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.
It was lovely to meet up with one of my terrific old history teachers today - and also to talk with my godmother once more tonight - always a delight, even if in years past she didn't quite provide a dress for the ball, with coach and attendants! Among other things - principally wonderful anecdotes from decades of love and laughter she and her husband shared in deep friendship my parents - about my first fabled trip to Ireland as a baby: which included how they lost sight of me in a Dublin street at one point, only to find me surrounded by a whole bunch of nuns cooing over my pram and each giving me their blessing - now that could explain a lot ;-)
Giving thanks today again for my ‘first love’, and for the wonderful fellow devotees and mentors who shared with me her joy and pain and subversive power of transformation. I am challenged too to return to the task.
Is there a ‘history gene’? There are days when I wonder: when I meet people who have little or no sense of the past, of the human story, of the beauty and siren song of Clio, the muse of history. Like someone who is musically, artistically, or religiously deaf or blind, they can function, sometimes much better than I. Perhaps they are indeed in some way fortunate, immune from Clio’s mischief and agonies. Yet they lack the ecstasy of her communion. They have little or no ex-stasis – no place to stand – outside the purely immediate, the merely commonplace, the simplistic assumptions of the present, so deeply shaped though these are by the past and its perspectives. They seem hidebound, for they are timebound. For history may indeed have created walls in which we humans are imprisoned. Yet the study of history can be a door to our release. Like a wondrous Tardis, we are whisked away within it to other places and other people, to the possibilities of fresh perspectives and to passionate, patient, peacemaking. As C. S. Lewis once wrote:
Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion… the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age...
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.