The Colour Purple

A homily for the first Sunday of Advent, 2015

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Amethyst, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

“When these things begin to take place, stand tall, hold your heads high, because your liberation is at hand”  Jesus

 This week, I sat listening to a mother Continue reading The Colour Purple

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Remembrance-tide: two villages

 

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Naomi, walking a hill

 

 A reflection on Europe and Remembrance, November 2015

“…for those ministers, Britain’s interest in Europe means money, whereas for us, in the immediate post-war period it meant sharing our cultures, our hopes and our very lives with one another”    Donald Nicholl, ‘ A Wandering Scholar’ in ‘The Beatitude of Truth’.

 

Gomersal

At this time of year, amongst so many other things –

people, my grandparents,

poppies and all that they mean,

I think of Dorothy.

As a young woman, Dorothy married a British soldier in 1946 and went to live with him in a little village in West Yorkshire.

Back then, she was just a girl.  Knowing hardly any English, she found herself in a parish outside of Bradford that had lost most of its men to a war with Germany.

The mill village where Dorothy had brought her young self was was called Gomersal, and it’s where I served my title parish as a curate.  I got to know her on a funeral visit, just after her husband had died.  When I first listened to Dorothy’s story, I literally sighed with relief  as she told me that, despite her initial sickening fears, and the occasional hurtful comment, what she’d mostly found in this place was love, kindness and friendship in abundance.

Angels and saints:  mostly anonymous, but always everywhere.

Anyway, one Christmas, I asked Dorothy to help me.   I wanted to quote the lines of the German carol  sung by German soldiers in the First World War, in the trenches.  In December 1914, when the British soldiers heard them singing it, they recognised it, and started to join in and,

for a brief moment,

it seemed that the singing stopped a war.

I asked Dorothy to teach me the carol, in the original German.  She wrote it out for me, phonetically, and I read it back to her, she making sure my pronunciation was vaguely right.  As I did so, I noticed that she had tears in her eyes.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht.

Silent night, holy night.

Tears of joy, she said.  It made her so happy to hear her mother tongue, especially in Church, even when it was pronounced so badly….

It made me realise that language learning, even if it’s just a few words, is a work of prayer and peace.   We should strive to speak the languages of others, of our neighbours, our sisters, our brothers.

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Right now, it’s hotting up:  the debate about the European Union, and whether or not we should be in or out.  In our press, the whole conversation seems to be a working out of how much (money) we get from being part of the EU.

Well, you know who’s to blame for all this European Union stuff, don’t you?

Christians.

After centuries of Europeans killing themselves in very large numbers,

after the mass slaughter of world wars,

it was Christians:  Christian thinkers, politicians, writers, who started to dream about unity between all Europeans.

French Catholics like Jean Monnet and Jacques Delors; German Protestants like Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schumann –  Christians, started to say that Europeans had to learn to do things together, to see themselves as one, because so long as we thought of ourselves only as British, or only as German or French, or Italian, or whatever, then there would be no lasting hope for our world.

Wouldn’t it be great, they thought, if it wasn’t just bullets that we shared, but our stories, our wealth, our land, our lives?

It was a Christian dream, dreamt by people who’d seen war, who’d seen hatred between our countries, and who thought:  we don’t just want quiet, regulated competition between the peoples of this continent, but cooperation, sharing,  peace:  ever greater union.

I sometimes feel sad when the debate is exclusively monetised:  does Britain make money out of being in Europe?   As if it was all just about trade and business!

That wasn’t the dream.  Yes, those Christian dreamers did think that we can achieve more, by working and trading together.   But the vision was how different nations might learn to build common, shared lives of deep peace together.

In Remembrance-tide, I want to honour that dream,

Because despite all the complex questions about the European Union, of how much it can or needs to be reformed, renewed

and whether or not you decide it’s a good or bad thing,

it was, in large part, an ancient Christian dream

reborn out of a war.

Today, we rightly honour the sacrifice of people who paid with their lives to make Europe (and our world)  a place that is free and safe for all peoples.

Let us honour that sacrifice, by earning it.  Earning the freedom they gave to us.   The freedom to dream about how we might, for starters, make, build and sustain peace with our neighbours, in this little corner of planet earth, Europe.

Taizé

 

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In Church, we’ve sung about that dream.   After the second world war, a tiny group of four or five Christians met together in a tiny French village.   They were Swiss, British, Germans and French.   They were anglicans, protestants and catholics (a foundation of reformed protestants and high anglicans, en fait…)  They formed a little community to pray for reconciliation and peace between peoples.  And they said anyone who wants to join us, is welcome.

And slowly, people from all over Europe did just that.

That little village was called Taizé, and hundreds of thousands of people go to Taize each year to pray for peace.   We sing the songs of Taizé.

One of my favourites prays:

Da pacem, domine, da pacem O Christe in diebus, nostris

We sing it in English as

Give peace to every heart.

Give peace to every heart, give peace Lord, peace Lord.

I like singing it in Latin, because, at one time, that was a common liturgical language for all churches in Europe, and, as such, it’s still a little treasure of the church, of its unity, of its cosmic loyalty.

But, in whatever language we choose to sing or pray, I hope we keep singing songs like that,

even if it seems that no one else is listening,

because some songs

bring tears full of hope and healing,

and some

have even been known

to stop wars,

and every village

needs to hear them.