Tag Archives: death

Reflections On The Death Of My Mum

It has been a nearly a month now since mum died. I’ve been able to think about the process a bit, which I share with you now. It is a not very pleasant fact of my life that for one … Continue reading

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Why I’d Rather Have A Funeral Than A Celebration Of My Life

This week, I heard an announcement of a state funeral for a significant member of the community, who had recently died.   The radio announcer said “There will be a ‘celebration of the life of ‘X’’ in the Recital Centre. … Continue reading

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Why We Love the Calving and Lambing Season

This is my first reflection from our new home in Alexandra. We are back in Australia now, but I will continue to ‘blog’, even though I am not writing a weekly reflection for a congregation.   I remember a lovely … Continue reading

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How The Trinity is Not Just Metaphysics, but Essential for Understanding Being Christian

There was an interesting piece of information in a leadership book that I was reading recently.* It claimed that church attendance per se made no difference to people’s ethical, or moral behaviour. This is a similar claim to the one … Continue reading

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How the Christian Story Makes Sense of the World

I have been continuing to read ‘Nine Lives’ over breakfast. As you recall, this book is about nine people’s lives from India, told by William Dalrymple. This particular section struck me this week. Dalrymple is talking about the disasters that … Continue reading

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Can you imagine Jesus ‘c…

Can you imagine Jesus ‘cleansing the Temple’ saying ‘take from our lives the strain and stress’? In this I am with Zorba the Greek. Life is trouble! It is not in avoiding trouble that God’s will is done, but in how we negotiate our way through it. This is the meaning of the incarnation. So not to put too fine a point on it: John Greenleaf Whitier’s poem is soothing, but heretical.

Reflection 17-6-12

Hymns are always a mater for interesting conversation in the Church. They are a combination of words sung to God, which mean something, and music, which touches our emotions. As St. Augustine said ‘The one who sings, prays twice.’ This is true. The addition of a tune to words gives the words added force.

But a hymn is a thing to which the maxim ‘Let not human beings put asunder what God has joined together’ applies. There are those who say ‘The tune does not matter, it is the words that count!’ While on the other hand, there are those who also say ‘Let’s have this tune’ regardless of what the words say.

Well I am one of those people who say first of all ‘When we sing something, it is the meaning of the words that we have to be able to put ourselves behind first.’ A tune on its own does not convey meaning, but the emotional force that re-enforces the meaning. If the words are terrible, no good tune can save them.

I remember once I was preparing a funeral for a person whose wife had died. Her name was Margaret. He said “I think I would like to have ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart at the funeral. Now the tune for ‘Maggie May’ is very good. But I said to him ‘Have you thought about the words? They go

‘Wake up Maggie I think I’ve got something to say to you, It’s late September and I really should be back at school. I know I kept you amused, but Maggie I’m being used, Maggie I couldn’t have tried any more…’

I continued. ‘We are in the presence of a person who has died. Do you really what to have played ‘Wake up Maggie I think I’ve got something to say to you?’ ‘ He agreed that this would not be the best thing to do, and we had other favourite music of hers to play as we exited the Church.

All this serves as an introduction to some comments I would like to make on the words of two hymns: one that we have sung, and one that we will sing. Both of these hymns have lovely tunes, but I have trouble with the words.

The one that we have sung is the hymn of St. Francis of Assisi ‘All Creatures of Our God and King.’ There are a lot of verses and they are long, so it makes sense to cut one or two of them. But the other Sunday, the verse that I think is the most important verse in the hymn was not sung. This verse goes

‘And thou most kind and gentle death, waiting to hush our latest breath Oh praise him O praise him. Thou leadest home the child of God, and Jesus Christ the way hath trod, Alleluia O praise him Alleluia’

Many think that death is a gruesome subject to be avoided, and perhaps not spoken of in polite company. But for Christians it is the opposite. St Paul writes ‘For me to live is Christ, to die is gain!’ How can we be so unafraid of death? My answer is that all through our lives, since our baptism, we have been practicing the way of the Cross. We have experienced the Death, Entombment and Resurrection of Jesus in our own lives, since our lives have been sacra mentally joined to Christ’s in Baptism. He lives and reigns with God, and so will we. Our future is Christ’s future. As the hymn says ‘And Jesus Christ the way hath trod’. So to sing about death as ‘kind and gentle’ is the right phrase. It sounds shocking to us, who want to keep living, but it remains a fact of Christian life that the reality of Christ, into which we have been baptized, not only transcends family relationships (as we hard last week) but transcends death itself. Death is not the end, but part of a bigger process of the renewal of the whole creation in Christ. That is why, if we are going to leave out verses of hymns, we ought not to leave out this one from the hymn ‘All Creatures of our God and king.’

The other hymn that we will sing that disturbs me is ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’. Most of the hymn is ok, if a little sentimental. But the verse that I can not sing is this one that goes

 ‘Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm. Let flesh be dumb let sense retire speak through the earthquake wind and fire O still small vice of calm.’

I can sympathise with people who have very stressful or conflicted lives asking God for a bit of calm. But this verse runs contrary to all that makes us human in the first place. We are people full of desire. We are people who are bodies, that is, en-fleshed. We engage the world with our senses. Who says that calmness and the removal of our emotions and bodily existence from the scene is what God wants, and for which we should pray?

When God saw the problems of human kind God did not tell us how to extract ourselves from those very things that make us human. Instead God’s own life was poured into human life in the person of Jesus so that what we can be redeemed. That is why marriage is a sacrament. Do we pray of marriage ‘Please God, remove all emotion and physicality from married life so that we can have ‘the still small voice of calm’? No, we don’t indeed. When emotions are valued as ‘positive ones’ then we launch into love affairs with all their emotion and bodily expression with gusto, and we say ‘Thank you God for the joy of embodied emotional life.’ It is only when the emotions and flesh are negatively valued that we want to be rid of them. But it is not possible only to have the ‘acceptable bits’ of emotional embodied life and not the rest. Being human is package, and in Christ, God has taken up all that we are into God’s own life in Christ.

Can you imagine Jesus ‘cleansing the Temple’ saying ‘take from our lives the strain and stress’? In this I am with Zorba the Greek. Life is trouble! It is not in avoiding trouble that God’s will is done, but in how we negotiate our way through it. This is the meaning of the incarnation. So not to put too fine a point on it: John Greenleaf Whitier’s poem is soothing, but heretical.

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