RETIREMENT AND CHRISTMAS
Being considerate, kind and charitable to unbelievers can be wearying. With atheism now rendered chic and well promoted by a handful of best-sellers, we parsons encounter far more unbelievers in our daily rounds than used to be the case. Folk who have gulped down a few gobbets of Richard Dawkins sometimes have the effrontery to condescend to me in pity for being a robust believer!
Elodie, the devout wife of robustly Christian Hilaire Belloc, placed crucifixes over the low lintels of the doors in their ancient house. This was because it delighted her to see unbelieving visitors bow to the Lord as they passed through! I love her for it.
Essentially everything that Dawkins says in his hundreds of thousands of words was said over forty years ago in one short paragraph by the great Anglican poet W. H. Auden. In his splendid commonplace book “A Certain World” he writes: The “dead” God: a god Who never existed but in Whom, undoubtedly, many people who thought of themselves as Christians believed - a Zeus without Zeus’s vices. Science has certainly killed him. It is only that always non-existent god whom Dawkins successfully if wordily refutes.
Another great Christian poet is Australia’s Les Murray. It was he who first gave me the idea of ending letters to unbelievers not with conventional valedictions like with best wishes, or yours sincerely, but rather: I wish you God! For anyone of robust and true faith this would have to be the very best of all possible wishes for an unbeliever.
Life without belief, to the likes of a believer such as me, is unthinkable, dull, dreary, life-denying, kill-joy, unimaginative and timid. Faith has granted me a life of life’s. I am filled with gratitude to God for that and much more too!
Foolishly glad to be back
I am now happily and contentedly back at work in the Rectory after six months leave. To be so is heroic. Well done Andrew Neaum, well done!
I have also attained the official retirement age for a parson in this diocese. To be happily and contentedly back at work at the Rectory having done so is surely a form of madness or masochism. You fool Andrew Neaum, you fool!
The Bishop has indicated that he would like me to remain employed for some years yet and I am happy to do so. However, my time away has reconciled me to eventual retirement. When or if ever to retire appears to be the right option to choose, or is forced upon me, I will take that road easily and with no trepidation. I was also, you see, happily and contentedly away from work. Six months freedom from the daily round proved to be as great a joy as is being chained to it.
I appear to have been gifted with what is fundamentally a happy and contented personality, albeit with a tinge of underlying melancholy. Revisiting very many of the scenes of my youth, both in England and Zimbabwe, all of them so fondly remembered, has reminded me of just how blessed I have been throughout my life.
Happiness and contentment, I am convinced, are dependent upon absorption. Happiness, like a butterfly, alights upon our shoulder most readily when we are absorbed, utterly absorbed in something else, in something other than ourself, in something other than happiness itself. Make happiness a goal, aim for it, and immediately it is gone. Look at it and it evaporates.
A telegram from the mortuary
Martin Amis said recently and memorably that to have a grandchild is like receiving a telegram from the mortuary. Yes indeed, but become absorbed in the beauty of the grandchild and that inevitable mortuary fades from consciousness, ceases to matter.
There are those who fear boredom in retirement. For most of us this surely will be the least of our problems. The real cause of discontent or dissatisfaction in retirement is more likely to be the lack of deadlines. Most of us achieve what we achieve because of deadlines. I shall write and finish this little article, and I hope be pleased with it when I have done so, only because the splendid Helen Malcolm has presented me with a deadline. Without that deadline it would be endlessly postponed. Because a sense of achievement is important to contentment, even in retirement, deadlines are lifelines in retirement.
Greased in mucus and blood
Christmas approaches. I love it. For me its essence and meaning have better been caught in verse than in prosaic theology. It is of course beyond the parameters and ken of science completely. Too few people appreciate poetry though. The advertising jingle makes more sense than poetry to materialists and of course materialists turn even the most exquisite of carols into advertising jingles. Reverse alchemy, gold made lead.
David Wright was a blind South African poet and Anglican, and here is his take on Christmas:
An anniversary approaches: of the birth of god
In a stable, son of a virgin and a carpenter,
But really issued from the loins of omnipotent glory:
A babe, ejected from the thighs, greased in mucus and blood,
Weeping with its first breath, suffering the cold air, high king
Of the galaxies, and powerless as a fieldmouse.
Over him breathe the oxen; Shepherds who have seen a star
Honour the obscure event; and, they say, three travelling
Magi, or charlatans. This is the messenger of hope;
The military have been instructed to deal with him.
A wholesale killing, their invariable strategy,
While abolishing a generation, fails of effect.
We are asked to believe all this (it’s only to start with).
What a jumble of the impossible and casual,
Of commonplace mixed with violence; ordinary muddle;
The props and characters scruffy; at best unheroic.
Yet accordant with the disposition of things holy
As we understand them; whose epiphanies are banal,
Not very aesthetic; gnomic; unremarkable;
And very much like what we have to put up with daily.
Have a happy Christmas. I wish you God.