On Dying

What follows is the text of a homily that I gave at a service of Compline in Clare College Chapel, Cambridge as part of the ‘Easter at King’s Festival’ yesterday 1 April 2015.  As I wrote and delivered it I found that I had on my mind – in an involuntary kind of way – many thoughts and feelings about my friend Joe Cassidy, who died suddenly last weekend.

Joe lived next door to us in Durham, and was Principal of St Chad’s my old College. A Canadian Jesuit who became an Anglican, married and grew a lovely family, Joe was both remarkably formidable and amazingly friendly: a person of real intellectual sophistication, tough mindedness, tender hearted-ness, and moral courage. What he did for St Chad’s as an institution was astonishing. What he did for many individuals was incalculable. And the way he did it – mostly by paying them intelligent attention, connecting and thinking alongside those who were younger and much less wise than him, As I always knew I was. Though I always underestimated how much older he was than me. It was, in fact, just a few years. I thought it was more like a decade . Not that he ever seemed old. He was always youthful. But he just seemed to know so much more, have had more experience, be able to look at things more sensibly than me; so I  assumed he must have been alive longer than he had.  The truth is that he was just a different quality of person. Many will miss him greatly, and many will miss him personally. As will I.

So, here is that homily.

If you attend this or any other Chapel in Cambridge you will probably be familiar with Evensong and realise that it is structured around two gospel canticles – the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. Taken together these survey of the spiritually of the whole of life – the Magnificat being the song of the rejoicing mother to be, and the Nunc Dimittis being the song of the man who is ready to depart in peace.

Compline is a more ancient service than Evensong and is, in fact, one of its ingredients – the other being Vespers, the ancient home of the Magnificat.

So in Compline we find the Nunc Dimittis standing alone. And as such it creates a rather different atmosphere. For if you find the whole of life at Evensong, you find you are closer to death at Compline; something exacerbated by the time of day, the darkness and, indeed, words that come at the beginning of the office itself – ‘May the Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night’ – well, yes, please, ‘and a perfect end’. Noctem quietam et finem perfectum .

Once you know this you might properly expect your homilist to touch on the subject of mortality in general, and dying in particular, at some point this week. It’s not normally a subject we embrace, though the season of Lent begins with dust – ‘remember that you are dust and to dust you will return’, and ends, as we all know, with the death of Jesus.

And what of that – is that a perfect end?

There is a lot of talk about aspiring to be ‘Christlike’ these days. I am not sure it is always wise talk. It is hard to imagine aspiring to a Christlike death – unless overwhelming pain, excruciating isolation and public shame are your idea of a perfect end. Earnest attempts to take the edge off the agony of this seem to be mistaken to me. There is no point in suggesting that Jesus has a God-like mind that could happily understand his own pain and isolation in terms of the grand narrative of salvation history. If Jesus went through the crucifixion as anything other than fully human then he wasn’t, as it were, taking us with him. On the other hand, if Jesus went through the crucifixion as just another person being killed by the forces of politics, and envy, and religious irritation then there would be nothing much more to be said about his death, The story of Easter would simply be the story of a resurrection that would have happened anyway, even if Jesus had died in his sleep.

This is the wrong time of day to try to enter into complex theological argument, and in any case the reality is that Jesus died as a human being, though as a human being who was in some sense God, though his God-ness was not at the expense of the humanity of his mind, any more than it was at the expense of the vulnerability of his body.

In other words, and this is my last bit of theology – the death and resurrection of Christ tell us something entirely new and unique about the nature of God. It tells us that God can make his home in a human person and be fully present without diminishing the humanity of that person in any way at all.

Quite what that means for us human beings in our relationship with God is a huge question, huge enough to drop into the  middle of Holy Week. Certainly it means that we couldn’t and shouldn’t expect to relate to God in the same way as those who do not know, or have not reflected on, the Jesus story. That story changes everything. And it makes inter-faith relations both really difficult and absolutely vital. Difficult because how can a person who knows of the cross and resurrection of the incarnate son of God understand the word ‘God’ comparably with someone who knows or believes nothing of it? And yet vital because one thing this story of God’s love teaches us is that God’s love, God’s mission, God’s energetic compassionate affirmation of others knows no bounds. And so we move towards others who are different to us and find that we are both bewildered by them, and at the same time completely committed to respecting and learning from them.

And this is not despite what we believe about God in Christ, but because of what we have learnt of God in and through Christ.

Which is perhaps a long way from the question of what a perfect end might look like. But let me venture this – that a good death is one where the dying person is aware at some level of their being that they are beloved of God, even perhaps in some small way inhabited by God, and that their desire, should they die, is deeper communion with God and, if they live, to share the love of God through compassionate, honest and humble relationships with others – familiar, ordinary and exotic others – all others.

‘May the Lord almighty grant us a quiet night…’ Well, perhaps, and we might hope so.

‘And a perfect end’ ?  Well yes, to the extent to which we can emulate Jesus, not in his heroic suffering, but in his generous loving. To die knowing and feeling and believing that you are loved and that you love others – well, that’s the way to go.

Congratulations to Jessica Kingsley Publishers for making available as a beautifully presented book, the stories collected my Marina Cantacuzino that have made ‘The Forgiveness Project’ such a respected, challenging and transformative resource for anyone interested in what people can do in the aftermath of traumatic hurt, and the ‘go-to’ exhibition for anyone wanting to generate public debate in this area.
I can do no better than quote what is written on the front cover, and share my own endorsement.
Do look out this book. It’s great.
Examining themes of forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict transformation, this book brings together the personal testimonies of both survivors and perpetrators of crime and violence and asks the question whether forgiveness may have more currency than revenge in an age which seems locked into the cycle of conflict.The powerful real life stories collected by The Forgiveness Project come from ordinary people around the world in a diverse range of situations, including those who have transformed aggression into a driving force for peace. Raising the possibility of alternatives to resentment, retaliation and revenge, each story shows the very real impact of forgiveness (or lack of forgiveness) within a particular context, provoking questions such as ‘what is forgiveness?’, ‘how can you respond to the unforgivable?’ and ‘can you move on without forgiveness?’

Marina Cantacuzino’s challenging, reflective introductory essay sets the stories in the larger context of approaches to forgiveness, from both religious and secular viewpoints, concluding that in the reality of lived experience forgiveness has a quality `as mysterious as love’.

As with all good storytelling each personal narrative in this book reveals both the intimate in the epic and the epic in the intimate.

The Forgiveness Project grew out of a conviction that people’s perspectives only shift when they are able to hear the stories of others. In ten years it has become a high impact and influential charity that has wide application and a universal draw on people. Using real stories of victims and perpetrators, the charity sets out to explore concepts of forgiveness and conflict resolution in order to humanise the ‘other’, foster resilient relationships and help to dissolve tension.

And my own endorsement  …
This book, in which the depths of human sadness are related alongside astonishing accounts of hope, courage and beauty, gives the lie to much that is said and written about forgiveness today. The introductory essay, and the stories that follow, point to the extraordinary range of experiences and situations where forgiveness is somehow relevant, and where it sometimes, often unaccountably, heals and transforms even the most wounded and broken. This is challenging and mysterious stuff, and it will draw a deep and different response from all who open themselves to the pain, truth and transcendence documented here.
More about the book, and the opportunity to buy direct from the publishers here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/the-forgiveness-project.html

Yesterday I was asked why we call Good Friday ‘good’. It’s a simple enough question but it’s difficult to give it a convincing answer. After all, it’s only in the English-speaking world that the word ‘good’ is used in this context. Other languages and cultures speak of the day being ‘holy’, or ‘silent’, or ‘sorrowful’.

There are answers of course. The favoured one for many Christian people is one that you might call ‘consequentialist’ or ‘outcome-oriented’. ‘It was very nasty at the time, but the result – the salvation of the world – was good.  Hence Good Friday.’ QED.

Personally I don’t care for this very much. It suggests a relationship between ends and means which can be used to justify all sorts of abominations. Think of the generations of children subjected to corporal punishment for the good it would do them, with the added commentary, ‘this is hurting me far more than you’.

Another argument is that ‘good’ is a corruption of ‘God’. This is the one that seems most likely to me. After all ‘Goodbye’ is what you might call the secularised, or modern, version of ‘God be with You’ (I gather that in the sixteenth century people were still saying ‘Godbye’.)

There is a third argument, however, and this is my preferred theology. This proposes that Good Friday is helpfully called ‘good’ because it shows what it takes for good to triumph over evil.

This suggests that if we contemplate the events of Good Friday we can learn something of the cost for those involved in that struggle, whenever and however it happens. It makes the point that doing good is often more difficult than we think, and can involve far more suffering on our part than we had anticipated or imagined. This is subtly, but importantly, different from the argument based on results or consequences. It’s about the quality of commitment to goodness, that is disinterested self-sacrifice, being the sort of action that is most profoundly transformative.

But while I like it, it probably isn’t historically or linguistically true.

And, equally importantly, it’s just too easy for people to hear a story of abuse, torture, mocking and death and to say ‘it doesn’t look good to me’. They are self-evidently right to do so.  We want to enjoy doing good; not to be hurt or worse while making the effort.

Moreover, the phrase ‘Good Friday’ has now become a major date for gardening and sports fixtures – in the latter case a kind of spring-time ‘Boxing Day’.

So I want to suggest we should drop an ‘o’ and change it to back ‘God Friday’.

The question then becomes, ‘why is God Friday called God Friday?’

And that’s not just a good question, it’s a great question.

Holy Week can make an activist of the most contemplative of clergy. Parish life, which has been revved up a bit for Lent, is now thrown into overdrive until Easter Day dawns, finding as it does so that the holy if bleary-eyed few have distinguished themselves by being up before it, lighting bonfires and candles to announce the joy of resurrection.

Not being in a parish myself these days, my actives are a little different but no less energetic. For a decade or so King’s College Chapel in Cambridge (of which I am the Dean) has hosted a festival of services and concerts throughout Holy Week. This year the festival is even more extensive than ever. Under the general thematic heading of ‘Responding to Modernity’ we have an art installation reflecting T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (called QU4RTETS), and no fewer than three choral passions (Schutz and Bach’s versions of the St John, and MacMillan’s new St Luke). Four of our events will be broadcast by the BBC (three of them live). We have Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen which he wrote during the Second World War and Haydn’s Symphony No 49 in F minor (La Passione) not to mention Rossni’s Stabat Mater and a visit from the poet Micheal O’Siadhail.

There are services too – Sung Compline (with a brief homily) late on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, Eucharist (with stripping of the altar) on Maundy Thursday, Ante-Communion (with veneration the cross) on Good Friday morning – this is one of the most popular and moving services of the year. Later that day there is a very subdued Evensong sung by the Choral Scholars, which is all but dominated by Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah and then Easter Day brings a joyful Sung Eucharist and Festal Evensong (both of which begin with processions).

Tomorrow, Monday, it all kicks off with a special launch event at which Guy Johnson plays some of Bach’s Cello Suites, Juliet Stevenson reads extracts from Eliot’s Four Quartets and Rowan Williams offers a commentary on the literary and theological aspects of the poems.  And all this in an antechapel adorned with stunning artwork by Bruce Herman and Makoto Fujimura, artists who will themselves offer a few words to introduce their own work.

This is of course much more of a feast than a fast, but I am hugely looking forward to it all. Full details are on line here http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/events/easter-at-kings/  Do join us for some of it if you can.

It has been clear for many years now that one of life’s less comfortable facts is that sometimes people abuse the power they have over others, and betray the trust which is vested in them. As we a society have become more aware of the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, we have invested significant resources in processes and practices which we call ‘Safeguarding’.

‘Safeguarding’ is only part of the response to the abuse of the vulnerable, however. Another aspect of the response is that of the legal system to those who have perpetrated abuse. When abuse is illegal it needs to be treated as such, and as we know, the news headlines have all too regularly been dominated by the trials of people who are well known. In many more cases people are prosecuted and imprisoned with no one much noticing, apart from family, friends and acquaintances. The male prison population in this country is getting much older as this process goes on – there often being a huge time lag between offence and prosecution. This leads people to use the term ‘historic child abuse’. It means to refer to events that happened many years ago. The phrase is misleading if it suggests that the effects and consequences of the abuse are historical. For one thing we know about abuse of children is that the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds and consequences can persist not only for days weeks and months, but for years, decades and lifetimes.

A few days ago I was speaking with a leading activist and campaigner in this area. He made the point that whenever he speaks about the subject he assumes that there will be people present who have been on the receiving end of child abuse, and that there may well be those who have inflicted it too. Of course there is no certainty about this, and different people take different views about just how occasional, prevalent or endemic child abuse is in our society. However, the question of the severity of the impact of abuse on the victim, and the enormity of the evil involved in its perpetration, is not a quantitative question. One incident of child abuse is one too many, and any words which might be heard to minimize extent or impact must be avoided.

A sense of the sensitivity of the subject is one reason why a preacher should be careful in the way they address it, and I have wondered whether it is a reason to avoid it altogether. Certainly it’s not a subject that is often addressed from the pulpit. And yet to fail to talk in church about something that is so often in the papers seems to me to be a dereliction of ministerial duty; not least in an area where one of the mechanisms of cruelty and evil is coerced silence, ‘this must be our secret’, and where silence is self- inflicted because the power of shame is so smothering – both for perpetrators, and for victims.

There are those, perhaps, who would see this subject as relatively straightforward. After abuse the crime should be reported, the perpetrator dealt with according to the law, and the victim be given support and counseling to him or her move on. Of course I don’t think it is anything like this simple, either in theory or in practice, and yet this simple little model has much to commend it compared with some responses. And the church, I am sorry to say, is often the source of responses which range from the collusive to the re-abusive. It is well known that for many years reports of abuse were dismissed, disbelieved or denied by church authorities of various denominations, and that at the same time clerical perpetrators where quietly moved on, quite possibly to places where they could continue the habit of abuse. The whistle has been blown on such practices now, and reports written and better policies and practices implemented. But the reports make shameful reading and have shaken the faith of many. There are other inappropriate responses too.

A recent book by Sue Atkinson (‘Struggling to Forgive’ Monarch Books, 2014) , explores many examples of inept and inappropriate pastoral response, not least the sort that is based on what she calls the ‘weird theology’ that puts huge pressure on the victim of abuse to forgive the perpetrator. I have heard, and heard of, so many bad sermons about forgiveness that I have no doubt that this is true, and it is to me just as worrying a response to abuse as is the institutional cover up. You could call it the pastoral beat-up. I have no doubt that people experience this as re-abuse. It is all about putting pressure on a vulnerable and frightened person do so something they are not comfortable with, and quite probably invoking God’s authority. ‘You know you must forgive others everything they do to you’ says the possibly well-meaning but nonetheless manipulative pastor, ‘it says it in the Bible and you pray it in the Lord’s Prayer.’

Let me very clear about what I am saying here. Do I mean that child abuse is the ultimate, unforgivable sin? No. I don’t think that there is any limit to God’s capacity to forgive, unless the person whom God seeks to forgive and transform into a new person actively resists: this is the sin against the Holy Spirit which is the only unforgivable sin. To be clear, this is the sin of willfully and determinedly keeping God out of your life and away from all aspects of yourself that might need to be forgiven. Under these conditions God can’t forgive because God can’t get close enough to forgive. But to say that God can forgive is not to say that the actual victim of abuse is, or should be, placed under any pressure whatsoever even to think about it.

One of the most important lessons that I try to offer whenever I speak about forgiveness is that there are three distinct types: God’s forgiveness, the forgiveness of one person by another, and self-forgiveness. If we had a few hours we could talk about how the three connect and relate, but one thing I hope you take away from this sermon is the clear message that the forgiveness questions are among the last that should ever cross the mind of the victim of abuse who is beginning to come to terms with their experience by sharing it with others; something which typically takes place only many years later.

Now let me add a few points of clarification. It’s sexual abuse that catches the headlines but that’s not the only form by any means. Neglect, bullying, and cruelty – physical and mental – can all be deeply abusive. And nor are all abusers males. Women abuse too, and many who abuse are not the overtly nasty types but pleasant, friendly people who have a high degree of empathy, by which they gain the trust and access that are later exploited in abuse. The other thing to say is that most abuse is not perpetrated by strangers, or adults who insinuate themselves across the normal domestic boundaries, or by clergy, but by members of the same household and family. I hope that I have said enough to convince you that abuse is not a simple matter from any perspective.

I hope that I can also convince you that the impact of abuse on people is not simple either. Psychologists and others have researched this and come up with long lists including emotions like fear, guilt, shame and anger; behaviours like self-harm or even suicide; and experiences like depression and even psychosis. For those whose trust has been betrayed, the whole subject of trust becomes difficult. For those who know that they have been subjected by a powerful other, then questions of how to respond to the power of other people, or how to manage your own personal or positional power, also emerge. For people of faith, spiritual and theological questions emerge – how could God allow this? Why did God let it happen to me? And where the abuser is a religious representative, people have reported that is as if the abuse is being perpetrated by God.

Having said all that, you will not expect me to offer any magic-wand method for putting matters right. I do, however, think that there are a few things that can be said that might be helpful for people coping after the abuse of themselves or someone they know. The first thing is that to feel confused, ambiguous and bad about it is normal. It is also normal to think that you can’t tell anyone about it.

Second, finding someone who you can trust with this, and who is caring and robust enough to share something of your emotional journey, is almost certainly the most helpful thing you can do.

Thirdly, if this has been your experience, or a friend tells you that it is theirs, then it is wise to be in touch with one of the agencies which offers support to people who have had similar experience – check out the NAPAC website for instance. http://www.napac.org.uk

Fourth, it is important to remember that any healing of the words of abuse is going to take time, and that sometimes will feel painful itself, just as the healing process after more simple physical or mental wounds.

And fifth, because abuse is complex and impacts on many aspects of who a person is, then the onward journey is also complex. One book (‘Shattered Soul? Five Pathways to Healing the Spirit after Abuse and Trauma’ by Patrick Flemming. Wordstream Publishing 2011) talks of five different pathways, the first three of which are the pathways of courage, grief and anger.

Courage – to move forward after abuse really takes guts. Grief – to move forward involves engaging with the sadness and loss that is caught up with being abused. Anger (the author actually calls this ‘holy anger’) this is allowing yourself to experience all the indignation that is appropriate when you let yourself realize that this should never have happened. That anger might also of course be directed at God. It’s really important to experience that anger – but also not to be trapped by it.

And that is perhaps the key belief that allows for any healing or transformation after abuse. Namely the Christian belief that however dark the past, the light of Christ is stronger; that however awful the torture, the healing of Christ is deeper; and that ultimately, while it might seem that we have died inside, deeper within is the true soul- self that God desires to restore to fullness of life.

Christianity is predicated on the faith that God in Christ is with us in our deepest need, and darkest loneliness; that God in Christ raises us from whatever form of death in life is inflicted on us; and that God in Christ gives us the grace in the fullness of time to say that although I have been a victim there will come a time when, with Christ, I will be not only a survivor but a victor, standing with him on the glorious dawn of an utterly unexpected Easter.

 

This is the first sermon in the series ‘King’s Divines’ preached as part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the completion of King’s College Chapel in 1515.

I have to confess that I only recently discovered that the famous nineteenth century Bishop, Brooke Foss Westcott, had a King’s connection. He is commemorated by a plaque at Trinity Chapel as he was an undergraduate there, gaining a double first and becoming a Fellow. He was the President of what was then called the Cambridge Theological Training School – and is now called Westcott House. But he is also one of us, in as much as he was a Professorial Fellow from 1882. In fact he was the first Professorial Fellow the College ever had. He was ‘headhunted’ as soon as the statutes changed to allow such posts. He was, I might add offered a similar position by St John’s, but King’s asked first, and so we got him. At the time he was Regius Professor of Divinity – a post he held along with being a Canon of Westminster Abbey (from 1884) until he moved north to become Bishop of Durham in 1890.

Westcott is most remembered today for two things: his contribution to New Testament scholarship and as Bishop of Durham. This second point is remarkable in as much as he went to that demanding position in his mid-sixties, his predecessor having been one of his former students who died in office. It is clear from his correspondence and comments from others, that Westcott was an extremely hardworking priest as well as a very able scholar. He had a large family, and like many of that time knew the sadness of the death of children. Several of his sons were clergy; one, a missionary in India, died of cholera in the same year as Westcott’s beloved wife – and this not long before the end of his own life.

Westcott is known as the ‘miner’s bishop’, and is, if I can venture this opinion as a former Canon of Durham, one of three Durham bishops who are remembered especially fondly by the people of the North East today. The other two are Michael Ramsey (who was also Regius Professor here and of course went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury) and David Jenkins, also, as it happens, a clerical don in his prior ministry. And so it is that Westcott is one of those great Anglicans who managed to hold together a commitment, indeed passion is not too strong a word, both for the pursuit of truth through the most serious and rigorous intellectual work, and the pursuit of justice by equally strenuous and forthright social engagement. His most famous act was to reconcile striking miners and pit owners and so bring to an end the 1892 Coal Strike. To appreciate the significance of this you need to imagine not only the dangerous and grinding lives of miners and their families in the colliery villages, but also the way in which striking rendered then extremely poor and hungry. This was a long time before the National Coal Board, or indeed the National Union of Mineworkers. They were desperate days, and it was Bishop Westcott who realised that sorting this out was as important a call on his time as had been preparing a new standard edition of the Greek New Testament. Bishops were of course far grander in those days than they are now. It is said that one meeting he had with miners and owners overran and so he was late for the train at Darlington. The train therefore waited on the station for the Bishop.

Grand or not, Westcott remained committed to the miners and to social justice. In 1895 he was instrumental in establishing the ‘Board of Conciliation for the Durham Coal Trade’ – a means whereby ‘labour’ and ‘capital’ could resolve their differences. And he saw this as more than social work. It was spiritual work; God’s work. And it was given lasting expression in the great Cathedral service which happens towards the end of the Miner’s Gala day in Durham; an occasion which continues to this day, brass bands, banners and all, despite the fact that the last pit was closed in 1993. In fact Westcott’s last public engagement was to preach at a Miner’s Gala service in 1901. He was already ill and it exhausted him. He died a week later.

It is moving to read various statements that were made when he died. The Durham Miners’ Association said that, ‘We recognise that we have lost a sympathiser, counsellor and helper in all our efforts for better conditions, both in our home surroundings and our working life.’ Their statement concludes, ‘we tender our sympathy to the relatives of the truly great and kindly Christian who has been taken from a life in which he lived usefully and well to a reward which awaits all who try to correct the wrongs and brighten the darkness of this life’. And the Durham Diocesan Conference agreed a statement that concluded: ‘It is only the late Bishop’s written injunction which has restrained the Diocese from offering to his memory some material monument. Nothing can restrain us from cherishing and profiting by the spiritual monument of his illustrious work and inspiring life’.

Such is the Durham perspective, what of the view from King’s itself? While he was here he was repeatedly offered Deaneries, and at one time was invited to be Dean of Lincoln. He replied to the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, in these terms: ‘If I could feel that it would be right for me now to seek comparative rest, there is I think, no place which with all misgivings I should accept more gratefully than the Deanery of Lincoln’. He wrote about this later, saying that the decision had been very easy. The work at the Abbey and in Cambridge was important and demanding. Although a Cambridge man, he was no cyclist, and so his family clubbed together to buy him a tricycle. He was also an amateur artist, and some of his sketches are in our College archives. He could express himself pungently – wishing Matthew Arnold was ‘less vain’, and writing in horror to the Archbishop of Canterbury when he heard that Queen Victoria was planning to visit the Abbey in a bonnet: ‘It would be a national disaster. The empire needs sorely to honour the Queen as Queen’. Before he came back to Cambridge as a Professor he was a Canon of Peterborough, and took a good deal of interest in Cathedral music, not least the singing of the Psalms; such involvement or ‘interference’ by a canon shocking and annoying some of the choir men. He was often in correspondence with Archbishop Benson (himself an important figure for us as it was his liturgical innovation in Truro that inspired and encouraged Eric Milner White to try the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols here) – on one occasion adding what he called ‘A very big PS’ to another letter. It was an invitation to preach here in this Chapel the following month.

The records tell us that Westcott was greatly pleased by his King’s connection, and endeavoured to do his duty as a Fellow. He was in regular attendance at College meetings, attending Congregations until 1898, and he promoted small gatherings for discussion on Sunday afternoons. One of the students he influenced while here was W. R. Inge – who became a famous Dean of St Paul’s. About 10-15 undergraduates would attend these events, which took the form of Platonic dialogues, Dr Westcott taking the part of Socrates. I will let Dean Inge’s remembrances form the conclusion of this address for they offer, I think, the key to the significance of Westcott for us as we reflect on our 500 years here. Not only did he preach beautiful sermons (this is recorded) but he also had a faith and spirituality which connected thought with action, and truth with justice, and to which the fundamental connectedness between people, and their equality in the eyes of God, was a fundamental of faith.

Dean Inge: ‘I took no note of what he said, and have only a general recollection that he spoke often about human personality, propounding mystical doctrines of the solidarity of human beings, which then seemed to most of us rather paradoxical and difficult to follow, but which have since come back to me associated with memories of his face and voice. I remember that he spoke of the shame which he felt in reading of any horrible crime, as if he were in some way partly responsible for it himself. But whether we understood him or not, we always felt that we were in the presence of a saint, and that it did us good to see and hear him’.

Imagine Not

She called it the day of which we do not
speak. My grandmother. She was there. One of the
youngest.
Her’s was a girl, but they killed her
anyway. Herod’s
men.

I don’t know why she broke her vow
with me, but one day, when I was
seventeen, she spoke of that
unspoken day. Described the sound of their
coming. Relived the hour of
sword and club. Related the days of
lament. The sleepless
years.
Never have I seen such
sorrow. Never seen such bleakness of
eye. Never have I heard such a long, slow, deep, mournful
moan as slipped from her
soul after the
telling.

She died long after. Closing the ranks of her
generation, sealing the sisterhood of death with
death.
As she went, her eye fixed mine. ‘You know,’ it
said. ‘You know a
little’.
I replied in words which had been
long in coming. ‘I have been there; I have imagined’.
I held her
hand.

She raised her head and fixed my eye again. I quailed
at the effort it cost her. She drew her last draught of
air, then exhaled at me from the depths of her dying
lungs:
‘Imagine it not!’

She fell back. Eyes open, but still.
I stayed with her as, one by one the canyons above her
eyes, and the bright bulbs below, calmed and sagged,
marking in their relaxation the death of her
memory.

I took a vow to kill my
imagination that day. Yet it
lives.

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