My Father died 47 years ago. He had served in the 8th Army seeing action at El Alamein. This is not meant to be his story but reflecting, while there was sense in celebration when bombs stopped dropping on England, perhaps we might celebrate in 2020 with care. I guess my father, and others like him had not been demobbed. He didn’t talk much about his war. He had firm friends. Some had died. When he came home he had a nervous breakdown – post-traumatic stress? Some years later he was chronically and then terminally ill dying at the age of sixty. My mother died at the same age one year later. How much of this was an aftermath of war I’ll never know. I do know that in the fifties it was common to see men who had lost limbs not being lauded as paralympic athletes. Some things have changed…thank God…
They sent him home, a broken man,
each nerve and sinew torn or strained
and what was celebrated then
he recognised as little gained.
The trauma of that noise and strife,
the shattered buildings, tear torn lives,
with stunned, dismembered memories,
and, though he struggled, each survives.
The shell-shocked post-traumatic stress,
his past so vivid, sharpened, bright,
has left him stumbling through a void,
toward a mist enshrouded night.
And now as we look back this day,
into a past that some have known,
may we revere the ones we see,
and recognise the grief they own.
And deeper truths must still be learned:
that no dispute is worth a life,
that peace and justice, kindness, love,
must bring an end to earthly strife.
On the 1st September 1939, 80 years ago, the Second World War began. Germany invaded Poland; with the United Kingdom and France declaring war on Germany two days later…
This fragile, passing beauty,
this autumn, red and gold,
a season’s recollection:
love never will grow cold.
The seasons change and fracture,
the leaves of green turn brown,
as life seems tinged with sadness,
as petals flutter down.
This time of our remembrance
that reaches back to pain,
the chill of recollection
can open wounds again;
But this we must remember
that human war and hate
are matters of our choosing
and not some random fate.
God let this time of grieving,
of mem’ry and regret,
in case we just forget.
Fill human hearts with courage,
frame human words with grace,
that love might flow among us,
make Earth a sacred place.
When we sing we embody (in-body) the theology that we have read. We take it in, translate, interpret and transmit. In the process are we, perhaps, formed or changed by the medium? Not pushing the metaphor too far, is it in any way like eating – what we eat becomes part of us, we excrete some of it, and it can nourish or poison…
So what we sing, and even how we sing, becomes important in a way we may not have envisaged before. It is one thing to read a text which remains remote, like looking at a cake and not eating it; it is something altogether different to take the text in and to re-transmit it. That we might do by reading aloud. The sheer physicality of singing, the presence of music, steps everything up a gear. Wesley knew that. That is why hymns were so important. The hymns provided portmanteau scriptures or interpretations, theology or doctrine. These were memorised and could be shared with others. And you can never lose them – which can become a bit of an irritation!
Why do you like this hymn or that? Why do you find some hymns abhorrent? ‘A good sing’ says as much, if not more, about feeling as it does about understanding or literary or musical quality. But Britta Martini wants to push us further by asking what is there in the expression of the music or the structure of a text, key or melody, image or metaphor, that causes a hymn to affect us in this way?