Beyond Words

I remember celebrating an early Eucharist at St Mary’s, Primrose Hill, in London, which was regularly attended by an elderly couple, Francis and Elsie Meddings. On this particular Sunday the Vicar had left me a note to say that Elsie had had a stroke, and that he wasn’t sure whether Francis would be in church, but would I say a special prayer for them?

Well, Francis was there and at the end of the service, before I disrobed, I saw him at the back of the church talking with two women. As I approached him he turned towards me as I opened my arms and came into my embrace. I simply held him. Nothing was said nor needed to be said.

And it was the same when my partner of more than half a century was dying. In the final two weeks he was unable to move or speak but we spent much time gazing into each other’s eyes. Again I felt that any words at such a time would be intrusive. We knew what each other felt and what we meant to each other. And when in the final moments the night carer said to me, ‘Pour out your heart to him’ I couldn’t for that would have seemed to me like an intrusion of my personal grief at such a solemn moment.

Words are a great gift and each person, each child, should be taught how to use them, for the difficulty in so many relationships and situations is that people don’t know how to give expression to their feelings, and this can lead to much misunderstanding. But there does also come a time when we need to go beyond words – to rest in the silence of trust.

One thought on “Beyond Words”

  1. Oh my, yes. Yes. Yes.

    (As an aside seeing your reference to celebrating the Anglican liturgy, I have felt the sheer volume of words that has to be delivered for the liturgy becomes the overriding experience of that time of worship. All those words that have to be said every time. Duty honoured more than anything else. And in my time doing it, the BCP (1959, Canada), a herculean task getting everything said and done as expected in the hour Sunday morning people would tolerate for worship. Often, I wished I could just utter a word, say ‘Mercy,’ and let the echo of that word pass over time, no other words to intrude, just the echo and then the silence. I took the opportunity in the occasional prayers to stop talking, just give a sentence of prayer and be silent. Some freedom was allowed there. And in the silence, I felt we as a community were finally able to pray. What if I could begin worship with ‘grace be with you,’ and we sat there or danced or something to enter our imagination for an hour just with those 4 words. Could be more worshipful than complying to speak the pages of text of Anglican liturgy, prescribed WORDS said to be required of Anglican worship. James, you are a good priest. You know what the work is. You did it with your embrace, your gaze, your silence.)

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