After the wake and speeches, when the guests in black
Had with the charm of ordinariness
Dispelled the gross terror of a fellow dead
(Eyelid grown waxen, the body like a sack
Bundled into the tomb) and the women with their mindless
Ritual of grief had murmured abroad all that could be said –

Then, as the world resumed its customary
Mask of civil day, he came, too late to mend
The broken vase (a cracked one could have been mended)
God’s image blackened by causality.
And the woman said, “Since he was called your friend,
Why did you not come then? Now it is ended.”

And when, the army blanket of grey earth
Put off, Lazarus from the cave mouth stumbled
(Hand, foot and mouth yet bound in mummy cloth)
To the sun’s arrow, furnace of rebirth –
What could they do but weep? infirm and humbled
By Love not their love, more to be feared than wrath.

– James K. Baxter, who died on this day, 45 years ago.

You can read more about Baxter here, and more of his poetry here.

There is a place

lamentBack in 1996, after the horror that was unleashed on a wee school in Dunblane, Scotland (and which led to sensible people creating meaningful firearms legislation in the UK), John Bell and Graham Maule penned the hymn ‘There is a place’ (it appears on the album The Last Journey: Songs for the Time of Grieving, and is also available via iTunes). Of course, for many who are surviving under the almost unspeakable burden of grieving the loss of a child – whether in Apia, Ramallah, Baghdad, Christchurch or Newtown – it may well feel like the time for singing is no more, and indeed that even to imagine that such a time might yet dawn is to contemplate the most unimaginable and disrespectful of hopes. (For such as these, I really hope that this post brings no additional pain.) For others, however, and hopefully too one day for those who for now wander in the shadows of death, I wanted to share Bell and Maule’s words of lament and of hope birthed in the good and extra-ordinary news that despite all that Marx and Freud and Feuerbach wish to decry Advent bids us to wait for:

There is a place prepared for little children
Those we once lived for, those we deeply mourn,
Those who from play, from learning and from laughter
Cruelly were torn.

There is a place where hands which held ours tightly
Now are released beyond all hurt and fear
Healed by that love which also feels our sorrow
Tear after tear.

There is a place where all the lost potential
Yields its full promise, finds its lost intent;
Silenced no more, young voices echo freely
As they were meant.

There is a place where God will hear our questions,
Suffer our anger, share our speechless grief.
Gently repair the innocence of loving
And of belief.

Jesus, who bids us to be like little children
Shields those our arms are yearning to embrace,
God will ensure that all are reunited;
There is a place.

Of course, Christians believe that the ‘place’ spoken of here refers not to a geographical location (whether beyond the clouds or elsewhere) but to a person; namely, to Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son, whose geographical location, if you like, is in the bosom of the Father, where we too live, where all distance between the living and the dead has been and is being overcome, and where all abruptly cut off life ‘finds its lost intent’.

[Image: Fikri]

Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary

I’ve just finished reading Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary, an enthralling collection of wee notes Barthes began to pen the day after his mother died in October 1977. It is a profound record of grief’s journey into suffering and into a deeper questioning of selfhood. Along the way, Barthes reflects on neurosis, solitude, immortality, annihilation, time, solitude, anonymity, monuments, materialism, prayer, friendship, and Ingrid Bergman. The book offers us one man’s raw reflections on an experience common to most – all? – of us, mourning and grief, borne witness to in these words:

‘We don’t forget,
but something vacant settles in us’.

– Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary: October 26, 1977–September 15, 1979 (trans. Richard Howard; New York: Hill and Wang, 2010), 227.

Christians who believe in hell

Yesterday’s New Statesman includes a piece by Eric Stoddart on Christians and bereavement wherein Stoddart makes the following claim about Christians who believe in hell:

‘… the hell-believing Christian carries an additional burden of uncertainty, sometimes significant fear, that their loved one will not be raised to enjoy everlasting life or, worse, be raised to everlasting punishment. There is a Christian form of grieving and it relies on the Jesus who wept being the Jesus who was resurrected’.