Life and death…death and life

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way death is held and handled in the natural world, how different that may be to our various societal approaches to death, and possible reasons for this.

It seems that life can flow through aspects of the natural world that have died and are decaying.

New light can shine through, giving new perspectives.

Unexpected growth can come, which may or may not prove useful as an end, but can be a process which brings a different kind of beauty.

A form of protection can also be found to enable a nourishing and healing end for the surrounding community.

Sometimes, rather than an end, there is potential and the possibility of a beginning. Before this possibility is realised there is a period of rest and recuperation.

That rest occurs in community; it’s each taking care of one another’s needs…

…until finally there are the first signs of new life, growth, a new season.

With news stories such as this Triple Death Crash or reports of 11 US School shootings this year, it is little wonder that we often struggle to see death as a positive part of life. Equally losing a long loved relative can feel like just as much of a tragedy to those who grieve as the stories which make up our headlines. How often do we stand in solidarity through these times, not only in the weeks following but, in the months and even years that those left behind seek to adjust to a different way of life…a life without. I was astounded to find that for a major bereavement work places generally give three days of compassionate leave, and that is it. There are many front facing professions where this is just not enough for a person to recover to a state of being able to function. Equally after a few short weeks, no more than months, you are expected to be back to normal and yet this season of grieving can last well beyond expected time frames. Do we expect too much of ourselves, of one another? Do we allow safe spaces to voice our pain, our loss and our grief? How can we do this better?

The Art of Encounter

This week I had felt drawn to walk the parish. Having been given boundary maps and a Leicester A-Z last week I was fully equipped! Not being fully sure what I would find I set off on Monday morning after Morning Prayer, rucksack and camera in hand. It would be wonderful to have been able to walk the whole parish in that day, but one of the first things I became aware of was the sheer scale of it – this was a project not a small task!

This tree was my first encounter. I smiled to myself as my attention was drawn to it, wondering whether it would be a symbolic theme of my journey – I could not have seen at that point just how insightful that fleeting thought was! There was something about this dead tree which drew me…

DSC_0001-2

Continuing my walk I began to pass people on my way. Each time I passed someone I greeted them – it seemed like such a simple act and yet it led to so many different responses. I am still not really used to wearing a clerical collar; it’s comfortable but as I don’t see it, I often forget I am wearing it. I think the quick return greeting whilst continuing to stride ahead was a response to the collar – polite, but without a plan to engage as you never know what might happen next! A few people who were approaching me crossed the street well before we were at a safe distance for me to greet them, which made me more aware of being perceived to be part of an establishment as a cleric, someone to be avoided! Others just ignored me completely. Only one or two were happy to pass the time of day. This led me to think about what we have lost in our communities which has led to such mistrust even of a friendly smile…?

DSC_0016-2

Whilst thinking about our losses I began to wonder about the art of encounter. It seems relatively easy to encounter community en masse, but how can we begin to see individuals again?

DSC_0017-2

What needs to happen for one to trust another enough to allow them to look into their eyes, and know that they care?

Amongst other places on my walk I came across the local crematorium and cemetery. I became aware of the ways in which death can surround us so much that we fail to see the life.

DSC_0021-2

Perhaps it is little wonder when life can be so difficult, and lives chaotic. This view of society is often seen by the Police, which I learned something of as I met with a PCSO from the area.

DSC_0025-2

Later in the week I spent time with the food bank. There I found those with a desperate need for encounter, for someone just to listen to them, as they were given precious food items that I take for granted.

DSC_0037-2

I also joined a Knit and Natter group who wanted to encounter and share in each others lives as they knitted.

IMG_3880

Weekly pastoral visits bring welcome encounters to individuals who are otherwise housebound, and what a privilege and joy it is to be someone who brings light and laugher into someone’s day, whatever they are facing.

DSC_0030-2

When invited to a local school summer fair, encounters seemed slightly easier, especially when introduced by a trusted member of their community.

DSC_0003-2

Here people were willing to show their skills and pass the time of day with me – my henna tattoo was evidence of that!

DSC_0008-2

As I look back over the week I find myself concluding that the art of encounter is so complex. Some eagerly await and welcome it. Others absolutely turn away from it, perhaps even fear it. On ordination retreat we had the opportunity to have our feet washed by our Bishop, which I took. As Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he said “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8) and this tradition has been passed down, where those who are to serve must also be willing to be served. It is such a humbling act, but what really pierced deep into my heart was the way that Bishop Martyn intentionally looked into my eyes, into my soul, and encountered me in a way that few people do. It made me realise how necessary and yet difficult encounter is – you never quite know what the other person is seeing. That said we are made in the image of God to be relational beings – we need encounter.

I am completely convinced of the need to just be present in community, willing to greet, be ignored or verbally abused, to walk alongside or to stand alone, to be the hands and feet, eyes and ears of Jesus.

DSC_0002-2

My challenge to you, should you choose to accept, is to walk around your community this week and greet all those who you meet. It is a tiny act, but it may well make a huge difference to some.

The Art of Encounter

“Death is nothing at all”
Can we really say this
When death and decay
Drain life day after day
Little by little leaning on
All that we know and own
Sapping all that we are
Hour by hour
Minute by minute
Death destroys
Something
Someone
Loved
Tick tick tick

Yet, like corn in a field
That grows and matures
Over the seasons
With sun and rain
In equal measure
Its fruit ripens and hardens
Then dries and dies
Seemingly useless
Yet within a small seed
Lies potential for new life
Nestling
Watching
Waiting
Tick tick tick

New life born perfect
Thrives in community
Love relationship
And solidarity
One encounters the other
As they look
And really see
Into the soul
The heart
As God in all glory
Encounters
Sees
Admires
This beautiful creation

希望

#163 希望 or ‘hope’ is a big part of the Christian message. Perhaps we don’t always have the answers but we do have #hope in a God of Love. I was looking at the meaning behind these Japanese characters for hope and the whilst the first character does not seem to be so profound the second character is made up of three smaller ones: #death, perished or dying; #moon; and #king. I feel like there is a resurrection message in there somewhere…death comes to us all, but what happens next? Where do we go and who do we meet? (at Ripon College Cuddesdon)