Friday, 26 July 2013

At the end of the retreat we were asked to choose a postcard and write a message home recording our key memories of the weekend. That postcard dropped through the letterbox this morning, it had my own comments and also an additional message of encouragement added by the sender. I thought it was a lovely idea and it was very meaningful and I kept thinking of it while I was packing to go away on holiday.The song above has also been in my mind recently and so I post it here as well.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Searching for home

While I was in Devon this weekend, I was aware that one of the other events/ gatherings taking place was a reunion at the school I attended in the army base of Rheindahlen (BFPO 40.)  We  lived in Germany from 1975 until 1981 as my father was a Forces teacher and padre, and the school provided for children living in the new NATO Headquarters and adjacent British Garrisons and RAF Stations. When I returned on Monday, my face book page was awash with status updates and photos both of the retreat and also of the reunion in Germany. Many of the photos evoked strong memories from over thirty years ago, and many of the messages and comments were moving and made me remember little details I thought I had forgotten.

One thing I noticed was that people had taken photos not just of the teachers who had attended (they look really old... but come to think of it they always did...) and of now adult school friends, but also of seemingly insignificant details, the benches and bins, the turn of a staircase, the old path to where we used to catch the buses!  I wonder if these seemingly mundane details are maybe the most important because they are invested with personal memory? As  one person wrote, "Goodbye RheinD, a part of me will always be here", and maybe it is the child walking and laughing with friends on their way home on an afternoon to which no date can be ascribed that is more real and evocative than the school photo or the leavers' ball which were largely planned to fix the memory and moment in time.
 I don't think I particularly live in the past. That time did have happy memories for me, but also less positive ones and I think I am a happier person now than my pre-teen/ teenage self ever was. I could understand the nostalgia though; many Forces children move frequently, different stages of a childhood can often be strongly marked out by different postings. This week  the old school and many buildings in the base are due to be demolished. There is a service at St Boniface, the church we attended. Inevitably there is a petition on face book to "save" JHQ (Joint Head Quarters Rheindahlen) to save what is to some their past and a childhood home - as the video in this link shows.
 The whole thing, coupled with the experiences of the retreat, now turning into precious memories, made me think about where we find our sense of identity, our sense of a place where we belong/ feel at home, the places, times and people who hold a key to who we really are. When we revisit times past we meet our changed, our ghost selves, our former selves which are now like different people, although they play such a crucial part in our story or our journey. The more you have changed and developed in your life, the more you will recognise this feeling. I thought of the famous saying of St. Augustine that,
      "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
One of the things someone said in our discussions this weekend was that we carry within us that image of the divine that offers us a completeness for which we continue to yearn. God is ever old and ever new, transcends and encompasses every place and time, is our beginning and our end, travels with us yet  always waits to welcome us home. Until we find our place in God we are never fully home.

And so it is with our past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it; all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realms, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object which we do not suspect. (Proust: The Remembrance of Things Past.)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Time out in the sunshine

I've just come back from retreat down in Devon and feel enormously blessed by the worship, activities, conversations and fellowship that I've enjoyed. I don't know if it was the focus on healing or just the fact that we had glorious sunshine instead of the customary rain showers, but there was such a  remarkable sense of peace and joy this weekend and everyone I spoke to commented on it. This retreat was a bit different for me as well because I was helping with worship sessions, but not too many, so I did still get plenty of time for myself.  On Sunday morning I decided for the first time to go to the monastic mass rather than the retreat worship. I was glad I did because the singing was incredibly beautiful.

We also sang Forth in thy name Oh Lord I go as the final hymn and it seemed very appropriate.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Shoring up the family

 I heard on the news today that David Cameron is going to introduce an £150 tax break to" incentivise" marriage, perhaps because some sectors have been very bitter about the fact that the Coalition Government has been rather tardy in carrying out what was a manifesto pledge whilst moving ahead with the matter of same sex marriage. However, even this simple tax concession has stirred strong ideological feelings as shown by the don't judge my family campaign which accuses the Government of "using the tax system to promote their fantasy Fifties family" whilst discriminating against, for example, women who have left a marriage to escape domestic violence. Those who support this  move argue that the emotional and financial cost of family breakdown in Britain is too great a cause for concern for the Government not to take steps to promote marriage. Those who oppose it speak up for those who are not married but who are still in committed relationships.
One of the problems at the heart of this kind of divide is that human relationships and circumstances are of necessity so varied and diverse that we fall into the trap of generalising and often judging unfairly when we do not consider each and every person and situation for who and what they are. I am sure I was not the only person who was pretty appalled to hear that nearly a million children live in fatherless households, at the same time, I am someone who is acutely aware that not all households with fathers are safe, happy and stable environments for women or children. Moreover, there are many single parents doing an excellent job of bringing up children, same sex couples who are great parents, many parents who are single because they are widowed, step families who cope well with the complex relationships. Statistics, such as that children do better educationally from married families, seem compelling until we realise that most married people are more qualified/ educated and so this is to be expected. Real people lie behind statistics, and real people are not so easy to categorise.
I suspect that there are truths on either side of this particular divide- perhaps we do need to act to mend a "broken Britain". Undoubtedly though the issue is not simple and it seems very unlikely that the qualities and attitudes which lie at the heart of strong relationships and stable families can be bought or bribed for £150 pounds, or indeed with any amount of money at all.