A white dove rises, fluttering in the air as I emerge from the Crematorium. Brilliant white, radiant against the blue of sky. Sign of peace, symbol of the Holy Spirit which is appropriate in the days leading up to Pentecost.
I’ve slowed down to an extraordinary degree, like my brain is in slow motion, taking longer to complete what needs to be done in the time allotted. We’re given exactly half an hour for each funeral service and on Tuesday when I floated on for 50 minutes, the supervisor was understandably frustrated and sharp with me. In my defence, Tuesday was intense – I had three funerals in the space of two and a half hours and it’s quite difficult to switch from one group to another, to give them the attention they deserve, to leave one grief behind and enter into another in such a short space of time. Five funerals in a week feels like a lot, three in one day is something else. But it has to be done. Done with grace and honour for the deceased and the family.
The slow motion of my brain reminds me of the monks of Parkminster who are not allowed to drive because their reflexes are too slow, due to the pace of the life they live. There’s a bit of that too in me when driving following nine weeks of lockdown and isolation!
Monday was manic. Bank holiday fever filled the entire town and flowed happily onto the beaches of Hastings. The place was still buzzing in the late evening as people started moving lazily towards home, every bin in sight stuffed beyond capacity, overflowing on to the ground. Seagull’s paradise. They will wreak havoc and creation will groan.
Seagulls do what seagulls do and all the while the Spirit does what the Spirit does; the Holy Spirit working transformation in the hidden, locked down, isolated lives of our community. For some the transformation has carried them into eternity, carried being an important reality in our spiritual lives. We are carried when we allow ourselves to be carried, a call as old as Moses (Deuteronomy 1:31). We are like the wind; the Holy Spirit is the wind that blows where it will, a sound that is heard but it cannot be said from which direction the Spirit comes, in what direction the Spirit is going (John 3:8). So, it is with us, so it must be for we are born of the Spirit. We are available to be carried.
Maggi, a wise elder of our community, wrote the other day, “a new intensity and intimacy has dawned - that’s my experience - I have been 100% isolated for nine weeks - no walks - and yet, I don’t feel alone - there is a great richness within us, unmined in normal life…”
A new intensity, a new intimacy is taking place in my own life. An immense love for Jesus rises, wells up within me. It is the action of the Holy Spirit, this love that is most intense in its wordless silence, most alive when I pray in the sanctuary before the Tabernacle. Wordless silence and hidden!
I have for many years thought how important it is to say “I love you” to Jesus and to those I love and have found myself saying it particularly to those who are about to die. Like I don’t want them to leave this world without knowing they are loved, knowing that they are loved by me. But saying “I love you” does not come easily to men in particular, that’s what the experts say. One night at home in Mervue as we were about to go to bed my Mother said to me, “I love you” and I replied “likewise” and she laughed, telling me she had recently read in the paper that a woman will say “I love you” to a man and he is most likely to reply “ditto” or “likewise!” I was living out the theory.
I didn’t really know that my Mother loved me until the night before she died and now, I know. Life had taught me to mistrust words, to mistrust the word “love” because too often it has been a trap, a deception. Maura used to say, “don’t mind the words, just give me a hug!” So, when I say to Jesus, “I love you” I don’t trust my own words either because they feel false, hypocritical.
And now in this time of intensity and intimacy it seems that my love for Jesus is lessened in the saying, that it must be like the prophetic fire of Jeremiah, a fire imprisoned in my bones, a fire that needs to be held within until the restraining of it becomes a heat too much to bear. Then it will burst forth in the Holy Spirit, a perfect consummation, in groans and sighs beyond utterance (Romans 8). It will be a perfect prayer not of my own making and a fire that will purify all that is not good in me, a process that will go on to my end of days because there is more that is not good in me, more than anyone realizes.
So, this love that stirs in the sanctuary is not something I do or create. It is the working of the Holy Spirit. I am simply the vessel, the container, the thurible of red-hot charcoal that receives the incense, the sweet divine fragrance rising, ascending to mingle with light, the glory that streams through the window of the soul.
This may sound like I’m spending a lot of time in prayer. I’m not! Believe me when I say I’m not spending enough time praying but it’s not about time. It’s about presence, intensity, an intimacy that happens in the briefest moment when I am taken up. And all who have asked me to pray for them are taken up too, taken out of my hands, out of my heart and mind into the Divine Presence, the hidden Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, the doorway to heaven.