Thursday, June 19, 2008
Surrounded by so Great a Cloud of Witnesses
The day after tomorrow I have an appointment with a very sharp knife and tomorrow is sort of dress rehearsal day. I have to have a blood test: if the guy with the knife sneezes or I otherwise spring a leak, they want to know what to top up the sump with. I also have to meet the guy with the ether and the gauze cloth, exactly why, I'm not sure. It's been a long time coming and I'm almost glad it's finally here. I can honestly say I am not frightened or even particularly worried about the outcome; we'll face hurdles as we come to them, and I'm sure God has enough things left for me to fiddle around with to delay my departure for at least the medium term. Since I wrote this, I have had an amazing gift of time for reflection and thought. The undeniably tentative nature of my own existence has been a background to that, and perspectives have been considerably rearranged.
While this inner stuff was chugging around things have been happening in a universe far far away, namely the Anglican church. I look at it, publicly disemboweling itself over issues no-one else in the world could give a violinist's flatulatory episode about and wonder ' is this the organisation I have given my life to? Why?'
I don't wonder that when I look out of my kitchen window and see St. John's church and the people quietly moving about our lovely gardens. I have been vicar here now for nearly ten years. My parish is an extraordinary group of people. Of course most of them earn their livings nursing or studying or teaching or running houses and businesses but if you come over all poorly in a service you are in imminent risk from the stampede of doctors rushing to your aid. We could paper a reasonably sized house with the PhDs I preach to on Sunday mornings, and whatever subject you care to name, odds are we could find you a professor of it. We have artists and sculptors and actors and writers and dancers and singers and players of most things that can make a noise. But it's not all that which astonishes me about these people. Rather, it's the way they can calmly and patiently and generously absorb into their number some very damaged people whose cries for attention and help can sometimes be well... let's say trying. It's the way they do what other churches only talk about, in terms of initiatives for hurting people and for protection of the planet. It's the way they are, as individuals quietly engaged, without fuss or self advertisement in almost every project of cultural or social worth that is happening in our city. And over this past six weeks they have cared for me with exquisite wisdom: knowing when to call and when to stay away; when to speak and when to stay silent. Every day another visit or email or card in the letter box. Every day another sign of someone's prayer and support and love.
Which signs also come from closer at hand, emotionally if not geographically speaking. My three brothers and my sister and I are closer than most siblings of our generation. It's because our early life was not always easy and facing difficulties together does have a bonding effect. The people amongst whom I grew are all materially successful, emotionally stable, psychologically robust and intellectually agile. All have a deep spirituality, although we do vary in our willingness to express it. All have displayed impeccable taste in partners and all have produced children to be proud of. It has been a natural thing, when life suddenly seemed fragile, to seek their company and counsel. Over the next few weeks many of them will come to Dunedin, just to be here.
And closer still are the ones who are my very body and blood. Catherine has been home on mid term break, Bridget arrives next week, Nick is Skyping from London every chance he gets, Clemency is home from tomorrow onwards, all of them supporting and cajoling and instructing and questioning and suggesting: loving me in a thousand little ways.
Today my archdeacon (and friend and Christian brother) came to anoint me with oil and pray for me. Colleagues visit, phone and text. My Rotary club have been quietly and sincerely supportive and present. In the last few months I have also strengthened friendships with school friends: people who knew me over 40 years ago and who have a depth of understanding and perspective impossible to reproduce elsewhere. Kathryn - oh how I pined after her when I was in form one - is now living in Perth but has written and been to visit. Alden, who posts on this blog and on his own two has been one of my most valued friends since I was 16. Buddhists are dedicating the merit of their practice to me. Catholics are saying masses for me. A candle is burning for me in my church right now. It seems that God has drawn about my shoulders a kahu hururu of relationships, old, new and rernewed
Indeed my perspectives have been considerably rearranged. I am reminded of what I should have known all along: that it is in the closest relationships that the deepest truth is found; that God works best in the small scale and in the personal. I am reminded daily that I am surrounded by dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of people who respect and love me. All else: the ideas I struggle with and the church I despair over pale into nothingness beside that.
He aha te mea nui?
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
Maku a ki atu
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!