My theme is memory

It would be easy to start this piece with a rant about the economy. But I am so incandescent with anger at the greed, pride and evil that has brought us to where we are, and in which we are all complicit, that maybe it should wait until I’ve cooled down. All I will say is that it’s the job of the church to seek out those who are hungry, homeless and ill. Point me to them, or them to me.

On 18 October, I went to a posh hotel in Nottingham to speak at the 25-year reunion of doctors I taught back in 1978-9. It was a lovely evening, and they received me with graciousness, generosity, and more affection and respect than I think I deserve. It brought back to me many memories of them, of our exploits when I was younger and less careworn, and of aspects of my own personal journey that brings me here. It was not altogether comfortable. Memory rarely is.

On All Saints (or All Hallows) Day at the beginning of the month, the church remembers those who have inspired us throughout the centuries—and continue to do so. There’s a mistaken notion that saints never put a foot wrong, but the truth is otherwise: ‘they wrestled hard, as we do now, with sins and doubts and fears’. St Paul says that instead of the good things he wants to do, he ends up doing the bad things he doesn’t want to do. That’s true of me too—of all of us I suspect. They did daft things, silly things, glorious things, inspiring things. Like us all. What kept them going was a vision of how things might be better, an image of beauty and perfection in Christ the King. I wrote last month of the heroes we see around us every day: maybe these people should be made saints. I rather think they should. It’s a pity that the Church of England does not have the mechanism to make new saints. It’s good to remember that the saints lived life to the full, with passion and verve, and were not the dried up, pious and ‘churchy’ objects that some imagine. They were bold, daring, and courageous in the cause of the common good. They took risks. They were not comfortable people to have around. They were disturbing. Be disturbing.

The evening before All Saints (or All Hallows) day is Hallowe’en. Like many Christian festivals it took over a day in pre-Christian culture, this one marking the end of the harvest season when evil spirits responsible for a bad harvest needed to be kept at bay. Recent influences from America seem to have driven us back to these pre-Christian influences, so it’s as well to remember that the evil in the world comes not from the dead, but from the thoughts of the living—evil thoughts that grow into evil actions. Keeping in mind the saints and all who have inspired us is the beginning of the road to abolishing evil. All Souls Day comes after All Saints Day, and it’s the day when we pray and give thanks for those who have died. When we remember friends of years gone by, we are touched by a whole set of emotions. We may feel delighted at what we had. We may be saddened by what we have lost. Saying goodbye and grieving can be very difficult, taking years, decades even. It’s no good bottling up these feelings: we need to let them out, and different people have different ways of coping.

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