I took this shot in St. John's Roslyn years ago. The chalice was placed on the floor and positioned to catch the reflection of the windowYesteday Noah engaged his mother in a conversation about belly buttons. The whole business of placentas was explained with the sort of honest and brilliant simplicity Bridget is capable of, but one thing led to another and he asked "If Amma is your mummy, then who is Amma's mummy?" So he was, for the first time in his life, given the name, Valerie Underhill, which meant so much to me. Which led to the question beyond the power of simplicity to mask: "Where is she?" Which led to tears. Deep, wracking, sobbing tears. He knows about death; he knows that dinosaurs are dead and that it's just their bones in the museum, but yesterday a pretty major penny dropped for him, about the universality and inevitability and permanence of death. Bridget talked about heaven and afterlife, which helped somewhat and he has asked some brilliant questions since, including the one which is my personal favourite because of its unintended profundity: "Is heaven before or after space?"
Noah is in the stage of faith development which Fowler names mythic literal. Everything is, for him, literally and materially true (a stage, incidentally, some never grow out of) so out of the facts and metaphors he has received he has constructed for himself a kind of medieval tiered universe in which there is the earth, and above it the sky, whose border is marked by the clouds; and above the sky is space, that amazing realm of rocket ships and aliens and stars and Luke Skywalker. At the moment he is examining the sky pretty hard to see if he can spot Jesus's house in the clouds, and his question is part of him trying to order his layers. But for me it functions as a kind of koan.
****When I left my first parish I was given a purple chasuble. It's a lovely thing, made by the women of the parish, and hand embroidered onto it, purple on purple in a script so faint it can't be seen except on close examination, are the names of the churches I served: Waihao Downs Presbyterian; St. Michael's; St. Matthew's; Morven Presbyterian; Glenavy Presbyterian; Nukuroa Methodist. All these except one are now gone, as, in fact, is the parish itself. I wear the vestment now in Advent, carrying on my shoulders the long history and the beauty and the power and the death of the church as we move towards the birth of the Christ child. It cloaks me and warms me and holds me as I move into the last Advent of my ministry as Priest and as Bishop and into all the promise which lies beyond.
****After celebrating St. Andrew's Day in Maheno yesterday I drove a couple of hours to Milton to pray at the beginning of an archaeological dig. Long ago the town of Milton was moved to take advantage of the newly built main road and the Anglican church with its little cemetery was left behind. Eventually the church and vicarage too followed the rest of the town but it was not easy to take the cemetery, so it remained alone in the middle of farmland to be almost forgotten and given over to neglect. Cattle grazed it and knocked over headstones. At some stage it was fenced off with scant regard being paid to the actual location of graves. But now it has been surveyed by the University of Otago, and the old resting places rediscovered. Those outside the fences are being gently and respectfully excavated. The remains will be examined before they are re-interred in a more easily maintained place. There will be a wealth of information garned from the DNA and isotopes of these bones, and from the artefacts buried with them. People whose names have long slipped from remembrance will inform us, and, in a way, live again.
In Advent death and life seem to run together in an inextricable emulsion and all of it is shot through with poignancy and meaning. Is heaven before or after Space? Great question, Noah. Great question.