces which have been chosen by the school. Any one of them might arguably be considered inappropriate for a Remembrance Service and yet, as a whole, they offer that tension of looking back and lamenting, acknowledging the good and bad in the present, and looking forward in hope. I wonder if this was in the mind of those who chose the pieces? Let’s be generous and say it was, but I wonder if they were aware of how much it captures the essence of a Christian approach to such things?

As a Christian, looking forward and looking back, whether on the mundane or the momentous, is a reminder of who we are and were, of all that we have done, the good and the bad and of the grace that allows us to look forward in hope. Not the rose-tinted version, but in the God-centred way that sees that love, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation  need more than our own efforts, but the very presence of God, who knows all about reconciliation and hope.

Dec 132007

David recently posted on a Sunday of very contrasting services and I thought I’d chip in my tuppenceworth.

The morning service was largely done by Buskit, a charity group from Grangemouth High School who take humanitarian aid across to children in Belarus. The three young people were very confident and spoke eloquently of their experiences. One even took the children’s address – a daunting enough task even for the experienced. Mind you, with some of the activities they were leading in Belarus, they’ve all got good experience in communicating with groups of children.

I think that the thing that struck me most was how much they said they had been affected by their experience. It was a very genuine sense of personal change that they communicated – not just a simple ‘yeah, it was meaningful’, but a very deep understanding that they had learned much form their trip. Schools often speak of learning lessons ‘for life’. Well, it’d be difficult to get a more effective teaching experience than the one the Buskit group get. I don’t know if there is any Christian ‘drive’ within the group, but you’d be hard pushed to find a better example of love and care for others.

Which brings me to the evening service – a very different example of concern for others. At this time of the year, KHR have a ‘bereavement service’ where those in the parish and the congregation who have experienced a bereavement are invited along to a service of remembrance. It’s very thoughtfully put together with comforting words of poetry, prose and scripture on the order of service, on cards in the pews and in the read reflections of the service. The act of remembrance is to drop a pebble into a bowl of water (for those who wish to come forward), using the action to symbolise a letting go, or a remembering of the ‘ripples’ caused in life, or whatever else may come to mind. It’s a deeply affecting time and very emotional. David is on hand with a comforting hug or a warm handshake and words of blessing.

What struck me was how busy the service was. It’s obviously something that is very meaningful for those who are there and is very much appreciated by them. I can be a bit of a sceptic when it comes to symbolic actions, which may sound odd coming from someone who has put together labyrinths, although perhaps it would be fairer to say that the symbolism needs to be ‘sound’. It can be too easy to come up with something that is a bit ‘tacky’ and is too open to misinterpretation. That’s most definitely not the case here, where the liturgy for this service works very well (although quite how it might be taken if the deceased had drowned is another matter).

The day of contrasts comes, in my opinion, in the direction they take. The morning is one of looking outwards to others and the evening is looking inward to our own needs (or far and near as David termed it). The good thing about the ‘inward-looking’ part was that it wasn’t done simply as a inwardly focused experience, rather it was about bringing Christ into our inner life to help heal hurts. The outward, of course, was about ‘being’ Christ to the world. A reminder that we are to look after ourselves as well as one another. “Love your neighbour as yourself” is very difficult when we ourselves are broken and in need. And, this is true not just of bereavement, but in many things. When we feel the love of Christ for us, as we are; when we feel His acceptance of us, as we are; when we can know the riches we share in Him; we can learn something of sharing that with others in their need, whether it is a sick child in Belarus or a grieving relative close to home.