Red Dragonflies - naturally - are my choice of earrings for Fr Peter Maher's funeral today (particularly, so close to the Trans Day of Remembrance, as I remember the solidarity and hope Peter offered myself and other dragonfly people).
Red dragonflies especially can be rare to view, and very special (like brilliant loving priests) when the opportunity comes along. Yet, interestingly, they often appear to people surrounding life episodes of loss and death. For the dragonfly is a symbol of go-between people, winged priests of transformation. Death is after all the polarity of Life, and dragonflies help hold together the paradoxes of death in life and life, and eternal love, in death.
In Japan the dragonfly is considered to be very sacred and symbols of transition. Red dragonflies appear most often there at the end of summer with the message that autumn is coming. A beautiful Haiku poem reads,” That the autumn season has begun is decided by the appearance of the red dragonfly.” The Japanese embrace the dragonfly as a symbol of courage, strength and happiness while some Native Americans speak of the dragonfly as bringing a time of rejuvenation after a long period of trials and hardship. Indeed they have traditionally perceived dragonflies as the “souls of the dead” - so a dragonfly visitation around a loved one’s death could well signify the loved one’s soul taking form in the spirit of dragonfly. It offers the assurance their soul is free.
Fly wonderfully Peter in perfect light - just as you helped we others find their wings and reflect that light
I’ve always so loved this song (see below) - though it always makes me cry - and it, above all, with some others, has accompanied me in the last few weeks. The tender, lyrical and even elegiac, tone fits my mood as I prepare to leave England, maybe never to return, or certainly never with so many of the deep intimate connections of parents, home,and particular place which have so shaped me. Laura Marling wrote this at 18 and says she always feels about 8 years old when she sings it - I know the feeling just in listening .
It’s about childhood memories (one in particular) and the ones who created them and about the particularity of place in this extraordinary land which I, like Laura, love so very very much, and from all of which separation is so very poignant. There hasn’t been any literal snow on my winter’s journey but enough in other ways - yet the warmth of love persists, like a beautiful garment in the cold…
“You were so smart then
In your jacket and coat.
My softest red scarf was warming your throat.
Winter was on us,
At the end of my nose,
But I never love England more than when covered in snow.”
It was a deeply poignant yet beautiful Midnight Mass tonight in St Thomas' Church in Market Rasen. I had indeed had a yearning for one more such communion in the cold and dark and the depths of the symbolism and mystery it reflects - but not for years to come and not like this. The nave altar stood precisely where my parents’ coffins had been just two days before, the mood and singing was subdued by masks and the pandemic, numbers reduced and the liturgy unexuberant. Yet the magic, the miracle, persists - light in the very darkness, glory in the mire and sorrow, enfleshed spirit in our mixed up midst - and eucharistic participation on this, of all occasions, remains so truly special.
It was hard to move away into the night, for the last time to leave the church of my childhood and early formation, to step along the pathway into the marketplace one more time. The main street seemed even more deserted than ever as I made my return - even the wandering drunk had been spirited away. Walking the last part in silent darkness between the two cemeteries for the final time brought back the fullness of so many memories as well as profound emptiness and grief. For in the depths of our factual and metaphorical winters love can be reborn - just as a new dawn broke after the winter solstice on the morning of my parents’ funeral.
T.S.Eliot was partly right. ‘A cold coming’ it has indeed been - ‘just the worst time of year for a journey… the very dead of winter’, even without the Omicron wave and renewed distance and desolation - but we do not need to be ‘glad of another death.’ Birth, life and love happens always - divinity in the vulnerability of our flesh: Incarnation in our dark.
Lovely to light a candle from among my mother’s treasures today - the word summing up how I’ve always seen the heart of her being and the life she share with my father, for whom love and just dealings were always gifts of his soul: love and laugher together. I wrote a reflection for the funeral at St Thomas' Market Rasen (see here) and was grateful to be given the strength to deliver it.
Another beautiful English winter’s morning along the old woodland paths. Sometimes it feels as if the land itself breathes through me as much, or more, than I breathe in its own character, textures and sensations at this special time of year. In grief as in other things, 'the land knows you even when you are lost'. #mulchforthesoul #earthtoearth #forestbathing #lincolnshirelandscapes
Poignant rediscoveries at this time - including with my mother’s recent soft toy collection - as my siblings and I began tidying up the family home after our parents’ last days last week. I’m told the rainbow lion was one particular favourite in her long bed-bound years, and I like to think she gave a kindly thought towards the rainbow child in the family when she held it.
It is moving too to see my parents’ prayer book shelf, with communion box and accoutrements - a great treasure. For, until very recently, one of the ways they kept love and life alive and renewed was to keep a regular morning and/or evening prayer (in one of a number of forms) and to share a simple eucharist together, often with one or more visitors - a particularly intimate and tender affair. Together with carers’ visits a number of times a day, and meals scheduled around them, it helped form an almost monastic pattern of life keeping them going together in straitened circumstances - love, faith and grace in the deepest winter as well as the greater joys and glories of their lives.
Dawn breaking on another day as I looked out from a bedroom window at the home my parents shared as our family home for 50 years. I returned yesterday as they are both in Lincoln Hospital with not much time left to live in this world, yet open to the next adventure.
Did Christ, mythologically at least, descend to hell to raise up the outcast dead, including reconnecting with his estranged friend Judas? Holy Saturday - these days often called Easter Saturday to the annoyance of traditionalists! - is often sadly ignored in many Christian journeys. Its themes of waiting, bereavement and loss, the work of 'spring beneath winter', and the 'harrowing of hell' are important however, and perhaps particularly appropriate to recall at this time. Indeed the 'harrowing of hell' is one ancient faith understanding which Orthodox Christians have not neglected and which is part of their gift to share. It is unknown to many western Christians, perhaps because of Reformation battles over death, and because it may lead to reflecting on whether God's Love and Christ's work ultimately demands the salvation of all - apocatastasis. Whatever you think of that concept (intuition?) - feel free to let me know! - this day in the Christian calendar has much spiritual depth to explore, beyond being between Good Friday & Easter, cross and resurrection. Milton Anglicans have a few resources to assist along the way - click here to access
One of the most misleading sayings in some Christian quarters is that Jesus was born to die. Indeed, so concerned are some to talk about Jesus’ death that they would really like us to put a cross in the nativity scene! Now, of course, the meaning Christians find in the death of Jesus is certainly very important. That is part of why the Easter story is central to Christian Faith. Yet even Good Friday is not ultimately about death. For, as the Bible Society’s lively 2009 campaign expressed it, Jesus. All About Life is the true reality. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel (10.10): ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. Death is a part of life and life involves a series of little deaths (losses and griefs) as well as physical death. So Jesus showed us how dying well can be done. Yet this was in service of life, which is the real purpose and invitation of God’s creation of us. For God wants us to live! Christmas, the feast of the birth of Jesus, is therefore not merely a beginning and prelude to Easter. It also witnesses powerfully, in its own right, to the heart of the Christian message. In God in Jesus Christ, we find our fullest life, which is eternal love, right here, right now, and for evermore...
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.