Sunday, November 14, 2010

Remembrance - the Hard Questions

This Remembrance Sunday I want to ask three questions.

How do we remember?

What do we do with the difficult memories?

Why do we remember?

First, How do we remember?

In responding to those questions I want to draw on some of the words, thoughts and ideas that are in Hebrews 13.

Memory is a funny thing. I for one remember things in all sorts of different ways. I can sometimes remember things that have happened to me in such a real way it is as if I am re-living those events. I can see the sights, I can hear the sounds, I can smell and feel once more as if I was there. My memory can play back like a tape recorder, like a video recorder in my mind. I can see events unfolding before my eyes, I can hear once again words spoken to me.

I feel for those who have among their memories disturbing memories that play again in ways that are all too real. On Remembrance Sunday I feel for those who have had experiences in war that this day are real once again in memories that come flooding back.

But on this day I do not have such memories. My memory does not go back to the second world war, let alone the first world war.

How do I remember on this day?

Hebrews 13 verse 3 I find very helpful.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured as if you yourselves were being tortured.

Remember … as though.

Listen to the memories of those who were there. Listen through the words they have shared with us and passed on to us.

Picture yourself in the scene. See the sights they saw. Hear the voices they saw. And then remember as though you were there.

Someone from church has prompted me to do just that once again this Remembrance Sunday. In anticipation of today I have been re-visiting a family story of my own … and discovering a poem for which Judi Marsh won a runners’ up award at the Literature Festival.

The family story enables me to remember … as though I were there.

Ghost Voices, Judi’s remarkable poem is an exercise in ‘remembering … as though’. On the one hand she feels for those who do remember. AT the same time she thinks herself into the mind of one caught up in the horror of war. Judi invites us in the first part of the poem to see with the eyes of one who was there. And in the second part of the poem she invites us to hear with the ears of one who was there. She invites us to remember … as though we are there.

Ghost Voices by Judi Marsh

Sometimes, even now,
I see them – my comrades.
In my dreams they live again.
And always it is night.
Always it is that night.
And I see again,
Silhouetted against a smoky sky,
The ragged shapes of wooden posts
And barbed wire,
Broken and reaching out,
As strange and nameless trees
In the nightmare world of a wartime night.

Sometimes, even now,
I hear them – my comrades.
In my dreams they sing again.
And always it is night.
Always it is that night.
And I hear again,
Ghost voices singing ghost songs
In the grey night. Anthems from men
Who will not grow old, who will not come home.
They sing to me down the years
Living again in my memories, and
Dying again in my dreams.
They sing – this choir of lost souls –
And again I am haunted
By the nightmare world of a wartime night.

To remember as though is to risk the pain of the memory that troubles.

It is real people who live again in my memories,
They are real people dying again in my dreams
In the nightmare world of a wartime night.

What do we do with painful memories?

I want to draw on another insight from this passage in Hebrews 13.

These words contain a wonderful promise. It is the promise of the presence of God with us at moments of desperate need.

He has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

So we can say with confidence,
The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?

This is the promise to draw on in the face of the troubling memories.

I have seen John Simpson reporting for the BBC from many of the conflicts and wars that have been in the news in recent years. I had no inkling of his Christian commitment. It was moving to see him on Channel 4’s new version of Thought for Today, 4Thought, speaking of the difference his faith has made to him.

He spoke movingly of a tragic incident he had been involved in when some of the camera crew he was with were injured and a cameraman killed. The memory of that occasion disturbs deeply. John Simpson describes the strength his faith has been and then speaks of an occasion when he met with a vicar. He describes the way the vicar encouraged him to think that his friend was as much in the hands of God now as ever he had been.

A simple thought, yet a very profound one that had made a difference to John Simpson.

What do we do with disturbing memories? Hold on to the promise in these words: The God we believe in is the God who is with us in the middle of disturbing times, the God who promises,

I will never leaver you or forsake you.

So owe can say with confidence,
The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?

One question remains.

3) Why do we remember?
When we moved to Cheltenham first we visited the Famous and had a conversation with Ross Cole. But not since.

And that is more years than I care to remember!

When telling the story on one occasion to Caroline and Chris Gregory Caroline took me to task. She had grown up with Ross Cole and she and Chris knew the family well. You must give him a ring, she said, insisting I make a note of the phone number. I noted the phone number back in the summer and made the call this week.

He described visiting with his wife Ploegsteert in search of the cemeteries. There were 14 of them. They had no way of finding the actual cemetery. Then he remembered his father, Reg Cole’s brother, describing a visit he and I think his father had made in search of the grave in the 1920’s or 1930’s. His father had found it and given a description of finding a particular shop, taking the second on the left and going up a lane.

Ross Cole and his wife shared those half remembered directions with a local who immediately pointed them up a country lane out into a wood, where the cemetery was. And threw was Private Reg Cole’s grave.

But most moving of all, as Ross Cole recalled, was the realisation that the cemetery was one of those cemeteries to contain British and German soldiers side by side.

How vital it is that we have come to the point through all the horrors of the twentieth century when we can be in friendship with Germany and the people of Germany.

Midlands Today told the story this week of an older man who had been caught in the air raids on Coventry that happened 70 years ago today. Ever since he had harboured a fear, if not a hatred for German people. Until this year. This year he had been on a visit to Dresden where he met German people the same age who had been in the air raids on Dresden. He found them to be people just like him. And he found it possible to consider them friends. How wonderful to hear of the way his experiences had changed and hatred given way to friendship even after 70 years.

What do we remember for? It is not to keep the hatred going. We remember to keep alive the memory of the commitment that was made by the peoples who had been at war not just to be buried side by side in a graveyard, but to live side by side in mutual respect and honour.

So I finish with the opening words of Hebrews 13 in response to this most pressing of questions … what do we remember for?

Let mutual love continue.

Then the writer suggests the importance of putting that love into practice, into action.

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

No comments:

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light