A conversation at the European Chaplains’ Conference sent me back to reading RS Thomas the Welsh poet and Anglican priest. Here is one of his poems that caught my eye during this month of seeking silence in daily life.
(The blog program wont let me use tabs and spacings to give the original line layout – which has some unusual gaps – hints at silence maybe?)
The Presence by RS Thomas
I pray and incur
silence.Some take that silence
I feel the power
by the sleeve,nudging
towards the long shelf
that has the book on it I will take down
and read and find the antidote
to an ailment.
I know its ways with me ;
how it enters my life,
is present rather
before I perceive it, sunlight quivering
on a bare wall.
Is it consciousness trying
to get through ?
Am I under
It takes me seconds
to focus, by which time
it has shifted its gaze,
looking a little to one
side, as though I were not here.
It has the universe
to be abroad in.
There is nothing I can do
but fill myself with my own
silence, hoping it will approach
like a wild creature to drink
there, or perhaps like Narcissus
to linger a moment over its transparent face.
We have just been as an ecumenical and multi-faith team to the service to give thanks for the people who have given their bodies for medical education, research and training.This year over 450 people who have died donated their bodies to Schools of Medicine and Anatomy in London and the South East.
Southwark Cathedral was packed out with family and friends of those who have died – many having to stand around the pillars and at the back.
I was there with my colleagues. Rikke was representing the Lutheran Church as well as Imperial. We were joined for the first time by our Buddhist colleague Karuna. We all sat together with the other Chaplains for the simple but very moving service. The key event is the singing of a beautiful funeral liturgy composed by John Taverner. During this medical students slowly carry a large basket of flowers through the congregation and lay it at the foot of the altar. The students also walk passed tables full of photographs of those who have died.
The bodies are used to teach anatomy to medical and dental students. When this is over, after one or two years, Chaplains conduct funeral services.
Donation in this way is a very generous act, without which it would not be possible to educate and train doctors. It also makes great demands on family and friends who have to wait for such a long time before being able to lay to rest the remains of people they have loved.
Like many, many others I’ve been reflecting on the bombing of the Boston Marathon and the events that followed.
Last Summer I spent a week in the Boston area visiting Chaplains. So I could recall the places around Copley Square where the marathon ended.
During my visit I met with Cameron Partridge, Episcopalian Chaplain at Boston University. Lu Lingzi, a graduate student from BU was one of the people killed in the Marathon Bombing.
I also spent a sunny day at MIT with Kari-Jo Verhulst the Lutheran Chaplain. Sean Collier from the MIT police was shot and killed by alleged bombers.
One of the issues in any response to violence and terror is how to regard those who commit violence and atrocity. The acts were horrific and need to be named accurately. However, we have also seen the unwelcome and unacceptable demonising of Muslims and other minority groups.
Thinking about this backlash phenomenon I came across this short blog piece called ‘Love could not bear that’. It draws on an old Christian story that warns against projecting our own inner conflicts and violence onto others. It is from a source of orthodox Christian stories that were new to me.
It has another contemporary message for Christians who feel they always need some group to be ‘against’. But I will let you read that for yourselves.
Thanks to Rev Michael K. Marsh, a priest of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Texas for his blog ‘Interrupting the Silence’.