When it comes as a surprise it’s extra special – coming face to face with the moon while it sits low and large on the horizon. You find yourself saying “Oh my God” out loud. A prayer of praise - for this deep yellow moon and the pink moon of a few nights ago. Moon upon the calm sea. No photograph will ever do it justice.
I make my way to Seamus McDonagh’s bench in Rock-a-Nore near the cliffs, where there is little light at night, except what flows from the sky.
Seamus is a kind of kindred spirit, though we never met, but we have the Camino to Santiago in common and it always strikes me that his dying at the end of his pilgrimage was for him the perfect way to go. Not perfect by any means for his family. The shock of it. But for him!
We face the beauty in silence, the cool Autumn wind the only sound for a while and it’s like the moon has personality, like it has something to say. It speaks of contentment and lightness of being. More than contentment, it speaks of the happiness that has come to me, as if the underbelly of sorrow has shifted, that existential affinity with sadness that has been with me since birth. For now, it has shifted. For now, I am very happy, even if the grief of John’s dying remains. The sense of his absence has even intensified during this week that marks his 66th birthday.
And these two prayers that are the Word of God were given in today’s Divine Office:
“I will turn their mourning into joy. I will console them, give gladness for grief.” (Jeremiah 31) and,
“…You have changed my mourning into dancing…and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30)
Joy and sorrow! My thoughts go to Will Brown who is moving on to university in these days. After Mass on Sunday – which was celebrated by Father Shaun - I gave a little farewell speech which his Mum recorded and which Will himself has transcribed. This is it as it was given, a bit fragmented but it is authentic, true to the moment:
“…there’s something special happening in our midst today. I was just thinking: a child is born and grows up before our eyes and we see him here in the sanctuary every Sunday – I’m talking about William, who has been serving mass here since he was five years old.
Now, some of you have witnessed this. I’ve seen photographs of himself and Eliza over here year by year, but also, I’ve witnessed William growing from a young teenager into the young man that he is today here in the sanctuary. And he has served this Parish so faithfully and so well, and now he has grown up and he’s going to university later this week in Durham, and he’ll be a good way from us – but I would just like to wish William every blessing on this new journey of your life. It’s a very precious moment for you.
I was thinking back to when I left home at seventeen to join the seminary. I took off with great delight, without any thought for my parents at home – and I think that’s part of the movement of youth. You have to go. It’s part of the journey of growing up. But I would like to say to Duncan and Cathy that you’re in our thoughts and prayers at this time. Because if I were your Dad, in your shoes, I would be feeling very emotional at this time.
William, thank you for everything. You haven’t just served here at Mass, but you’ve done our website. You’ve done all sorts of things so well and so quietly.
There’s a symbol that I have. I was praying this morning for you and the symbol that came into my mind is the thurible that you have held in this sanctuary. And in some way, you are like that thurible – William always provides the most intense charcoal fire in the thurible and it’s a quiet intensity which I think is very much like yourself. Not that you’re intense! But there is a fire within you. It’s a quiet fire and what strikes me is it’s like the incense is the prayer that touches the fire of your soul, and then it creates an incredible smoke, an incredible aroma - which is like life spreading itself all about. And what has often struck us after mass here on sunny Sunday mornings is the rays of light that float through from this side and the smoke of the incense enhanced that so much. And so, I’ve no doubt that you will enhance life wherever you go. We wish you every blessing. We will miss you. But you will have a great time.
I’m also thinking of Joshua in the Bible when he was sent ahead of his people. He was told by God to keep the word of God always in your heart, and by this word you will be strong and, go where you will, the Lord your God goes with you. And I’m sure you’ll come to experience God in many different ways as you grow further into adulthood and we ask God’s blessing on you and the grace of the Holy Spirit and great joy in what you’re doing, what you’ll study in Durham. I’ve no doubt that you’ll do very well.
So - God bless you, congratulations, and many many thanks.”
Thoughts and prayers go to all our young people moving out into new paths away from home, for parents letting go – “you’ve got places to go, you’ve got people to see but still I’m going to miss you…I wish you good spaces in the faraway places you go” (GordonLightfoot, I’m Not Supposed to Care). God bless and keep you all safe.
"If it rains or it snows may you be safe and warm and never grow old. And if you need someone who loves you, why you know I will always be there."