The leaves are falling...

Assistant Rector's House, October 1997

November:

  • fog
  • falling leaves
  • greyness
  • All Souls
  • dampness
  • dankness
  • the Communion of Saints
  • dying daylight
  • remember, remember the fifth of November
  • poppies

So many of the associations of this month are connected with transience and darkness and death. And at St Peter's in the last few months we have had so many sad encounters with death within our community. There seems almost an inevitability in picking up his theme now - though "death" is not a subject we speak of much today, even in the churches.

I am ever grateful for the very direct approach to death which was prevalent in my Irish-Catholic childhood. Nothing was evaded, even for little ones. I can remember when very small being lifted up to see into various coffins in various front rooms. I can also remember throwing handfuls of earth as coffins were lowered into the grave. But more than that. Those were the deaths of other people. Even in Infant School we were urged to prepare for a good death for ourselves, and to pray for a good death. We were even encouraged to go to sleep with arms folded in the shape of a cross, to be ready in case we died in the night! I would certainly now quarrel with some of the theology and psychology, but there is an honesty and reality in the approach which is commendable.

After our birth, death is the one certainty which will follow. A great writer of the Orthodox Church has said:

Death is the touchstone of our attitude to life. People who are afraid of death are afraid of life… If we are afraid of death we will never be able to take ultimate risks; we will spend our lives in a cowardly, careful and timid manner.

By this, I'm very sure that the writer did not mean that we should all rush out - climbing high mountains, chasing speed records, back-packing around the world. These are not the risks he is talking about. The ultimate risk Anthony Bloom was referring to was that of living every moment honestly and fully, "aware of the fact that what you are saying now, doing now, hearing enduring or receiving now, may be the last experience of your present life". God has given us life to be lived with immediacy and depth in every moment, not to be lived provisionally - waiting for the perfect circumstance in which "to start living".

At a time when "protection" and "security" are omnipresent watchwords - for ourselves and for those we love - perhaps we can ask ourselves whether constant cautiousness is really the way to show our trust in the God who holds us in his eternal arms, before we are born, in every nano-second of our living, and after we have died.

The leaves are falling, falling as from far,
as though above were withering, farthest gardens;
they fall with a denying attitude.

And night by night, down into solitude,
the heavy earth falls far from every star.

We are all falling. This hand's falling too -
all have this falling sickness, none withstands.

And yet there's One whose gently-folding hands
this universal falling can't fall through.
Rainer Maria Rilke

The God of hope and love is there to catch us in all our fallings and all our dyings. Remember that the last Sunday in November is Advent Sunday when we proclaim the light of hope which is coming - always present but ever-coming - into the world.

Eileen McLean


http://www.stpetersnottingham.org/editorial/nov97.htm
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 26th October 1997