Life, the Faith, and Ashes: 12 July

A little early this week as we’re off to Paris tomorrow for my wife’s birthday. 14th July is famous not only as the day she was born but for something or other in France too…

A British Crash has its first printed review, in Sorted men’s magazine. Very positive. The latest edition is the first I have seen. Great spread of articles by good Christian writers. Not sure about the title, though. Are men Sorted once they are Christians? I’m looking forward to reading it on Eurostar. Would love to give it to someone. Why can’t we have more good stuff like this on our shop magazine shelves? Surely as many people will buy this as buy ‘Classic Tractors’ on sale in our local Post Office?

A post funeral visit this week – a rarity. Some say that clergy should follow up every funeral in this way. My experience is that we are as welcome as the undertaker turning up out of the blue again. I make a phone call to alert people that an invitation to the Church Memorial Service is on its way, and offer to bring the envelope in person. Most prefer it in the post.

One widow was happy for me to call round. Her husband’s ashes were on the shelf in the front room. She finds them a comfort. I suggested it would be better to lay them to rest somewhere, but that seemed well outside her frame of thinking. A woman down the road puts her husband’s ashes in the shopping trolley whenever she goes shopping. Another local man has his wife’s ashes in a casket on the bed so he can talk to her every night.

The Church Times shows that keeping ashes is common. Recent research shows that far more people now collect ashes from the crematorium. Some people say that it’s good for the bereaved to exercise choice in this way, to regain some control. Mostly, though, keeping ashes goes against the need to let go. Healthy grief means, sooner or later, letting go, turning away from the dead and turning back to life.

A bereaved daughter recently wanted her mother’s body dug up from the churchyard near their home so that it could be reburied in her garden, and she could talk to her more closely. The Church Chancellor (Judge) decided not to allow the digging up. It’s only a step away from the longstanding practice of people going to graves to talk to the dead, but not a healthy one.

Old Testament Laws were strict about dealing with dead bodies, keeping them very separate from the living – that’s the healthy way. Emotionally too, if we hang on to the dead, grief becomes stuck, and our hearts can become unclean. I think of three people with whom I have prayed, who accepted their need now to leave those who have died in God’s hands. One woman, whose daughter had died, started sleeping much better. One man, whose brother had died, had a persistent chest infection which baffled the doctors. After prayers of commendation, healing, and deliverance, the chest cleared up.

Afghanistan is in the news again. Yes indeed it was a mistake to go blazing in there, as anywhere. James Bond operations may look good in the cinema when you can end it with the baddies’ nest destroyed. But in real life they come back or others take their place. Sending soldiers in against terrorists is the wrong option. Terrorists are criminals, not to be dignified as enemy soldiers. We combat terrorists through the law and the police. If we need new international law and international police to combat international terrorists, then we develop them. We didn’t send the troops into Eire to wipe out IRA terrorists. We shouldn’t have troops into Afghanistan either.

My mother seemed much improved last weekend, now in my sister’s care. On Monday she succumbed to a nasty infection and had to be admitted to Worcester Hospital on Friday. She’s ruddy cheeked, confused, agitated. Hard times.

Llama, llama, llama, baby llama… I had a couple of days at Rainbow Cottage, our second / retirement home in Derbyshire. We’re having our own house makeover, not by a TV crew, but by people God has sent to us. Alleluia! My daughters wanted to see the llamas. (as in my first post, 25 May.) We found them in the same field as before, very cute and friendly. The funny little something sticking up from behind the oldest one lying down turned out to be a baby llama. A young woman came to feed them corn and told me the baby was one day old! Its ears were still stuck back onto its head. And we just happened to go and see them that day!

Roger Harper

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