Friday, 31 August 2012

St Lawrence - Ilketshall St Lawrence

Ilketshall St Lawrence

© Godric Godricson


Ilketshall St Lawrence

© Godric Godricson

  


God as a novelist

The faith of the Maltese people
© Godric Godricson
The idea of God writing individual human activity like a novelist writing a role has its attractions and from this image we doubtless gain a real idea of a personal relationship to a God who is with us and we also develop, manifest and maintain the concept of a God who is with us over time. The author of our lives is there and we have a directing force as others also have a directing force.

Julian of Norwich doubtless had that idea of a directing and personal God when she wrote down her ‘shewings’ and she described her experience as being ‘enfolded in love’. For Julian, there is God who is a reality and God who can be known and who intervenes in our lives.

In a contemporary sense, the novel is a comforting and acceptable genre; although there is a problem in the idea of the novel  in that we are sometimes left with the idea that the novel must have a good ending. If we are in the novel then perhaps we must have a positive outcome? Regrettably, if we hold to the idea of a novel (and with God as the writer) perhaps hard issues and adverse circumstances are harder to bear?  if we believed that we would have a positive ending then a bad outcome is perceived with greater pain and sentiment. In believing that God is ultimately good then we believe that we will have a good ending. We believe that God directs and leads us and in this there is a temptation to give up free will and expect certainty rather than surprises.

An account of lives lived in faith
© Godric Godricson
Against this backfrop, we come up against hard ideas of human suffering. Why Me? We ask why God is not protecting us and we may develop ideas of worthlessness in a meaningless milieux. In perceiving God as a writer and having God in that paradigm has its disadvantages. God acts in the world and we accept that as people of faith and He speaks over time, however, we have a problem and I want to share that problem. I sense that in conservative or even traditionalist Christianity we perceive God as always being with us and interested in what happens to us. We are sometimes in despair when we see God as being absent  from our lives. How then do we talk to God about such occasions? How do we make representation to God?

I hear about past relationships and past pains and in all of this I hear questions. Why did that happen? The problem is asking God about that point in time. We have the concept of theodicy and I could discuss that with people. However, it seems that at some fundamental problem people do not have the words to simply ask God about issues and questions. If we are used to a directing and magisterial God how do we work up the courage to ask questions. Understanding about theodicy is not enough to people who cannot conceptualise asking God a question.  I have friends in the Reformed Jewish tradition who can ask questions of God and they ask “What were you thinking God?”. They “qvetch” and “plotz” about issues and in many ways this is healthy and is engaging with God. My Jewish friends have perhaps moved beyond being simple characters in the novel of their own lives and they have become more like interactive characters who want explanations.

God is the glue that holds the world  together but we have an increasing duty on us to interact with God as we move towards maturity. I know that metaphors are ultimately bound to failure but if I push this metaphor a little further;  we must increasingly learn to co-author the novel as we understand more about God and His world.

Boundaries and parish


The Graveyard as a sign of community

Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Oh dear! The idea of boundaries and parish have come to mind as I visit parishes. Boundaries are fascinating although not always helpful in forming a community of the living or for the departed. People can be geographically ruled into communities and they can be ruled out of communities. Inclusion and exclusion are the words to be used in this debate. We have a lot of sociological material available as analytical tools and the work of social anthropologists is always helpful in looking at groups and ‘norming, forming and storming’ or whatever the phrase.

Churches, parishes and graveyards are not always easy to categorise when it comes to an explanation of how they actually are, how they came to be or how they are perceived. I use as an example a [nameless] Roman Catholic parish that I knew as a young person. It was always  a strange mix of local pride in itself and a long and colourful history; Polish/Czech/Hungarian Post-War immigration and the problems of having a priest who was himself a convert to the faith from a Reformed tradition. Throw in an occasional Latin Mass and a scandal or two and the Parish was often dysfunctional although on the surface it seemed to work in perfect harmony. The graveyard was a poor little thing crammed in against the walls and without care and attention.

Membership of the parish and the graveyard should have been wonderfully  multi-cultural although it wasn’t because the Czechs, Poles and Hungarians who had settled circa 1940’s to 1953 (ish) had assimilated (although not totally) and they wanted to retain some solidarity with each other and separateness to  others. English parishioners retained a romantic idea of being the descendants of rosy cheeked English men although it was clear from the surnames in the graveyard  that they were more likely to descend from Irish immigrants circa 1840’s onwards. The priest’s own history made him more right wing, punitive and reactionary as he tried to prove his devotion to the Church he had joined.


Gan Falaris Décédé 1915

Buried - Kalkara, Malta [Link]
© Godric Godricson
 
In effect, the parish had what are sociologically referred to as deep  ‘social cleavages’. The effect of such division was that whilst the descendants of the central Europeans played together quite happily at the same school with their ‘English’ counterparts; they sat separately at Church and the apparently English boys were implausibly sometimes called “Sean”, “Francis Xavier” and even  “Eoin”. Confusing! Well it was when the children from the traveller community started to attend the same school sometime in the mid 1970’s and brought in the minority use of the Irish language just as the bombings on mainland Britain made Irish people the source of suspicion. The Scottish families  whose fathers came to work nearby gave a slightly different and industrial mix to the parish. A friend at school had a father from Quebec and that brought even more spice to the mix.

The English in the local community could often not tell Scots and Irish apart based on accent and mannerism and so there was always a sort of ‘white racism’ being played out as local people tried to separate out the  ‘Gastarbeiter’ Scots who were really “One of us!” and the Irish/Travellers where there was a perception of mistrust and even fear.


Ettore Barbara
Buried - Kalkara, Malta [Link]
© Godric Godricson

In a manner of speaking; membership of the parish was less based  on nationality, class, social origins or income and more about religious allegiance as this was a common point which to share. Less about Englishness and class and more about religious and cultural association and a willingness to be seen as “Catholic”. Good standing was through overt obedience to the Pope. As long as this was the case then membership was achieved and maintained. The problem came when the Church hierarchy started to actively (deliberately?) loose adherents as it started to preach about the 3 great moral sins for the Church - homosexuality, divorce and abortion.

The Graveyard became a place where we were all integrated into the communal unity of the living and the dead even if the hierarchy drove people away. The Maltese understand these matters better and the Cemeteries of Addolorata and Ta’Braixa have beauty and practicality combined in equal measure. The Maltese are another overlay in British culture but that’s another story for another day.

Saint Mary - Haddiscoe


Saint Mary - Haddiscoe [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Saint Mary - Haddiscoe [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Human bone - [Unidentified parish]

© Godric Godricson
In my time visiting cemeteries I have never found such a large bone on the surface and in public view and this is quite shocking for England where we prefer our bones to be either under gound or in an ossuary. This picture is of a large bone around 10 inches long and it looks like a neck of femur. Any osteologists like to comment? I should say that I notified the Anglican parish about this find although they did not respond for reasons best known to themselves. I suspect that they already knew the bone was there but they couldn't be bothered to do anything about stray human remains.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Funeral procession Malta

Jeremiah 16:6







Jeremiah 16:6: God laid a horrible curse on the Israelites: that many would die of diseases, will not be mourned and would be "like refuse lying on the ground" (NIV). Their bodies were to be consumed by animals and birds.

Saint Mary - Haddiscoe

Saint Mary - Haddiscoe [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Funeral HSH Prince Rainier of Monaco


Funeral HSH Prince Rainier of Monaco


Acts 5:5







Acts 5:5


When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Albert Sidney


Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson
  

John Charles Cracknell Died 27th May 1923


James Charles Cracknell
Died 27th May 1923
Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson
  


Charles Frederick Haag Died 17th July 1947




Charles Frederick Haag
Died 17th July 1947
Mable Ella Haag
Died 10th August 1973
Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson
  

Jeremiah 22:19







Jeremiah 22:19: God laid a similar curse because of his pride and disobedience. Jeremiah said that he would be given the burial of a donkey: to be dragged away and thrown outside the city gates

Granite

Granite Pillar
Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Richard Scales Died 21st January 1918

Richard Scales
Died 21st January 1918
Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Ann Turner and breast cancer


Ann Turner
d. 1734
Little Walsingham






"Here lieth the body of Ann Turner the daughter of Thomas Turner and Ann his wife she died with a cancer in her breast on the 29th September 1734 in the 43 year of her age."

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Granite Cross

Granite Cross
Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Matthew 14:10-12






Matthew 14:10-12

and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Minnie Beatrice Scales Died 9th September 1915

Minnie Beatrice Scales
Died 9th September 1915
Albert Edward Scales
Died 3rd November 1940
Saint Mark's New Lakenham, Norwich [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Sydney Herbert Taylor Died 2nd October 1921

Sydney Herbert Taylor
Died 2nd October 1921

© Godric Godricson


Friday, 24 August 2012

"The Funeral. Undertaker's Job's in Malta"




The Funeral. Undertaker's Job's in Malta

Vandalized cemetery - Brooklyn






NEW YORK (AP) — Dozens of tombstones and memorials have been vandalized at a historic New York City cemetery where celebrities are buried, causing $100,000 in damage  [Link ]

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Saint Withburga







A.D. 799. This year Archbishop Ethelbert, and Cynbert, Bishop of Wessex, went to Rome. In the meantime Bishop Alfun died at Sudbury, and was buried at Dunwich. After him Tidfrith was elected to the see; and Siric, king of the East Saxons, went to Rome. In this year the body of Witburga was found entire, and free from decay, at Dercham, after a lapse of five and fifty years from the period of her decease.

Burial in the aisle

Burial in the aisle

St Gregory - Heckingham [Link]
© Godric Godricson

Adam Driver

Adam Driver

St Gregory - Heckingham [Link]
© Godric Godricson

Burial on the South Side


St Gregory - Heckingham [Link]
© Godric Godricson

Saint Gregory - Heckingham



St Gregory - Heckingham [Link]
© Godric Godricson


St Gregory - Heckingham



St Gregory - Heckingham [Link]
© Godric Godricson


Mary Crow Died 28th April 1666

Mary Crow Died 28th April 1666

St Gregory - Heckingham [Link]
© Godric Godricson


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Poverty

The idea of poverty was frightening enough in a time without social security althugh it must have been all the more repellent if a person had an idea of being buried in the workhouse as well as ending life there. I know that people did not have to be buried in te workshouse and I’m sure that the Authorities encouraged communities and the next of next to take responsibility for the dead. We can imagine the book keepers keeping a tally of the costs involved in provising a funeral and the gasp of excitement at the thought of saving a few pennies.

Those people who did find themselves buried in the workhouse are almost always lost to view and without markers. Yes, there will be the dry as dust paper records that exist in the UK although the physical markers of a grave are often absent. Without a marker and surrounded by the shame of poverty it is likely that many graves have never been visited or the prople occupying the grave actually mourned. Such is the way of poverty, death and burial in a land that perceives itself as being rich and vibant.

In England the workshouses that were built up and down the County have cemeteries attached to them although most people have no idea of this proximity. The cemetery is shrouded in secrecy and uncertainty. The dead are moved into that half world that is based on reality and clothed in fear.

Gressenhall, in Mid-Norfolk is an example of a place where the poor were transported and where they died over time. The Ordnance Survey maps are available and they record the presence of the cemetery. A map published in 1884 shows the cemetery to the west of the site.  The second map was published in 1906  shows the burial ground as being disused. More importantly, a map published in 1978 shows the cemetery as an orchard and we see the life cycle of the cemetery. The dead and the spaces occupied by the dead become a public space and a place for recreation. The idea of poverty becomes so difficult that the dead who died in poverty apparently have less rights to memorials than the living.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Acts 8:2







Acts 8:2


Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Friday, 17 August 2012

Thomas Markham - 1686

Monuments often say something about the person interred. That ‘something’ can be inherent in the stone of the monument, the location of the monument within the cemetery,the style of the monument or even what is not declared. The monument speaks at a number of levels and about a range of issues and we have to strain our ears to hear the echoes of other peoples lives


"Hidden in plain sight"
© Godric Godricson

Whilst it is always possible to go nuts about the baroque monuments of great Churches and Cathedrals, it is less so with the vernacular monuments and inscriptions of lesser places and more obscure people. The personal moments of everyday lives are not always carried into the future with size, instead they have sometimes been preserved by the small and the insignificant. We are compelled to read and re-read the signs and symbols to try and perceive something about our ancestors. In an effort to read the past we have to understand that the simple things in life are not always easy to understand.

The small messages of this monument are fascinating to me. The fragmented piece of broken stone is set as a jaunty angle into a rudimentary brick context. The rough brickwork is covered in cobwebs and hidden in full view of the world amongst the larger monuments the. The fragment is actually facing a bus stop and people waiting for a bus must see it every day without noticing or thinking of removing the stone.

I am not going to say where this monument is because I think it is regrettably easy to carry away this fragment of a  lost life and I very much want to keep it safe. The little piece of stone with a dead name rudely inscribed on it carries something of the man into the future. Although the stone is on a tomb to which it does not appear to belong; we can believe that someone in the past understood an association between the man and the tomb on which it is set and we must respect the integrity of that connection.

Jesus and the Christian faith


Hazy faces from the past
© Godric Godricson

In perceiving Jesus and the Christian faith as a cult of death; I want to draw out some sort of separation between the Jesus portrayed in the Gospel and the Jesus of death, popular culture and the popular imagination. The Gospels have particular ways of seeing Jesus and Mark perhaps even perceives Jesus as embodying a ‘messianic mystery’ as to His identity. We now have the opportunity of considered the ‘messianic mystery’,  how this mystery came about and how disciples came to see past the mystery in The Transfiguration. In the ‘messianic mystery’ we can perhaps see why there may be a contemporary  confusion about the identity of Jesus and how He is perceived. If the disciples with contemporary contact were baffled by Jesus in the 1st Century then why should humanity in the 21st Century be any better informed.

A major problem in perceiving Jesus is the very name ‘Jesus’,  I acknowledge that I still have problems in using the personal name of ‘Jesus’; instead aiming for ‘Our Lord’, ‘Christ’, ‘The son of God’ etc. In this we are following traditional Judaism in refusing to use the name of God and instead we search for names and words that convey respect and discipleship without over familiarity. How the Spanish feel comfortable in calling their sons ‘Jesus’ I will never know although I respect their cultural traditions and the antiquity of this tradition. How Jesus as the meek and mild man came to be so associated with death is another mystery. The name of Jesus is charged with emotion and we can see that Europeans and the heirs to European culture in South America and The Philippines perceive the very name of Jesus differently from Northern Europeans. ‘Jesus’ is the name of a human person and so we have a fundamental problem in worship; are we thinking of Jesus the man or Jesus the Son of God and second person of The Trinity? How do we see the name that is 'enfolded with love' so associated with burials at the East End of the Church?

The Church surrounded by the
relics of the dead
© Godric Godricson
Depictions of Jesus carry the seeds of an inherent confusion between a ‘popular death culture’ and the ‘Gospel Jesus’. Such depictions amplify that existing confusion in that Jesus varies from the a weak and ambivalent ‘meek and mild’ sort of Jesus to the militant Jesus who turned out the money changers from the Temple. Pacifist or warrior; Jesus has been claimed for every camp and political shade of opinion.  Which Jesus are we comfortable with and which Jesus is ‘our’ Jesus as his image is carried with us to the grave. Do we create Jesus in our own image as humans or do we see Him as divine. The heretical status of  historical sects is  acknowledged and recognised as humanity struggled to resolve the dissonance between the idea of Jesus as human or divine.

Similarly, the hymns of the liturgy are often confused (or partisan) and we see  the ‘worship’ songs of the Evangelical tradition that often focus on ‘God’ compared to the more traditional Catholic hymns that often reflect a diverse and rich Catholic tradition. We have Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and a service of  Benediction and “Cor Dulce, Cor Amabile” for the ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus’. We have songs for ‘Christ The king’. The hymns set a theme for worship and the liturgy is a means of sharing in the ministry of Christ through the seasonal readings. The funeral dirge is chanted for all eternity. In the same way that we have a separation in the Gospel version of Jesus and the Jesus of popular culture we also have a divergence in the ways that hymns give witness to the Earthly ministry of Jesus.  The humanity (or divinity) of Jesus is often played up or down in hymns and we often have a gap between the traditions of Catholicism and the more contemporary traditions of the Evangelicals.
  
The East End brings death to
the sacraments
© Godric Godricson
Prayers contain some of the greatest folly in the world and sometimes the greatest simplicity imaginable; all in the name of Jesus. We have naïve prayers that ask that 2+2=5 and more ‘sopisticated’ prayers that ask for the intentions of a specific person at the requiem. The name of Jesus is intoned but sometimes prayers reflect a monotheistic tradition and we are encouraged to see ‘God’.

In effect, there seems to be a continued confusion about the nature of Jesus in the liturgy. We see facets of humanity,  divinity, life and death being emphasised or diminished depending on seasons and tradition. The role  played by Jesus  seems to be ambivalent in popular imagination in the same way that he was the centre of a mystery during His life.

Spirituality in the 21st Century

© Godric Godricson
Spirituality in the 21st Century context is less about ‘spirituality’ or being ‘spirit filled’ and is increasingly more about ‘feeling good’ in an instantaneous sort of way. Many people seem to feel that spirituality is easily attainable; available on a shelf and that it is something that has little personal cost. This is what may be seen as the ‘self-help’ sort of spirituality that one finds in Ottaker’s (other bookshops are also available). The spirituality journey on offer may be Buddhist or ‘new-age’ in nature or from other traditions and may adopt values that are very far from Christianity. However, in such contexts ‘spirituality rarely has reference to the Trinity or to a Christian conception of God.

In saying this, I am not making an exclusive case for positive experiences within the context of Christianity in isolation and there is always a place to explore experience and wisdom from other traditions. I also know of people who are not at all consciously religious who exude a sense of serenity and  they manifest a certainty about the future which is comforting and also calming but this is to confuse matters further. I have a colleague in secular employment who denies any faith in religion who has the effect of immediately dropping my blood pressure when she speaks and I suspect that she  is a natural healer if she only understood that role within herself. However, healing, feeling good and self-help are not the same as spirituality.

In some ways people now look to the far East for a spiritual dimension in their lives and we find images of the Buddha in John Lewis as an example of where peoples feelings, hopes and expectations are in the matter of spirituality. Perhaps 100 years ago people in England may have ‘crossed the Tiber’ when they considered spirituality or even made the journey towards Orthodoxy when they considered a more spiritual direction. The direction now is clearly much further East than Istanbul.

© Godric Godricson
Yet, traditional Christian spirituality is alive (if not completely well)  without looking to the far East or to other religions and faiths. Catholic spirituality, as one facet of Christianity, is set within a strong Christian context replete with history, prayer, hymns, meditations, art and sculpture. Similarly, the Church of England has an Anglo-Catholic tradition that utilises ‘smells and bells’, as part of a rich, diverse and musical  liturgy. We also have a British Orthodox Church that is linked to the Copts of Alexandria. All of this rich heritage is already in the UK and evidences a truly Christian (and home grown) spirituality driven by the Holy Spirit. I would suggest that people may find a Spirit driven experience within the Christian Churches in the UK without trying some sort of 21st Century religious shopping experience.

However, for many people (for whom Christianity has no contemporary relevance) spirituality equates to some sort of Pelagian self help or leads to a religious syncretism where we experience  something of a religious ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ of ideas.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"Deeper than Sheol" (Job 11:8)


© Godric Godricson
Writers  have argued that ancient Israel had a very poorly developed idea of the afterlife for the body and the spirit compared to the cultures that geographically surrounded it with little hope for a bodily resurrection.  There is no generally accepted idea that ancient Israel possessed a developed and coherent view of spiritual existence after death or of a physical resurrection of the body.

In historical terms, Israel shared a geographical border with Egypt where there was a particularly well documented belief in the survival of the personality into the afterlife and associated rituals to ensure this survival although there is no evidence that a developed belief system transferred from Egypt into Israel.  Although Israelite society did not take part in a large-scale importation of Egyptian ritual and belief, 1 Chronicles 10:12   indicates that the human body should be treated with dignity and respect and we have evidence for the ritual involved in burials  throughout Palestine. However, it is not then clear what people believed in the Old Testament period about the survival of personality or physical resurrection. The subterranean nature of burial in caves and crypts within ancient Israel may reference a belief in Sheol (the undefined and shadowy underworld) or the underworld common in earlier Caananite belief systems.

© Godric Godricson

It is not clear if the ancient peoples of Israel believed widely in life after death or, if indeed, they believed widely in bodily resurrection from the dead. Genesis 3:19 teaches that mankind can expect nothing other than the return of his body to the Earth from which it came. Psalm 103:14-16 gives no hope of physical resurrection and speaks of the transience of human existence on Earth. In effect, Israelites appear to be ‘here and now’ people rather than hoping for a better life to come.  Despite such negative expressions surrounding the survival of personality beyond death and to any physical resurrection we can see the book of Isaiah containing more definite hope for the future. Isaiah intones, "Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall rise".  This fragment, along with 2 Kings 13:20-21 (an indication of the efficacy of contact with the bones of Elisah) is an indication that there were at least competing views in the Old Testament period as to what happened after death and what a faithful person may hope for after death.  Ecclesiastes. 3:2I, takes a characteristically more hope-less stance and asks the reader to remember; “To him that is joined with all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. We can see that ancient Israel did indeed have a poorly developed view of the afterlife although we  can see competing views existed about the nature of life.  Elijah is seen to have ascended into heaven (2 Kgs. 2:11-12)  and in this image we may have another, although unusual, way of humans surviving physical death; by ascension into heaven.

We can perhaps agree that the ancient Israelites had a poorly developed sense of the afterlife that stood in stark comparison to the Egyptian and Caananite people around them. This apparent lack of a coherent belief in an ‘afterlife’ continued through the Old Testament period. The faith of Israel was, in essence, a simple obedience to God as a creator of the physical world and, for many, that simple faith was enough. In considering Jewish eschatology we may contemplate such matters either with the zeal of the literalist or the indeterminism of the poet either extreme may lead to a misunderstanding.   It may be that in an exploration of Jewish eschatology,  many competing views existed in relation to the afterlife and resurrection in addition to the pervasive and accepted view taught in Jerusalem?

Monday, 13 August 2012

A hearse

"A vehicle for conveying a coffin to a church or cemetery"

© Godric Godricson