Updated: Jul 6, 2020
I have not been to Wales for a long time. Actually, apart from a trip to Brighton Crematorium, I have not been anywhere other than Waitrose, Marble Hill Park and St. Mary's Church for a long time! Perhaps, like you, I crave to get away, breathe a different air, walk under a different sky, look across a different landscape, and I believe our dear Government has told us that, with certain restrictions, from tomorrow, we may!!! Possibly prisoners have felt like this and had to imagine, rather than actually visit, places where they have formerly felt free. The compass which must be embedded in my heart always clearly directs me to places where my soul can breathe, where any sense of striving is stilled, where I feel that I belong and know the presence of the one I seek. More than anywhere else, inevitably for a child of Wales, these feelings have most frequently been felt there, especially in Pembrokeshire. So, even before we are allowed to jump in our cars and drive off on a short holiday, I want to take you to the ancient cathedral church of S. David, looking like a stately ship, anchored in a small valley in West Wales. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times to visit. A place of worship, not for worship. The place seems to pray while people slumber, continuing the praise of Almighty God despite the indifference of those who may have forgotten its presence at the far tip of Wales. For me, the most sacred space in the cathedral is the chapel of the Holy Trinity. Effectively a "corridor" chapel, positioned immediately behind the High Altar. The earthly remains of S. David and I believe S. Justinian used to be cradled there in a small casket in the wall between the chapel and the High Altar. That is until a certain Dean, with an eye to increasing revenue, sought to remove them from that discreet location and give them more prominence in the chancel and in so doing, dislocated the sacred balance and spiritual architecture of the cathedral. It seems to have disturbed the numinous energy and taken something away from the praying heart of the place. Ah well, things will one day settle, but the saints seem not to be happy with their "enhanced" new home, they seemed quite content where they had rested for centuries in prayerful solitude, integrated as they were into the very walls of the building. It has altered the Holy Trinity Chapel now into an empty space, where once you felt you were breathing the very air of Heaven. For hours I used to sit there, privately, inches away from sacred bones, in prayerful contemplation and solitude. There it was I asked for guidance as to how to spend my life, praying for prompting as I negotiated choices, longing for reassurance that my decisions were the correct ones, offering prayers for those I loved and cared for. Perhaps I am wrong and the Dean correct, perhaps the saints prefer to be centre stage celebrities, all lit up, enhanced with stars of gold, more "accessible" and certainly more noticeable. But I am nostalgic for the days when they were hidden in the ancient stones, exuding influence like an exotic scent, humbly getting on with the business of sanctifying the place through their smouldering presence, prayerful intercession and their adoration of our Creator God. It will take more than the miscalculation of a Minister to irrevocably change the spiritual potency of the place. The sturdy structure still stands, the purple pink stones piled so many centuries ago, offer an air of permanence. Still there is an attentive silence that quietens one's soul; the strangely comforting sounds of the gently creaking rafters far above one's head; the echo of music long since silenced; shafts of golden light spreading warmth and something more powerful than warmth; the roots of the building reaching deep into the soil of the mystical, Celtic past. All these are as real to me as I imagine them, as if I was there again, the place is as close as prayer. Another place I would like to take you is just around the coast from the cathedral, though first we must pay homage to S. Non, David's mother, whose cell like ruin stands in a field near the cliffs half a mile, if that, beyond the cathedral walls. This is supposedly where David was born and drew first breath. The moment he came into the world, a well apparently sprang up, its waters still cleansing, refreshing, healing. People walk down the path from a small resting place for cars, voices getting quieter as they descend, footsteps getting slower in respect for the significance of this place where for centuries, people have anointed their bodies with the sharp, cold, clear water of the well. Its slow trickle almost deepening the sense of silence. There is a small shaded basin roughly a metre square and half a metre deep, into which the water falls. You can imagine how I felt when, with a few reverent, devotional pilgrims gazing prayerfully into the waters, my last Labrador Muddle, seeing not a sacred sight but a welcome one of water after his long walk, dived straight into the sparkling well, sending spray all over everyone, lapping up the delicious refreshing waters before jumping out and shaking himself, an arc of water creating a rainbow all around him. They claim the waters have healing properties, perhaps that's one of the reasons he lived in perfect health well into his fifteenth year! Let's carry on now with our journey, we will be travelling left along the coast from St David's Head to a place you may well have visited yourself, though it isn't that familiar to many, Bosherston Lily Ponds. They even give Giverny a run for their money. Vast pools of tranquil water, completely covered with lily pads and flowers, voluptuous fish slowly swaying side to side in the still waters and sharp eyed herons surveying the scene from elevated places of prominence. On a rare day you may even see the brilliant flash of turquoise and vermillion as a kingfisher skims over the bright waters to its bankside home. You cross over the lakes along three long, narrow bridges to a soft, sandy beach, from the ancient church at the head of the valley, to a rock standing just out to sea, strangely reminiscent of the roof and steeple of the church, one mirroring the other, either end of the valley and I for one don't know which is the more sanctified or sanctifying of the two. Then, to the right of the beach, travelling back westward, is a strange place, a holy place, in some ways an unsettling place, other times an answering place, and that is the small chapel of S. Govan. Govan was, or at least became, a hermit. His hermitage dwelling was a cave like space half way down a cliff face. To access the chapel you have to descend over seventy steps cut into the rock. The chapel made from it is a structure approximately 10 feet by 20 feet, with one narrow, unglazed strip of window looking out onto the shining waves and two narrow doors, one leading up to the cliff, one down to the broiling waters of the turbulent sea. It has a simple stone altar at its east end and the chapel offers a brief respite to the pilgrim from the pounding waters below as you stand in the dank darkness imagining what life, for Govan, may have been like. Here Govan lived simply, humbly, prayerfully and here something of his spirit remains. Here I have felt held by God, suspended between this world and the next, acquainted with realities relating more to Heaven than earth. Here in this place of Presence, I have prayed for friends, family, and have known the strange company of saints and angels, brushing past me with their imperative to pray for the saving of souls. Mystics and Celts would call this a "thin" place, where the veil between this world and the one which awaits, is at its thinnest. Indeed sometimes it is so thin, it appears not to be there at all and whispers of wonders can easily be overheard. Such places as this are for me the heart of my homeland, perhaps because they seem charged with the energy of the other Homeland for which our souls crave. So you can imagine my disappointment if not my fury when, with the expectation of visiting this sacred spot, I had driven down to S. Govans on one of my last visits to Wales, only to find that the land on which S. Govan's cave-chapel stands, owned by the MInistry of Defence, had been closed for bombing practice! How dare they?! How dare such middle management bureaucrats bar pilgrims from visiting such holy sites because of the practice of warfare?! When I returned home, I reached for my pen in readiness to write to the said bureaucrats. Then suddenly I stopped. I realised how appropriate in a way, such a juxtaposition of images was: a prayerful hermit whose place of prayer was at the heart of a bombing range. Have not men and women of prayer all down the centuries, found themselves called to be a prayerful presence, not for areas of peace and tranquility, but for areas of pain and suffering in the world. Such as Govan and those called to a life of prayer in our own day, are specifically drawn to intercede for the world they inhabit, the people they serve. Men and women of prayer are required not to escape from the realities of the world but to live at its aching heart, just as surely as the Christ who calls them to such work, suffered and died and His cross still stands at the heart of the turning world, continuing to offer healing and peace in the most contradictory of images: peace coming from a corpse; forgiveness flowing from wounds; unconditional love shining from one killed by those who hated Him. So many of us are longing to get away, to be on holiday. I know I am, and so are the dogs! Who of us does not crave refreshment, renewal, for the realities we will then return to? In the meantime my friends, you and I are called to continue to be a praying presence, seeking not to escape but to intercede, bringing the world's pain into the presence of the One who heals. I feel better for my trip with you to some of the sacred spots in Pembrokeshire, imaginary though it has been. Let us all find renewed strength and resolve to bring the pain into the peace, the darkness into the light, the cacophony into the harmony, following the example of David, Non, Justinian, Govan and so many other saints who lived their lives amongst the challenges of previous centuries and were a transforming presence whose legacy of perseverance and hope, we are the beneficiaries of. With all the saints of God down two thousand years and probably beyond, may we join our prayers with theirs as we say with hearts made larger by hope: "Thy Kingdom Come O Lord, On Earth As It Is In Heaven!" With Celtic Blessings and best wishes Jeff
Please join us this Sunday for our time of worship. This week we will be thinking especially about God`s love for the children of the world and His call to us to nurture, support and inspire them. Our readings will be Romans Chapter 8 verses 14-17 and Mark Chapter 10 verses 13-16. Our Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, Without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy, That with you as our ruler and guide, We may pass through things temporal That we lose not our hold on things eternal: Grant this Heavenly Father For Our Lord Jesus Christ` sake Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
Jack Lowe, a life-long Twickenham resident, died peacefully on 22nd June, just three days short of his 101st birthday, in the much-loved home built by his family in the 1920s. Only the year before he had celebrated his 100th birthday in Canberra, Australia, with his niece, Jan Moule, and her family and friends. Much to his delight, a congratulatory card from the Queen was hand-delivered there. Jack saw Jan much as a daughter: his beloved elder brother, Jan’s father, having died in his mid-thirties when she was a young child.
This was the last of many flights Jack made to visit Jan. He was thoroughly spoilt by the Singapore Airlines crew. They held a party during the stop-over and presented him with a signed cake and champagne. On his departure back to the UK, the captain and crew formed a ‘guard of honour’ to welcome him on board.
Jack was born in St Margarets on 26 June 1919. At the age of eight he moved with his family to Chudleigh Road, Twickenham, the same home in which he died 93 years later. It was the first house to be built in the road, to his parents’ specification, and was surrounded by fruit orchards. Jack spoke often of early Twickenham and had clear memories of Richmond House on Twickenham riverside before its demolition in 1924. He attended St Mary’s Church for 92 years, having first been brought there by his mother as an eight-year-old.
Jack had a varied career, training as a chef in the hotel industry in the 1930s, retraining and running his own business, a successful hair salon in Whitton in the 1950s and 60s, before switching many years later to work for HMRC. He spent the Second World War as a driver for senior military officers, a role that put him in the vanguard of numerous significant events. He was among those to land at Sword Beach just after D-Day, with his landing craft nearly sinking in a terrific storm, having lost the chunk of the Mulberry harbour and a barrage balloon that it was towing. He was with the British troops who liberated Brussels in September 1944, and among the first troops to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945. After VE Day Jack spent a further two years in Germany involved with reconstruction work.
By any measure Jack was a remarkable man. He loved the theatre, music, ballet and his G&Ts. He was fiercely independent, running his own home until a fall in March. He was a consummate cook and ardent gardener, keeping an impeccable welcoming home to the end. He drew friends from all backgrounds and generations, with his innate love of people, and a wicked sense of humour. He was loyal and generous to a fault – and this was returned in equal measure.
He was close to his extended family, often spending Christmases and other family occasions with the Hawking family in Cambridge, Jane Hawking being the daughter of his close cousin, Beryl.
In March, after a fall, Jack was admitted to West Middlesex Hospital where, sadly, he contracted Covid-19. Remarkably he survived but was left exhausted. He desperately wanted to return home, which he did in May, and for the first time in his long life had to accept the help of carers. He died peacefully there on 22 June.
His funeral service will be held in St. Mary’s Church, Twickenham on Tuesday, 7 July at 10:30 am. Please note that because of Covid-19 restrictions, attendance is by invitation only. Should you wish to pay your respects, the Committal will be outside the church from about 10:45 am. As per Jack’s wishes, in lieu of flowers any donations should be made to the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher.