Friday, December 04, 2009

Pastor reminded

I did an hour of washing up in the tea room after the Eucharist to steady myself with a bit of holy normality before setting off for my hospital visit to Abergavenny. The roads weren't too congested, but the rain was unpleasant. It was dusk by the time I arrived there.

Abergavenny signage is so behind the times that I was at a loss to find a big 'H' logo on any big green roadside panel I saw on the journey in. The only sign I found was a pre-1960 black and white finger panel a quarter of a mile before reaching the hospital campus. The hospital is a new one on an old site. There's no excuse for presuming that every service user in the whole of Monmouthshire can navigate by guesswork. I refuse to believe that one of Wales' richest counties cannot afford a few new signposts. It must reflect the kind of town council membership Cardiff wouldn't vote for.

By contrast, the hospital was easy to navigate within. At the end of a working day I was lucky to find a parking place nearby. Husband, brother and sister in law were waiting around mum's bed. Children were being cared for by friends, on rotation. I reckon this lovely couple are receiving the kind of love and support which they have given out to others in the ten years they've made a new home and raised a family in an old mining village. Mum is radiant, defiantly cheerful but realistic, knowing her time is nearly up, living her end to the full, cherishing every moment. She has good and bad days. With a mobile phone to hand, she texts her regular visitors to tell them when she's unable to cope with seeing them.

They praised the hospital, and the support team from the Hospice of the Valleys. It was clear they were being helped and guided in a wholesome way, right down to thinking about the funeral together, and how to involve their children and family in the whole process of dying and death. Hence the call to me. Mum remembered me from the last Christening, hoping and believing I could help them make it as positive a send off as possible. Whether they had other experiences of clergy ministering to them to draw upon I dared not ask. It's such an honour to be thus remembered and trusted.

With St James now closed, it would be necessary to find another funeral venue. Mum had school and youthful links with Roath, so I promised to look into this. Mum said she didn't regard herself as being brave. Indeed there were several flashes of their shared grief and sadness. No rage. Just acceptance - much more than resignation - a positive kind of determination not to squander existence on regrets or remorse. A woman who had I suspect, always known the secret of abundant life, even if this didn't always spell itself out in conventionally accepted religious ways.

I've been reflecting on this since. There are many in our secular modern world who live good and moral lives with integrity, spiritual lives one might say, but they don't go to church, don't seem to have any explicit faith, or else not much need to express it with religious talk and ritual. Could this be a result of sound nurture in faith? A nurture which teaches those who hear the Word of life to go out and live it completely, with such integrity that the conservative mind-set, so typical of much religious behavour, actually gets in their way, so they avoid it? Was this what Boenhoffer meant when he talked about the development of a new 'religionless Christianity'?

To be saved is to live, to act entirely by the grace of God. That means being gracious inspiring graciousness, kindness in others, being a person for others as Christ was man for others. God may not be in the conversation as such but God is often hidden, present but not obvious. I witnessed much love being tested to the full in this family tragedy.

'Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est'

I wonder if we really mean what we sing or say?

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