The Turning of the Year
The turning of the page. A new decade dawns with 2020. We bring with us our resolutions of course – for reconciliation in our private and our public life; our yearnings for the church and prayers for all people of faith. Never was such peacemaking more needed in our world. We bring too some of the ballast from the past, shedding – by God’s grace – those habits we’ve regretted and asking God to show us the rubble that continues to slow us down and divert us from the path we are called along in the building of the Kingdom. But let’s not forget all that we learned in the last decade, giving thanks for the gifts of mind, body, spirit. And, above all, for people…..their living and their dying: young climate activists coming into their own, books being published by people who never knew they could …plays which reach their audiences, pictures and music awakening us, in ways nothing else can, to things which have passed us by -or so mysterious we can’t describe. The saints of God have been active in every area of human service and endeavour. Thanks be to God.
This ‘turning’ season always brings its losses: personal bereavements in this damp, chilly northern hemisphere (I’m writing in the UK) and of course, in the global south, such devastating loss of life and livelihood from flood – and from fire, especially in Australia. Our hearts grieve with you.
For me, the first dying of 2019 was the American poet Mary Oliver – 81 and leaving a worthy legacy – but oh such a loss nevertheless. She, and so many wordsmiths, help us in dark and changing times to face forward. They enable us to hold on to the God-given hope which is our human birthright – the thing with feathers that perches in the soul (Emily Dickinson) – just as our souls are shivering that we really don’t want to know more, the headlines being overwhelming and our temptation to bury our heads almost irresistible. They help us to keep facing the things we dread….not pretending, not escaping – bearing witness to the physicality of the ‘holy’ wherever there is vulnerability, poverty or pain. Mary Oliver writes of a family ‘….all of them are alive/ their mouths dry caves of wordlessness/ in the smudged moons of their faces,/ a craziness we have so far no name for -/ all this I read in the papers,/ in the sunlight….’
I give thanks for Mary and all the poets.
In the course of the summer 2019, here in the Church of England, we marked 25 years since the first women were ordained priest. We came to it later than many parts of the Communion – and the journey was longer for the entanglement with parliamentary legislation – but it happened finally when more than 700 women – many of whom had served lifetimes of ministry as deaconesses – were able to fulfil their response to God’s call. Each brought different gifts to be broken and shared for the life of the world. Another corner of God’s church taking one small step towards making visible that wholeness of humanity which is our human vocation. For some this remains a painful wound in our communion, but its gifts to innumerable communities in this land have been cause of great thanksgiving: not least in prisons, hospitals and schools.
And then, as the old year waned away in the holy days of Christmas, another passing within our Anglican family. Brother Anselm SSF was just shy of his 90th birthday and in the 64th year of his profession as a friar. Known in many parts of the Communion for his visitations to Franciscan houses as their Minister General in the 1980s, he was a tireless thinker, preacher, guide and friend to many – a man of few words and careful discernment. Anselm’s simplicity of demeanour was faithful to S.Francis’ charism for the Society. The saint of Assisi is surely to be our inspiration for the next decade – as westerners are called to curb our self-indulgence and all of us to rebuild communities of Peace and Good in a world dripping with God’s meaning, if only we can be alert to it. Giving great thanks for the changing face of the religious life, for monasticism new and old – and for Brother Anselm and all who witness so wholeheartedly to the gospel. May God fulfil in him – and in us all, through this next decade – the purposes of God’s overwhelming and generous love
The Rev’d Georgiana Bell is a retired Church of England priest. She assists at St John’s Church, Waterloo, Central London.