Pastoral Letter - 29th October
The hallowed feasts of All Saints and All Souls are coming up, when we especially think about the journeys our departed loved ones and friends make beyond this existence to what lies beyond. In my meditations, I sometimes encounter strange stories. One of these I share with you now. It is an imagined communication from a departing soul.............
With blessings and best wishes,
"If that was dying, it wasn’t what I thought it would be like at all. I remember discomfort, then a dislocation as my body and something else which was "me" seemed to be in dispute. Then it was over. Like letting go, like floating away, neither of which had ever come naturally to me to be honest. I had never been able to swim, I kept holding my body too tense. And relaxing? Forget it. I have always lived like a clenched fist. But when I breathed my last it was such a relief, a relief after struggling to hold on for so long, fearing what would happen if I didn’t. But there was no need to worry, there was absolutely no need to worry at all. I suppose it had always been there at the back of my mind, perhaps it’s at the back of all our minds: death, dying, the inevitability. We don’t remember being born, well, I don’t anyway, but that must have been similarly traumatic, leaving one reality for another, the world of the womb for the world outside. What I have just been through was akin to that in a sense, with as little choice as there had been being born. A momentum which was beyond my control, like a strong wind or wave carrying me along, taking me, where? Well, here, where I am now. But where exactly am I now? I presume it is an interim place, if it were not I may not be able to still speak to you, I would have travelled too far beyond.
I have a sense, a strong sense, that there is a beyond, though I can’t see it. Like music playing way off in the distance, it reminds me of the Fun Fair I longed to visit when I was a child: bright lights, lively music, the sense that there people were happy to be alive, laughing. Such music reaches out to me now and I know that I will need to journey toward it soon, soon after I have told you all my thoughts and feelings and perhaps too, my fears.
Why? Why don’t I just move on, you may be wondering. Just travel to where I am being called to go, toward the bright lights, the music and the sense of fun and excitement, and I will, but leave me have these moments with you first, please. These precious moments between what has been and what will be, what I sense will be anyway. Am I afraid of moving on? Is that why I am delaying by speaking with you? I don’t think so, I think rather that it’s because there is no rush. All my life I have been rushing, never really engaging in the moment, inhabiting it, enjoying it. I was always worrying, never letting go, never relaxing. No wonder I couldn’t swim. But perhaps I will learn now.
Oh, I remember now, people say that you see or meet people you have known in the life which you are still in, when they arrive here. I have to say, I haven’t seen anyone I know yet. Some promised that I would be met by those I loved in the world, but there is no-one, no-one I recognise. Perhaps it’s still too early. Perhaps I am expecting too much. What you are allowing me to do, what you are letting me do by listening, is allowing me to reflect on what I am leaving, and now I am beginning to grow sad, because I am remembering the beauty of the world, the world which you are still in: the green of grass; the song of birds; the warm clasp of a friend’s hand; the thrill of uncontrollable laughter; moments of stillness when one is quietened to wonder; moments of safety, moments of relief; the succulency of steak and the golden crunch of a chip; the smile of a child; applauding a fabulous performance until your hands ache; a cup of tea; looking into a loved one’s eyes and seeing there acceptance and forgiveness; a dog’s welcome; contentment at the end of a long, busy and ultimately fulfilling day; falling asleep with a smile on one’s face. So much of life is beautiful, precious, why I didn’t I pay more attention to it, atune myself to it? I was always "rushing on to a receding future" as R.S.Thomas put it in "The Bright Field." I wonder if he is here? Sitting on a stone beside a sparkling brook, reading his poetry to the angels, celebrating the alchemy of art, the wonder of words, as poet and priest speak in the perfect balance of one prophetic voice.
I wonder if there is a chance here of bringing up things I have been confused about, questioned, agonised over: shadows over my life, frosts which have blighted my existence and darkened my spirit. I am suddenly aware too of sins, sins as I now see that they are, choices which were wrong, words which were mean, calculated to hurt, divert from the truth, oftentimes the truth of who I was. I see now how far I did fall short. I see now how much I did get wrong. Very wrong. God, how wrong! Where would I be now had I followed a different path, been a better person, taken risks in love, in generosity, in faith? I lived with too much fear, too much mean-ness, narrow-ness. I see that now, God help me, now that it’s too late. But is it too late? I wonder... Because I have a feeling that in this place I could face up to those things, find the strength to be honest, with myself, even perhaps with God, if there is a God and if He is here. I wonder, is He? I have still seen no-one. Perhaps I should describe what I can see, what I can hear. But it’s like a blur, as if my ears, my eyes are getting acclimatised to a new reality and am not yet capable of sensing what’s around. There is a light, but the light is diffused. There is sound, but that too is muffled. But I know that I can see, hear, sense far more now than when I first arrived and I think that I can discern movements on the peripheries, just faintly, but getting more distinct.
Suddenly, Sunday School images of Jesus come to mind, in a long flowing gown, long hair and a kind smile. Well, He’s not here, to welcome me, to reach out to me, to reassure me. He is not here and I can feel a sadness, a disappointment filling me, like a cloud sliding over the surface of the sun, casting a cold shadow on the landscape. Perhaps it isn’t true. Perhaps it was all make-believe, a way of avoiding the reality of life: that it is cruel, just a matter of survival. But no, if that were all, I wouldn’t be here surely? Waiting for what is to come. I know something is due to come and in knowing that, it seems to liberate me to be able to say whatever is on my mind.
What was that, over there? Did something move? Did someone speak? I am feeling different, more alive, more animated. I need to move, I need to stretch, I need to dance. This is wonderful. All those aches and pains, all that stiffness and shallowness of breathing I had got used to, they have all simply disappeared. I feel younger, younger than I have felt in years. The energy, the excitement, I had forgotten what it was like to want to play. And over there, I think there are people I recognise, smiling, waving. There is still a great gulf between me and them, but they are still waving, smiling.
I am going to have to let you go. I am going to need to move on. I can’t stay. This is wonderful. And I have just realised, I have only just arrived, the last minutes I have been speaking to you, have been seconds, less than that. Sorry, I have to go, this is better than I had ever imagined and, Christ Almighty! There He is, just as I had pictured Him, a huge warm smile upon His face. "Hello!" "
WELCOME to our worship at St Mary`s on this, ALL SAINTS SUNDAY, as we worship in church and on Zoom.
Today at both the 9.30am Eucharist in church and the 5pm Zoom service online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is: John Chapter 11 verses 32-44
Today’s Collect, for ALL SAINTS SUNDAY
Almighty God You have knit together your elect Into one communion and fellowship In the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Chrst, Our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints In all virtuous and Godly living, That we may come to those inexpressible joys Which you have prepared for those who truly love you. This we ask though Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN