Homily for March 2021
Mums! The Word!
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Mum’s the word! As well as an affectionate name for one’s mother, Mum has another meaning: that of “silent”. It is a Middle English word and is possibly derived from the mummer – an actor in a traditional pantomime or play who does not speak.
One of my Mum’s favourite Bible verses was:
For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved: in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. (Isaiah 30:15)
So now I will do the opposite and perhaps encourage you to do so too! For I believe the message to be universal and eternal as it is one of Everlasting Love. Are you old enough to remember the song whose chorus went:
Open up your eyes, then you’ll realize
Here I stand with my, everlasting love
Need you by my side, girl to be my bride
You’ll never be denied, everlasting love
From the very start, open up your heart
Be a lasting part of everlasting love
These were the words of the 1967 recording by the Love Affair fronted by Steve Ellis, a song written in Nashville, Tennessee and the original released by Robert Knight earlier in the same year.
Only last month in the February Homily, I wrote these words:
I have had a fantastic upbringing, am part of a small but tight, close and incredibly loving family unit, have never had to go to war to defend the values of my country and beliefs, have a lovely warm and comfortable house and live in the most beautiful part of the world, West Yorkshire (OK… one of the most beautiful parts of the world!).
Little did I know at the time, but these thoughts were to be brought sharply into focus, with the events of the past week when we said a last goodbye to our 95-year-old mother. As I write on this last day of February 2021, it is a week since she became extremely ill as the result of a massive stroke and was taken to Jimmy’s. She finally left us, quietly and peacefully at 2.15 am on Wednesday 24th February. In the interval between her sudden illness and her final passing, my two elder brothers and I had been able to spend a great deal of time, mostly whilst she slept, sitting by her side and holding her hand, offering her words of comfort, something that has been denied us for almost a year, due to the pandemic. For this we are fortunate indeed: had it been a few months earlier, we may not have been allowed into the hospital at all !
As I dashed over to A and E at Jimmy’s last Saturday afternoon to meet Richard, my eldest brother, on his way from Delph, Oldham, Bruce Springsteen was narrating the story of his life. It was playing automatically via the memory stick/flash drive still attached from Helen’s last journey somewhere. Perhaps I was too lazy to change for something else, but more. likely I began to find it interesting and as time went on over the next few days it became compelling.
I had been thinking of my own family and in particular my young life growing up in the privileged surroundings of Southway, Horsforth (The Beechwood Estate). When I say “privileged”, I do not mean that we had money, because manifestly we did not. There was an enduring family joke that my parents had just about enough money at the end of the month to buy a tube of toothpaste. I think I remember right when I say that we did not have a car until I was into my teens. That meant that a holiday to Looe in Cornwall was a journey of Odyssean proportions: 14 hours in an Austin Cambridge. That is, I am certain, where the question “Are we nearly there yet?” originated. I remember going to bed in the winter when there was ice (“Jack Frost”)on the inside of the window panes. I would curl up in a ball at the top of the bed and all of a sudden, when had plucked up courage, shoot my legs down into its icy deep! Central heating was a luxury that did not arrive until I was 13 or 14. We used to watch “Pot Black” on black and white TV where whispering Ted Lowe would proudly inform the viewers that for those watching in black and white, the pink was behind the blue! Then there were the boxing gloves and fights behind the sofa and the reel-to-reel tape recorder, with stories concocted from edited clips, Norman Greenbaum or Simon and Garfunkel … Not to mention endless pairs of kneeless jeans from obsessive Subbuteo, with its teams, leagues and divisions, competed-for by our group of contemporaries round the circle… That was when we were not able to be outside – our main joy was football and cricket in gardens or the college pitches … and later clandestine smoking and drinking…
Despite the privations (many readers will have known worse!) we were rich in one commodity: love! Something that never ceases to strike me as I get older is that we were born so close to the end of the catclysm that was the Second World War. My eldest brother Richard in 1950, Philip in 1953 and me in 1957. By some kind of miracle both my mother and father had both survived and were married in 1947. In my mother’s case it was perhaps less so – she had been a telephonist in Versailles for the Allied Expeditionary Force, regularly putting calls through between Winston Churchill and Dwight D Eisenhower! Dad was a so-called D-Day Dodger at Monte Cassino, one of the most costly campaigns of the whole war, fought in horrific conditions more akin to the Somme or the Marne, with the added complication of the mountainous terrain.
Their survival was a miracle. So was their marriage and so then was our birth. They went to Cornwall where Dad and his brother Tony worked for the Forestry Commission for a year two, my parents returning to Leeds and Tony and Glad to Surrey. There seemed t be no question of my Mum working whilst we were young, though she did return later to the switchboard at the local college and then to the Library. My Dad, a pattern-maker by trade, re-trained as a teacher: metalwork, woodwork and then teaching the handicapped in the latter stages of his career.
Christmas parties with the relatives, party pieces, Uncle Doug singing “The road to Mandalay”, Mum playing “Bless this house”, Music Centre, orchestra, choir, brass band .. Elizabethan Serenade on the radio every Sunday morning, Dad rushing to the radio to switch it off before the Archers theme ended and the mindless drivel in exaggerated regional accent began – these are the things that stated to flood my mind once again.
Not so for Springsteen, however! It was a revelation to me that this Superstar of Rock, this legend of the modern idiom, this man so solid and rooted, so articulate and of such good counsel, a man so talented as a musician, poet and thinker should have spent so much of his life in complete turmoil, questioning his worth, his personality, his very existence. It seems that a large part of this unconventional early life was due to his father and his own mental health issues and his disappointment in the son whom he wanted to be something or someone different.
In contrast, we were supported in all we wanted to do, planned to do, dreamed of doing. When I was about 6 or 7 I think, I was asked what I wanted to do, as a part of a writing exercise at school. I had said that I wanted to climb Everest to which my mother had replied: “Yes, but be careful!”
Later this month we will celebrate Mothering Sunday, but let’s make it one when we rejoice in all women: grandmothers, mothers, wives, daughters sisters, aunts, whatever their age, role or status, because we belong to them and them to us.
To a very large extent, my parents, Margaret and Guy, made us what we are, because THEY LOVED US.
It is our duty, our joy, our commission to love others in the same way.
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you
PR Lambert – March 2021