Yesterday, after 'God on Mondays', I drove up to Stoke Poges to visit my 87 year old Godmother, Auntie Celandine in hospital, having been made aware by cousin Dianne that her fragile health was deteriorating, and that she might not live much longer. With a busy week of carol services ahead of me - six in five working days - this would be my only opportunity to visit her before Christmas, and there was no guarantee she would last until the lull between Christmas Day and New Year.
I was in my early teens when she returned to her parental home with two young children, a single mother, due to the breakdown of her wartime marriage. She was brave, hard-working and devout, coping cheerfully with the suffering of rejection and shame at what was still felt to be a social stigma in a Valleys town at the end of the fifties. After a couple of years at home she moved to Sunningdale and worked at the military staff college nearby until retirement, and thereafter worked in Windsor Castle. She remained in domestic service, always striving to educate her two children and they gave her every cause to be proud of them. It was a hard life for an intelligent and capable woman, but she took great pride in her work and in the people she had met. Forsaken by the only man she ever loved, she remained single, dignified, without bitterness and full of appreciation for all of life's goodness and beauty. An admirable Christian example.
When I offered myself for ordination as a Chemistry undergraduate of twenty, it caused a certain amount of consternation in the family, as it was expected that I would work hard and go far as a successful scientist. There were no clergy in the family, and the stereotyped opinion of clerical life held was something of a joke. But my Godmother, who quizzed me seriously about my intentions was, along with her two elder sisters, firm in her support and encouragement of my commitment. All prayed for me during training and subsequently, when my clerical career went in directions that didn't quite fall within their range of expectations, either. So, I just had to make that journey to see her, and express my gratitude in the one way I knew I could. I took the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist with me, to share with her.
I was delighted to find her well enough to welcome me warmly, and we had a very happy hour's conversation and reminiscence before we prayed together. Not only was I able to share Holy Communion with her, but also with her daughter - this was the first time we three had shared the Sacrament together in my thirty seven years of ordained ministry - very much a product of the dispersion of members our extended family around the country. She spoke often when we met over the years about her love for receiving Communion, even though it was often difficult for her to do so because of the demands of her life in the service of others in a world increasingly demanding that people set aside their devotion to God in submission to the needs of the work place.
I wonder how many hearts in this aggressively secular society of ours are suffused with such secret longing of space and time to commune with God. Carrying more responsibilities than I need or want, I know there are times when I wish for more space and time than I get, though, I am supposed to be master of my own destiny. I didn't relish a seven hour round trip at the end of my usual working Monday, or the usual standing queues of traffic on the M4, but my time together with Auntie Celandine and Dianne was something I savoured all the way home. Whether or not we meet again in this world, in the silence of sacramental sharing our lives have already touched eternity together. For this I am humbly grateful.