November 2021

Last summer on the beach at Southwold, my dad watched on as I carefully added pebbles to adorn our sandcastle, the tide coming in fast and already threating our first line of defence, a six-inch wall of sand. He said, ‘that’s the sign of a true artist, to go on creating a work of art which you know won’t last.’ Sure enough, it was completely gone within half an hour.

Building sandcastles may be rather trivial, but when I think about life in general there are so many wonderful, beautiful, amazing things that happen to us, or that we do or create, which are only ever going to be transient or temporary.  Sadly, it’s sometimes the case that people are only part of our lives for a short time.

I think of Mary, a dear, kind, elderly parishioner, who I spent precious moments with in Harrogate hospital before she died. On my last visit she gave me a baby blanket she’d been carefully knitting for the baby (Chad) I was expecting. I think of Elsie, a resident at a care home in Leeds I worked at. I think of how I had the privilege of being the member of staff on duty for her final night, giving her the very best bed care I could. I think of Anne, a young alcoholic woman in Dublin, trying to get her life back together, and being supported by the community I was volunteering for. I remember her so thrilled by the delicious dinner she’d helped to cook the rest of the community. I remember her being found passed out in her home a few days later, completely intoxicated. I remember, Rebecca, a very quiet teenage girl in a confirmation class in Caerleon. When baby Benjamin was born she presented me with a little hat she’d knitted for Benjamin. We still have it in our hat box, somewhat stretched and worn. 

These are just a few very short strands in the tapestry of my life. It’s beyond the capacity of the human brain to see how all the strands of our lives fit together or even to remember more than a small fraction of the moments of our lives. So much is forgotten or buried under the surface. But somehow each little encounter and beautiful moment is important and forms a part of who we are, now and into eternity.

There’s a children’s story book by Bob Hartman called ‘Tapestry’ which I sometimes quote from at funerals. After a little boy’s granddad has died his grandma makes a tapestry to help him understand the forever-after. God is ‘going to use lots of shiny new things to make his new world’, grandma explains, ‘But I think he’s going to use what’s old and familiar as well…..All that we have loved and cherished.- the smell and the shape and the feel of it. I think he is going to weave the best bits of what we have done into his tapestry – the arms of the jumpers that held our children. The caps we wore and the laces we tied when we took their hands and walked with them through the woods.’

In November we enter a season of Remembrance where we remember loved ones departed and those who have lost their lives fighting for the freedom of others. This year we perhaps think especially of those who have given their lives in Afghanistan and the thousands of soldiers who have served there.

As we remember and think of the chaos of the withdrawal, we may also find ourselves asking ‘Why? What was the point in it all?’ Back in August someone asked the Radio 4 ‘Any Questions’ panel, ‘Was the war a failure?’

I was struck by the answer given by James Heappey, MP for Wells, and Minister for the Armed Forces, who served in Afghanistan. He said that each soldier who had served in Afghanistan should ‘take pride in what they did in their 6 months’. He’d say to them: ‘That security that you created so that more market stalls could be opened in the bazaar at the end of your tour than at the beginning – that was success, that was worth fighting for. That security that you provided so that the school could educate girls….no one can take the education away from those girls who were educated in the twenty years that we were there.’

Whether in Afghanistan or a little village in North Yorkshire, the differences we make to other people’s lives, even if just for a time, for a few moments, all matter in the grand scheme of things and are all part of the great tapestry which is life, gathered together in God’s eternity.

The Bible tells us that this tapestry, this gathering together, will in the end be the gathering of all nations. ‘I am about to gather all nations and tongues, and they will see my glory,’ wrote the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 66v18). At the very end of the Bible in the Book of Revelation St John gives his vision of unity and a flourishing together within a renewed creation where ‘the nations will walk together in the light of God.’ (Rev 21v24)

It is the task of the leaders of the nations, and all of us, to work for such peace and unity across the world. And it is our task too to make a positive difference at every opportunity, however enduring or short lived, and to always be artists, creating beauty along the way. 

God bless,



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