Thursday, 29 July 2010

Spiritual Blues and Honest Emotion

I am nearly through a book called 'A Song for Jenny', the story of lady called Julie Nicholson, a priest, who lost her daughter Jenny in the 7/7 bombings in London. It has been a long time since I have read such a searingly honest book, stripping bare all the emotion of bereavement and the associated feelings. She made the headlines because she courageously decided to resign her position as a priest, because she could not find it in her heart to forgive the bomber who had killed her daughter. As she poignantly says: "We didn't lose Jenny, she was stolen from us".

I found it such a refreshing book as well as deeply encouraging. There was none of the trite evangelical jargon that seems to crawl out of the woodwork whenever anyone takes on the subject of forgiveness and offering advice when they themselves are fortunate enough not to have anything major to forgive. As C.S. Lewis wrote: "Forgiveness is a wonderful idea until you yourself have to forgive someone".

The book is a journey through the early stages of bereavement and what stands out is this woman's humanity. No short-circuiting here. As she says: "Forgiveness is complex".

I found it a timely book to read, as I am about to embark on writing a musical about Job. Poor Job! His four friends were fine until they opened their mouths! In exasperation, at one point he says: "O that you would be silent, that would be wisdom indeed!" I am sure that, given the right circumstances Julie, like Job, would find herself being given all sorts of so called well meaning advice, most of which would be judgmental, unhelpful, and deeply debilitating.

That's why I like the psalms. I read one today; it spoke exactly into my situation. Some of the psalms have been called the 'spiritual blues.' All human emotion is there, laid bare, just like Julie's story and Job's story. And in that honesty there is a tremendous strength in weakness. Real situations, real humanity, real emotions and no slick answers. Just mysteries.

I warmly recommend Julie's book.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Touching the Face of God

I shall never forget the first time I walked into King's College Chapel in Cambridge. It was a building that literally took my breath away. The sheer beauty of the magnificent ceiling and the great ribbons of colour from the stained glass windows caused a great sense of awe. It was in these wonderful surroundings that we heard Evensong. It reminded me of another building where we had heard the same service, the glorious St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. What an incredible sense of history we experienced listening to the beautiful liturgy of the service, knowing that only a few feet away was the tomb of Henry the Eight and his Queen Jane Seymour. It is a historical fact the Hitler gave orders that Windsor Castle should not be bombed as he wanted to use it as his headquarters when he had conquered England.

On Sunday, Jenny and I walked on the Downs east of Lewis and the great panorama of southern England lay spread out like a myriad green carpet. Above us, 70 years ago, the Battle of Britain had been fought and won. When Hitler turned his attention to the cities of England and gave the RAF a miraculous respite in order to repair airfields and regroup, the stained glass in King's College was removed and stored. On Friday we shall return to King's to hear a concert of Monteverdi's Vespers and hopefully, if the weather is good, spend some time punting on the Cam.

What a glorious place England is, with its incredible history and its wonderful places of worship. That is why we must do all we can, in the strength that the Lord gives us, to preach the Gospel and thereby continue to give a reference point and a hope to all who seek the true meaning of life. Those who built the magnificent ceilings in King's and Windsor are long gone, but their legacy lives on in the inspiration and refuge that these buildings give. An airman, killed when he was just 19 years old, wrote a poem a little while before he died, called High Flight. He wrote:

'Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings'.

He closes with the words:

'Put out my hand and touched the face of God.'

For some, gazing up at the ceilings of King's or St George's Windsor, or just gazing into the sky on a summer afternoon, must feel that in some way they too have touched the face of God.