Homily for January 2021
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a new beginning”
T S Eliot: “Little Gidding”
As we approach a New Year, it is traditional, customary and indeed natural to look back: to reflect on past experiences and to look forward, hopefully to a brighter future, or at least to an improvement in the current situation.
This time around, however, the end of one year and the start of another will be momentous for this country and its constituent parts, for its regions, for its people, for every one of us. What is certain is that, as night on 31st December 2020 becomes day on 1st January 2021, we will be in a completely different place, though we may not feel the greatest impact in that moment.
Whilst the rest of Europe looks on in incredulity, we are to cut ourselves adrift, and sail off into the bright blue yonder of prosperity and paradise, or alternatively towards disaster and oblivion, depending on our individual, personal point of view.
It does see an appropriate time to read this famous last poem by Eliot, composed as it was at the height of the Blitz. “Little Gidding” is the fourth part of the “Four Quartets”, a work deeply rooted in English tradition, but drawing also on European influences from Dante to Greek tragedy. This fourth part is regarded as being the most Christian, but it has a resonance also with those who are without a faith, dealing as it does with themes such as time, belonging, memory, meaning, fear. Each of the four parts is based upon one of the elements: air (“Burnt Norton”), earth (“East Coker”), water (“The Dry Salvages”) and fire (“Little Gidding”).
So, some turn for solace, comfort, understanding to poetry, whilst others resort to nature or music. I am more of a nature and music sort of a person. When I am at a time of crisis or anxiety, a long walk certainly can help or a choice of a favourite piece of music is able to lift the spirit. I have been to many interviews in my professional life and failed at most of them, perhaps a fact for which I should feel grateful! Maybe it is the case that I succeeded in the most important ones! I have, though, improved my interview technique and one of the critical factors has been the creation of the right frame of mind prior to the encounter. My first choice is Van Morrison’s “Full Force Gale” with its line “Like a full force gale, I was lifted up again, by the Lord!”. The last job interview I went to was 10 years ago and such was my confidence (or was it arrogance?) that I could do a good interview, that I actually asked to have a formal one, rather than the offer of a simple chat with the erstwhile Head!
Although I have been uplifted, sustained, enthused, challenged, motivated, enthralled by music for so long, I do not think there has been ever such a difficult time for music and musicians, both professional and amateur. However, I feel my most extreme sympathy for those whose livelihoods depend upon it and who teach the skills and appreciation of it to others. I have been fortunate to be able to attend 3 live gigs by some amazing artists at the Live Room at Saltaire, between the two periods of the most severe restrictions, and otherwise, live-streamed concerts the rest of the time and almost on a weekly basis. Since March 2020 there has been no possibility to practise or perform with City of Bradford Pipeband or Stroke of Genius Big Band, or that matter for the Trinity Worship Band. There have been none of the usual plethora of practices in the run-up to Christmas for Grove Singers, Barbershop, Orchestra, Swing Band at School. Despite the amazing musical productions that it has been possible to stream, there is no substitute for the pleasure and thrill of performing live or attending a live musical performance.
Music can be complex or simple, but its power is unimaginable. Sometimes it is not always recognised as music. Take the case of the Indian Cuckoo – its call is made up of four separate notes in a rhythm which can be imagined as the bird saying ”Crossword Puzzle” or similar. Four apparently unconnected notes, which nevertheless create a tonal and rhythmical pattern: music.
Never more starkly has the importance of music been demonstrated than in the life of one Paul Harvey. His story inspired a £1m charity donation from Scotland’s first-ever billionaire. Sir Tom Hunter said he immediately wanted to donate the sum when he saw a video of Paul, 80, performing the piece. He “lit up the screen”, said Sir Tom. The donation is to be split between the Alzheimer’s Society and Music for Dementia.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Paul, from Buxted in Sussex, was diagnosed with dementia late last year but has continued to be able to play piano pieces from memory – as well as create new ones. His son, Nick, said it had been an “old party trick” of his father’s to request four random notes and then improvise a song, which he did after being given the notes – F natural, A, D and B natural – to play. Nick then posted the clip online to show how musical ability can survive memory loss.
Never again will I take any of this for granted!
Who knows, perhaps in time we will come to feel the same about our place within the European Union or the one without it? That there has been a deal struck between the EU negotiators and those of the United Kingdom is a matter of huge relief and provides a deviation from the catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions and to which we were no doubt extremely close. However to flaunt it as some sort of victory, is akin to Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time’ or Nixon’s “Peace with Honor”. Indeed it would have made even the eyes of Pyrrhus water!* In the end the argument seems to have come down to fishing quotas and both sides caved in, with the result that no-one will be happy with the compromise, least of all those actively involved in the fishing industry in the UK and especially those north of the border! By the way, fishing accounts for not more than 0.05% of UK GDP, whilst the service sector, currently at about 80%, did not feature in the trade negotiations!
What we can expect is a continued period of wrangling, which could last many years, a huge increase in delay and bureaucracy, restrictions on educational opportunity, work and travel, possible irreversible damage to the state of the Union and even to the peace in Northern Ireland.
One major newspaper declared that this agreement will “one day surely be regarded as one of the greatest-ever deceits inflicted on the British electorate”.
Time will tell!
Our sermon series at Trinity throughout Advent and reflected in the bags that were distributed to the membership and friends also covered four themes: hope, peace, joy and love.
We prayed that the light we let into our lives be based upon
… the hope we have in the Lord
… the peace that only he can bring
… the joy we find in walking with him
… the love that he showed for us in sending his son to live amongst us
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Union, quoted Shakespeare as she announced the agreement that had been reached between the UK and the EU: “Parting is such sweet sorrow” and the words above, whence we started, from T S Eliot’s “Little Gidding”. Here is another section:
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
So at the end, let us return to the beginning:
The Word Became Flesh John 1:1-14
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Peter Lambert – January 2021
Pyrrhus, (born 319 BCE)
King of Hellenistic Epirus whose costly military successes against Macedonia and Rome gave rise to the phrase “Pyrrhic victory.” His Memoirs and books on the art of war were quoted and praised by many ancient authors, including Cicero.
He died in a night skirmish in Argos (!)
(PS Ed: That’s almost happened to me a few times!)