The Tree of Life

 

Tim Middleton reflects on theodicy and the search for meaning through the 2011 film ‘The Tree of Life.’

 

 

I am not sure what to make of The Tree of Life.

 

Terrence Malick’s 2011 film is certainly different, and it has received polarised reactions from critics. It won the Cannes film festival’s Palme d’Or, and it is listed in the BBC’s top ten films of the twenty-first century. Other reviewers, meanwhile, have described it as ‘self-absorbed’ and ‘achingly slow’.[1]

 

It is also pointedly theological. Words from the book of Job frame the entire narrative: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth… when the morning stars sang together?’ One theologian describes The Tree of Life as, ‘deeply Christian… mesmerizingly lovely, and almost alarmingly biblical’.[2]

 

The film opens with haphazard fragments of a family’s grief. Sepia tones and hushed commentary add to the bizarre feeling of disconnection. It seems appropriate for the senselessness of mourning. Job’s notorious comforters come to mind as one realises with horror that someone has just told the mother of a dead child (Jessica Chastain) that she, ‘still has the other two’.

 

After the initial, intense focus on personal loss, the film then leaps to the cosmic scale. A montage of twisting nebulae give way to planetary formation, and volcanic churning. This is the universe in its raw, uncultured originality. Surely human stories are insignificant on a stage of these proportions. Biological forms materialise. Yet the peculiar sense of the disturbingly inhumane is continued by an explicit focus on the weirdest of underwater creatures. These are Malick’s Behemoth and Leviathan in all their Attenborough-esque, multi-coloured glory. But then, these scenes, too, receive an abrupt truncation in the form of an unyieldingly accurate Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event. No mercy for the dinosaurs either.

 

Another handbrake turn: we are back in Texas, following a marginally more linear progression through Jack O’Brien’s childhood (Hunter McCracken, and latterly Sean Penn) and his increasingly tense relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Apparently formative moments are relayed: the drowning of a schoolfriend, an act of vandalism, and his teenage sexual awakening. Jack’s father and mother are portrayed as simplistic archetypes for the ways of nature and grace respectively: one authoritarian and combative, the other thankful and forgiving. And in the audio, a boy’s ongoing, God-searching refrain: ‘where are you?’

 

As we judder towards the conclusion, the moment when Jack’s brother must inevitably re-die, the final scenes of the film are the most thought-provoking of all. Human characters are seen in motion on a beach. This tidal zone provides a fittingly liminal setting for a re-enactment of the paradox of life—between birth and death, nature and grace, meaning and chaos—our characters continue their seemingly random, Brownian walks. Assemblages coalesce: bodies exchange looks, one human embraces another, meaningful family units appear to form—only to dissipate again in the continuing flux.

 

What are we to make of all this? Is Malick intending to answer Job’s opening question or not? Are nature’s grand machinations supposed to validate God to humanity? Or is the trite, visual onslaught (and its glaring insufficiency in comparison to the reality of human misery) supposed to parody biblical theodicy?

 

The staccato cinematography never stops: the whole two hours consists in only kaleidoscopic crumbs. Even the film’s advertising poster was a mosaic of apparently unrelated images. For some, the disjointedness of the postmodern might all be too much. My own perplexity, however, was something much more banal. If I am brutally honest, I was a little bored.

 

But when I began to reflect on this a little more, it struck me that boredom was just possibly precisely what I was supposed to feel. Malick’s point is that different vignettes make different sense. The shards of meaning are from separate mosaics. When you zoom out to look for a cohesive whole, the sense is lost. The longed-for God’s-eye perspective is simply boring. We make sense of the human condition from within the world, not by attempting to abstract ourselves from it. Furthermore, if we had all the reasons and justifications at our fingertips, then there would be no hope of real transformation. We would already know the best that could ever happen—and that is a depressing thought indeed. No, we must remain open to what is beyond. And Job’s beyond is not necessarily our own beyond.

 

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/8623873/The-Tree-Of-Life-review.html

[2] https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/07/seven-characters-in-search-of-a-nihil-obstat

 

The-Tree-of-Life.jpg

 

Two poems: ‘Because they are no more’ and ‘I’ve had better days’

Two inter-related poems by Dr. Cathy Ross, on the Massacre of the Innocents told in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The text gives the context for the Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt, told in the installation of this image of Mary and the Christ Child as refugees

 

Because they are no more

Soldiers.
Levi and Joshua rush in from outside
Excited, noisy, eager to tell me
Soldiers! Soldiers! They shout in unison.

 

Hush.
Quiet! I admonish them gently
You will wake up our sleeping baby boy
Asleep now after incessant crying.

 

Soldiers.
The boys pant again, more softly this time.
Jumping out of trucks. Striding into homes.
Nervous, I peer out the curtained window.

 

Pounding.
At the door. At the front door. At our door.
Sudden, Brutal. Insistent. Entitled.
Slowly, terrified, I open the door.

 

Baby.
Where is the baby? The soldiers demand.
Sleeping in his cradle, replies Levi,
Awe, fascination and fear on his face.

 

No.
No baby I insist, heavy in my heart
Sensing danger, cruelty and evil.
I move my body to block their entry.

 

Panic.
As they push me to one side, carelessly.
Invade my home, my precious sanctuary
Tracking my sleeping baby boy, Samuel.

 

Abruptly.
The soldier tears him from his small cradle,
Samuel awakes, gurgles, chortles softly
Locks his gaze onto this khaki stranger.

 

Whimpers.
Now Samuel sees the soldier’s troubled face
Quickly the soldier turns his face away
How do you kill a gurgling baby boy?

 

Herod.
He mouths. We just have to obey the orders given.
I scream. I leap forward to save Samuel
The other one pins my arms. Well practised.

 

Blood.
He quietly slits my baby’s throat.

 

Silence.
The silence of the entire universe.
Because they are no more. No more. No more.

 

 

I’ve had better days

 

I had good days
The camaraderie. Training. Purpose.
Join the army. Travel and see the world.
Taxpayer funded. All bills paid, this gig.

 

I had good days
I lacked nothing. My body fit and lean,
My hands not idle. My mind engaged, alert,
My soul, the padre to attend to.

 

I had good days
I enjoyed being useful, part of a team.
Our platoon always obeyed the orders,
We made a difference. Our presence noted.

 

I’ve had better days
The mothers, the bitches screamed and wailed,
They fought like mad she-devils, insanely
Desperate to save their infant children
From our murderous slaughter.

 

I’ve had better days
I am crazy now. The boys’ small bodies
Haunt me still. Boys under two years old
Murdered by psychotic command of a
Paranoid king. Herod, he was called
If I remember rightly.
Or wrongly.

 

I’ve had better days.

 

Nov 2017.
Iffley.

 

massacre innocents.jpg

 

 

 

Magenta

A poem by Dr. Cathy Ross

 

Magenta

I hold the large key, ancient, iron, trefoil,
Cold to touch.
It slides easily into the lock
Turns smoothly.
No creaks for this door. Well oiled.

 

A tiny chapel
Hidden on a rocky outcrop in north Wales.
Sunlight rainbows in reflected by the stained glass windows.
Seven of them.
Purple, yellow, blue, orange,
Green, red, turquoise, magenta.

 

Eight colours.
Seven stained glass windows.
Magenta is missing.
Where is magenta? worries my tidy mind.

 

Slowly I absorb the sound of the refracted colours.
Red for strength; green for healing,
Purple for longing, yellow for curiosity,
Orange for vitality, blue for tranquillity,
Turquoise for sheer beauty.

 

Magenta for completion.

 

Eight colours on the wheel,
Seven windows in this chapel.

 

Magenta for completion,

Wholeness.

 

Magenta is missing.

 

Magenta calls me on,
Out of the chapel,
Into the world.

 

 

St Beuno’s, 12 Aug, 2017.

 

Snapchatting the Sistine Chapel

 

A poem by Sorrel Wood.

 

I looked for you in the Sistine Chapel,

Peering through a bustling scrum of tourists.

One tour guide waved a faded Minnie Mouse

Precariously flopping on a selfie-stick

To herd his chattering, snap-chatting flock.

 

Then I saw you: bearded, robed, reclining;

Your Father Christmas face so iconic

That it was all a disappointing déjà-vu.

Your accusatory finger pointed

Towards a languid, naked, tight-muscled Adam

Genitals small as a bunch of shrivelled figs.

 

A megaphone bellowed demands for silence

And I tried to pray, I really tried

But a backpack swung in my praying face

And I was carried by the rushing crowd

Like a rootless branch of river driftwood

Out of the chapel, towards the cafe.

 

I sought you out in the vast corridors

Of the Vatican art collection.

I found you, a thousand versions of you:

Baby doll eyes, girlish hair, impotent

Bearing faint traces of Christ-likeness

Like the almost-familiarity

Of meeting someone’s cousin.

 

I tried to buy you in the gift shop.

A glittering, gold cross (five hundred Euros)

Sparkled in the soft, Italian light.

“Nothing made in China! Everything blessed!”

A wrinkled nun informed me with a grin.

I wondered if the blessing extended

To the red-rimmed shot glasses, key rings,

The black and white “sexy priests” calendar.

 

I pined for you in the almost-quiet

Of a shrine at St Peter’s Basilica.

I lit a turgid electric candle

Longing for the warm light of a real flame.

And as the cameras clicked I understood

 

That I would find you where you’ve always been:

Healing leprous scabs, washing grubby feet

Kissing the smudged-lipstick face of the whore

Scooping up the knee-grazed child again

And when I found you, I would come to see

I was already lost in your embrace.

 

 

Sistine-Chapel-Michelangelo

 

Geraldine Crimmins: wellbeing and the arts

During Arts Weeks 2018 at Ripon College Cuddesdon, artist and wellbeing advocate Geraldine Crimmins came to speak to students and staff at the college.

 

Geraldine Crimmins is a London-based artist, currently in a professional residency at the Old Diorama Arts Centre in Camden.

 

Geraldine has exhibited at Somerset House and Spitalfields amongst other places, and since 2015 has won four awards for her work, including ‘Outstanding Progression and Achievement in the Arts’ from the Westminster Adult Education Service in 2015, and in 2016 she was awarded the national prize at the UK’s Festival of Learning.

 

Geraldine has said that it is her view that creativity can be a source of nourishment, a kind of ‘food,’ especially for the vulnerable.

 

Although a budding artist in school, Geraldine convinced herself she ‘didn’t have the imagination’ and went on to pursue a successful career as a counsellor and psychotherapist.

 

Geraldine joined us to share the story of her remarkable life, and the part in which the arts have played on that journey, followed by a Q&A session towards the end.

 

A good introductory article on Geraldine’s life and work is provided in this interview in The Canary, and we encourage a visit to her website which has more information, and an an excellent gallery.

 

Here is the talk, followed by the Q&A (which begins at 22.00 minutes), with Geraldine in full:

 

 

 

Kingdom People

A hymn and a reflection on collaborative hymn-writing

by Sarah Brush and Michael Brierley.

 

Tend us, Lord, as Kingdom People

planted in the world, your field:

love, compassion, justice, freedom

are the crop we long to yield.

 

At our root, in depth and richness,

love divine provides the ground,

that our lives, secure and nourished,

may in love for all abound.

 

Forth from love there stems compassion:

we will weep with those who mourn,

staying with the lost and lonely

through the darkness to the dawn.

 

From compassion, justice blossoms

for the weak, outcast, oppressed,

casting down the rich and mighty

so that meek and poor are blest.

 

Freedom is the fruit of justice –

not the choice of our own way,

but the God-giv’n grace to follow

Christ in every step each day.

 

Love, compassion, justice, freedom –

grant, creator God, our call

by your Spirit so to grow

’til Christ our Lord fills all in all.

 

Sarah Brush (1974) Michael Brierley (1973)

Tune:  Servant Song

 

Below is a collaborative reflection about a piece of creative collaboration in the writing of the hymn above.  The words of the Revd Canon Dr Michael Brierley, Precentor of Worcester Cathedral and Cuddesdon alumnus are in black and the words of the Revd Dr Sarah Brush, Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Cuddesdon are in green.

 

The Diocese of Worcester has an initiative ‘Kingdom People’, which seeks to enable Christian communities more fully to embody four ‘kingdom values’  –  love, compassion, justice and freedom.

 

I’d always thought those four words had such a good rhythm to them and, as I was preparing to leave a diocese I’d worked in for nearly ten years, I tried to put them to music. At an earlier diocesan event we had used the hymn Brother Sister Let Me Serve You for which I’d written a couple of extra verses reflecting the particular prayer activities at the event. I thought using that tune would be a suitable echo for people to half hear in their minds as they sang the new words; linking life as Kingdom People with the Servant Song.

 

I worked on several versions of the words but couldn’t get them quite right. Thinking it would be good to have someone else reflect on it, I sent it to our cathedral Precentor, Michael Brierley who had incorporated other modern hymn compositions by young clergy, like Ally Barrett, in various services for the diocese.

 

Sarah Brush, then a curate in the diocese, sent some hymn words on this theme for possible inclusion at the diocesan services which I help to arrange at the cathedral.  I was both excited by their freshness, their structure (a verse on each value, introduced and concluded) and their topicality, and also found myself wondering whether one or two corners could be further polished.

 

I’d never worked on a hymn before, and found that a couple of train journeys to London on the sluggish line through the Cotswolds were the ideal setting for the polishing.  I ended up re-writing more than I expected.  The metre (and tune) was 8787, and the difficulty of filling the unemphasised, last syllable on the first and third lines spilt over into altering other lines.

 

It wasn’t always an easy process; sometimes we would critique phrases the other had painstakingly constructed or pitch for a change of one particular word. Often, changes meant more changes were needed and sacrifices of other words were necessary. Yet most of the time, perhaps begrudgingly on my part at times, Michael’s suggestions improved what I’d written and even expressed something I’d been trying to say but hadn’t quite achieved.

 

There was also the issue of focusing on a single metaphor – that of a plant – to run through all the verses.

 

This was one particular development which was a truly collaborative creation: the hymn transformed from reflecting the Kingdom People values with only a passing allusion to the vine logo which accompanied them to one which was woven throughout with an extended metaphor of a growing plant. This development gave us lots of new challenges but resulted in something so much better than my original version.

 

Several email exchanges later, the result was premiered at the chrism eucharist in Worcester Cathedral in Holy Week 2018.  All the better for being a genuinely collaborative exercise, it was a harder task than I imagined: but having done one, a next one – given a train journey or two through the Cotswolds – might turn out to be easier …

 

 

kingdom people

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Light

In this poem and reflection, Rev’d Vicky Barrett considers the paradox of the women’s silence after visiting the tomb and meeting Jesus, and the experience of reading in Mark’s Gospel, two thousand years later, of a resurrection which refuses to be silenced.

 

First Light

(a poem based on Mark 16:1-8)

 

They must do what they can
now the Sabbath is over.
Back to work.
Their oils are sharp and pungent,
Stripping dawn’s thin grey curtain.
Their steps, directed, urgent,
to soothe the scarred body,
move the lovely limbs
lying wound up and wounded
in the dank dark of a borrowed grave.

 

How? How? the doves cry,
an echo of their anxious words,
the weight of the stone
wedged between them and their love.
Pounding hearts:
as the oils glow like slow amber pools,
spices tease their nostrils.
Tick, tick. Birds shrill the alarm.

 

Breath snags on a barb.
Surprise? Confusion? Hope? Jealousy?
Has someone come ahead of them
to offer the rituals which are theirs?
Has someone stolen the precious freight
from this stony barque?

 

Who is this man in white?
What is his news?
Not here.
Their eyes trace the outline of the tomb.
Not here.
Not there, where they laid him,
Escaped, unbound, fetterless.

 

The sun rinses the mouth of the tomb,
A widening ‘O’ of light.
The spices fall to the ground.
Oil finds a new course.
The earth gleams and is fragrant.

 

They turn and feet flutter a fleeting path
like sparrows’ feathers.
Breath unravels in rags,
muscles shriek with exertion.
The burden of their news
lurches and sways and batters them
mad-eyed with joyous fear.
Teeth chatter riddling messages.
But who would believe these harpies
who say they have seen an angel?

 

Better to roll the stone back again,
be safe, familiar, silent.
Let the men
wrap the words like oilcloth round the carpenter’s tools,
stitch up the fishing nets
and not
dare to believe
in the terrifying mystery
who comes in majesty
to greet them.

 

Vicky Barrett Easter 2018

 

Reflection

 

Mark’s Gospel is full of silences, no more so than that of Chapter 16, verse 8:

 

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

How is it then, that out of the women’s paralysis of terror and amazement, we find ourselves responding to the good news of the risen Christ today?

 

We may find ourselves silent, paralysed also by terror, amazement; scepticism or apathy too, perhaps. But the wonderful good news is that Jesus has done this thing anyway; that’s how much he loves us. Our Creator God is able to bring the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the world in spite of us. As Luke puts it when the Pharisees ask Jesus to tell his disciples to be quiet, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

Mark’s Gospel account gives us the encouragement to explore our response, to fill in the narrative gaps and colour them in, to play in the shadows of this amazing message.

 

I found myself doing this as I prepared for Easter morning and ended up writing a poem.

 

How can you find your way of expressing a response to this Easter story?

 

empty tomb

The Two Trees

The Rev’d. Dr. Joanna Collicutt reflects on the stark visual juxtaposition of Christ crucified next to the hanging Judas, depicted in the Fifth Century Maskell Ivory. 

 

 

On 7th February I was part of a panel invited to reflect on an image from the Imagining the Divine exhibition currently taking place at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The exhibition contains artefacts from what it refers to as the ‘Five great world religions plus paganism’ (a contentious notion in itself, but not the subject of this blog piece).

 

Maskell Ivory

The Maskell Ivory (c.420-30 CE), probably originating in Rome.

Ivory, Height 7.5 cm, British Museum.

 

I chose this tiny and exquisitely carved panel that was originally part of a box whose sides depict incidents from the life of Christ. This has a claim to be the earliest surviving depiction of the crucifixion and is therefore hugely significant in the history of Christian art. In fact there are very few surviving depictions of the crucifixion from the first millennium at all, and we should ask ourselves why this is. For an intriguing account take a look at Rita Nakashima Brock, and Rebecca Ann Parker’s 2008 book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.

 

Perhaps the first thing one notices is that this is not the crucified Christ with whom we are so familiar from mediaeval art – an agonised, contorted, dying or – more usually – already dead victim full of pathos. Instead we are faced with a victorious Christ, very much alive, even perhaps smiling, standing erect with eyes and arms wide open as if to welcome all comers, ready to fly off the cross.

 

There is lots here that is reminiscent of John’s account of the death of Christ; the emphasis on glory, the presence of the Mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, and the Roman Soldier (known in later tradition as Longinus) who inserts a spear into Jesus’ side. Yet, like a Gospel harmony, we also find Judas’ suicide as told by Matthew, complete with the thirty silver pieces, and the completely charming detail of the birds of the air nesting in the branches of the tree from which he hangs, surely alluding to the story of the mustard seed from Mark and Matthew.

 

This would have been an image used for personal devotion and, like the texts and traditions that inspired it, it is not simply telling a story; it makes demands on the viewer. These are intensified, literally thrown into relief, by the three dimensional nature of this artefact that dissolves the threshold between the world of the viewer and the scene depicted. The figures move out towards towards the viewer, who in turn is drawn towards them.

 

And what does she find?  The juxtaposition of the death of Judas and the death of Jesus is highly unusual in Christian art and it should tell us something. It reminded me of the opening verses of that early Christian text, the Didache: ‘There are two ways: one of life and one of death.’ The cross is the tree of life in which all may come and find a place, but it is the tree of death for those who, like Judas, don’t ‘get’ Jesus. Judas is dead, defeated, flaccid, and crucially alone. Jesus is alive, victorious, erect, and crucially surrounded by his loved ones (Jews) and one who in the tradition becomes a faithful witness to his death (a gentile).

 

The viewer is faced with the fact that the cross presents a moral and existential demand to make a life and death choice, a repeated choice that must be made daily.

 

Personally, I find yet more in this image. I find a visual way of making sense and making real that very difficult but important verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us; for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’. There is something here about God’s transformation of guilt, shame, and death in Christ that is communicated better visually than in words.

 

But there is also hope. Is Christ reaching out to that tragic figure on the tree? Is this the moment that the gibbet is brought to life? Is Jesus’ touch transforming even this, the loneliest and most desperate of places?

 

God of Restoration and Repair

Rev’d. Caitlin Carmichael-Davis reflects on the resurrection life in Christ through the poetry of Philip Larkin, the scripture of Isaiah, the prose of Marilynne Robinson, and the paintings of Stanley Spencer. 

 

I was once told that you don’t get back what you lose. Lost is lost. Your childhood, your children’s childhood, those who have died, those long summer days of happy completeness before the photographs become pain.  Life is a process of learning how to lose, as life shrinks and reduces and more and more is lost and disappears.

 

Truly, though our element is time,

We are not suited to the long perspectives

Open at each instant of our lives.

They link us to our losses: worse,

They show us what we have as it once was,

Blindingly undiminished, just as though

By acting differently, we could have kept it so.

Phillip Larkin, Reference Back

 

If this is the lesson life teaches us, it seems unlikely that the afterlife will be about getting things back. Lost is lost. Our resurrection, our heaven, will be something new.

 

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?.

Isaiah 43.19

 

Yes, I thought, that seems true. Christianity cannot be about making those holiday photographs complete again, those Christmas tables whole. If being ordained has taught me anything it is this — sorrow is weaved into the very fabric of our lives. Under the cheerful ordinariness of Sunday morning coffee, grief lurks unspoken. That wish could easily become the whole of one’s religion. Some sort of destructive spiritualism, a religion of the dead.

 

So I lived for many years with a sketchy, figurative, amorphous vision of the afterlife, a non-interventionist God, an ephemeral Jesus. Christianity was difficult to grasp, I said. Part of its very strength is its shifting oddness.

 

And then I read this:

 

“Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him — a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail. Yet this was no more than tinkering. Being man He felt the pull of death, and being God He must have wondered more than we do what it would be like. He is known to have walked upon water, but He was not born to drown. And when He did die it was sad — such a young man, so full of promise, and His mother wept and His friends could not believe the loss, and the story spread everywhere and the mourning would not be comforted, until He was so sharply lacked and so powerfully remembered that his friends felt Him beside them as they walked along the road, and saw someone cooking fish on the shore and knew it to be Him, and sat down to supper with Him, all wounded as He was. There is so little to remember of anyone — an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

 

There is an oddness, of course, to all these stories. Those distant words “Talitha koum!”, the Jesus who passes through walls and disappears at will. And yet, distracted by strangeness, I’d missed the consistency and the domesticity. While Jesus was on Earth he mended families, resurrected he returned to eat supper with his friends.

 

Memory is part of resurrection — part of a God who is greatly moved, greatly troubled, groaning inside at our grief for those we have lost. Restoration of our relationships is part of resurrection — Thomas’s doubts and Peter’s denials healed by the energy of God’s love. In so many of the stories, incomplete tables are made whole —Jesus returns to eat, to fill the space and the loss and the memory he had left.

 

And if the raising of the widow’s son, the centurion’s daughter, Martha’s brother describes Jesus’s resurrection, and Jesus’s resurrection describes our own, then this will be a resurrection of domesticity and relationship. These are stories which endow the small importance of our homes, lives and memories with all the power and wonder and oddness of this God of undefeatable life. Judaism had always understood the power of memory to create reality, that memory and loss have a creative as well as a destructive power. In these stories that intimation reaches its fulfilment. For out of memory and death God brings into being wholeness and life.

 

spencer - reunion

Stanley Spencer, Reunion of Families

This is what Stanley Spencer showed in his Resurrection paintings. There is a physicality of joy and hope and reunion, Jairus’s daughter become real for all creation. The promise of that distant, chaotic, heat filled day is heard in the familiar greenness of the Oxfordshire countryside, “Talitha koum!”. The beautiful strangeness and physical domesticity of resurrection suddenly visible.

 

As I stand, hand resting on a coffin, commending the departed to God, I believe “That memory will fulfill itself, that the missing, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long”. That our God is a God of restoration and repair. That the lost will be found.

 

 

This is My Body

A poem by Rev’d. Ruth Wells

This is my body
This
Is my body
This is
My body
This is my
Body;
Broken

I trace the cross on my belly
Vertical linea nigra
This black line, marking out your expected arrival
Then the horizontal one I barely dare to touch
The ‘sun roof’ as my sister called it
Made for your quick escape
Your great evacuation
Made in haste.
This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed.
The messy reality of new life
Carnage
The aftermath
Blood for weeks
That secret that nobody told me first time round
The woosiness of the initial venture out of bed
Tentative steps like learning to walk again
The return of sensation to limbs numb
The shock of it all.
This is my blood.

And as I flit inbetween sleep and wake
In the liminal hours
The sound of your guzzling
Lulling me into dreamlike trance
I chance again upon the Eucharist
The broken body
The blood shed
And I’m walking the line
Placing your broken body into outstretched hands
Some eager
Others hesitant
All broken
And my brokenness
My bloodshed
Becomes all the more poignant
The collision of humanity & the Divine

And as I hold you to me
Our heartbeats echoing
I am caught up in it all
The brokenness and the beauty.

Wells