Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dear Lynda

Dear Lynda,

I was at your place yesterday. It doesn't seem so long since the last time, when I came and spoke about how all cathedrals are, in the final analysis, transitional cathedrals. I was gutted to be rung by Michael Hughes the other day and learn that deans are too. Shocked. Shattered. Unbelieving. I know your health was bad, and I know we are all temporary but you were so full of everything that makes life worthwhile that your death  just didn't seem right.

You would have loved yesterday. As Garrison Keillor once said “They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days.” You were there, of course; or at least your body was, and everything about the service spoke of you. I'd be really interested to know if you were conscious of all that. Perhaps one day we could talk?  The music was great: your choice, I understand, and Bishop Victoria spoke of you so movingly. The script of what she said is recorded on the Taonga site, but like any script it conveys hardly any of the life and power and feeling imparted by she who spoke it. She let us in on the joke about the Golden tumours. One of your best! And of course you know about the lections for yesterday morning, which tells me that the Holy Spirit was in on the joke also.  Victoria, like many good preachers, kept repeating a memorable catch phrase; in this case it was, "when did you last see Lynda?" and of course I thought about that all during the service and for a lot of the time afterward.

It was General Synod. We talked of books. Thank you again for introducing me to Huraki Murakami, whom I shall never read from now 'til Kingdom come without thinking of you. Ditto 1 Samuel chapter 6. I thought of how much more I could have shared with you, of the possible conversations we might have had and which I now bitterly regret  not having. It was only in the last couple of days that I learned your age, and I was surprised to realise that I more easily fitted into your parents' generation that yours. Unconsciously I had always thought of you as a contemporary, and in conversation yesterday I learned that this was true of a lot of people - some my age and some twenty years your junior.

I guess one of the things I always sensed about you was that behind the humour and the accomplishments and the wit and the sheer good fun there was a great well of self doubt and pain. I think that this is one of the things that made you so compelling. You seemed to me to be a person who had lived the crucifixion with such depth that you knew beyond the shadow of doubt the reality of resurrection. You didn't so much preach the Gospel of the resurrected Christ as live it. You were one of the most genuinely modest and self effacing people I've ever met. Which is the real reason I hope that in some way you were conscious of yesterday.

The cathedral - YOUR cathedral - was full. Every chair was occupied and a couple of hundred stood at the back. Some of us had come quite a way to be there, because we could not be anywhere else on that particular Tuesday. We sang and prayed and listened and laughed, and mourned what we'd lost in you. But more, we mourned the loss of what you might have -would have - been. You were just the sort of leader our church needs right now. But it's not to be. You're gone.

As a lover of great literature you will understand how the ending always works back and defines all that went before it. So it is with people. Yesterday I saw your ending, which was the better part of a thousand people of every age and type, gathered together from across New Zealand and beyond because they loved, respected and admired you.

You did so well. You made such a difference. Thank you so very much.

With love, admiration and respect,

Wednesday, 23 July 2014


I came across this remarkable little film just yesterday. I am astonished by the technical brilliance of the film maker, Anthony Cerniello, but there is more than that. The piece is a reminder that we are not things: we are, each one of us, a process. We are a particular configuration of energy which is in perpetual change; and this energy pattern had a beginning and one day will have an end. 

This film is very beautiful.  The face is beautiful and the changes wrought over the years are, to me, awe inspiring. How astonishing that the food consumed by this little girl can be reconfigured into bone and flesh and brain tissue. How amazing that a design for a human being can so relentlessly and powerfully unfold. And as I watch her change in the space of five minutes, I ask, "when does she become more, or when less beautiful?" And the answer is, "she does not". At every stage of her continuous journey from childhood to old age she is constantly and equally lovely. I think of the efforts our culture puts into fixing the ideal of beauty somewhere in the early 20s, and think of the ludicrousness of that ideal and of the constant damage it does to the 90% of us who don't fit it.

Perhaps my viewing of the film was enhanced by my visit to the doctor on Monday. Nothing was wrong, particularly, but every three months I have a blood test and, in the week following, visit my GP to be told the results and to have an injection of the gunk which keeps me alive. I have recently changed doctors, so this was my first session with the new one. I sat in his room and we chatted about the history of my various treatments. He brought up my blood test results on his computer and the gunk is obviously doing its job: my psa level has descended into the undetectable region and, so he tells me, it's likely to stay there for a very long time. He opened the elaborate little package I had brought with me, took out the syringe and the little vials, mixed the paste and injected it into my shoulder. He gave me a prescription for the next dose, weighed me and took my blood pressure. I walked out into the lightly falling snow and made, as I sometimes do, a small personal pilgrimage.

I drove up the hill to Halfway Bush and to the house my family lived in when I was a small child. There, in that little place and the tiny park behind it which was my playground, the memories of my childhood seem close enough to touch. I sat in the car with a dull ache in my upper arm reminding me of the fragility of life and of my own ending and I thought of a Hornby clockwork train set laid out on the bare boards of the lounge floor one Christmas morning, only fifty feet away in space but fifty seven years away in time. 

It all seems so close, beginning and ending. 

The little film of Danielle is captivating because it is my own story. It is the story of us all.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Back to Bluff

No, not Bluff. Dunedin. Taken from our deck on a stormy day about a year ago. 
Today was one of those rare Sundays where I had no commitments, so the question arose, where do we go to church? Well, it was a no brainer, really. There's only one parish left in the Diocese where I haven't worshipped on a Sunday morning, so Bluff it was. We rose at 6, left at 7 and after a cup of coffee in Invercargill, arrived at the Bluff Co-operating parish right on the dot of 10.

As it turns out we were on time for the service, but still managed to be a little late as the first Sunday in the month is the one Bluff puts on a pancake breakfast which begins an hour earlier. A few people there, some of the Anglicans, of course, knew who I was and were very slightly surprised, but took it all in their stride. We were given pancakes and coffee and then, with the other 30 or so people present, sat at small tables while the service unfolded. It was simple, casual and very well done. There was singing led by a small but very competent music group, a couple of Bible stories, a sort of a quiz thing and a prayer or two. Perhaps four of the congregants were my age or older, one or two looked like they might have had quite eventful lives and the rest were young men, young women and very young children. I loved it. If I lived locally I'd be there every week.

We left well before midday and with the rest of the day ahead took the scenic route home through the Catlins. We stopped at that rather good little cafe sited in the old Niagara school for soup with homemade bread and were home about 3.30

It has been a lovely Sunday, and it followed a Saturday which was equally satisfying, though in a very different way. Yesterday a dozen of us met in the Diocesan office to discuss the finer points of our committee structure. I know that if anyone had invited me to such an event in the past I would have spent more time thinking up plausible reasons not to be there than the meeting itself actually took. For me the only thing more stultifying than a committee meeting was a committee meeting to design committee meetings; but yesterday was interesting, and even inspiring. We were well led by Margy-Jean Malcolm and everyone was fully engaged as we were in fact  re-designing an Anglican Diocese from the ground up. We were looking for the most efficient, simple and productive way to use our material and personnel resources for the purposes of the Kingdom of God. And we made great progress. We finished at 3, all of us feeling somewhat depleted as we had, in the process of working out the practical details of a much simplified diocesan structure, talked together through the big questions of what exactly it is that Christ calls us to here in the bottom third of the South Island.

So today, to drive through some of it and worship with one of our most vibrant little communities was important; to be reminded that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and that our job back in the office in Green Island is not to get in the way but rather to support and encourage and resource the work that many good people are already doing.