It is just before dawn as I begin to write. Outside my bedroom window, a yellow-eyed blackbird sings in the fading of the night. Another blackbird sings on the soundtrack of a song written by Paul McCartney, in response to the struggle of African American people for their civil rights, some 45 years ago,
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly;
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see;
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free…
Black-bird, fly into the light of the dark black night…”
McCartney envisioned the bird as a symbol of hope for black women who were experiencing the evils of racism…the insults, the attacks, the fear, the isolation. “Let me encourage you,” said McCartney, “to keep trying…keep your faith, there is hope.”
Much of the racism of that time has been overcome yet the ignorance and hatred of the diversity of skin colour, ethnicity, creed and culture in the continents of the world and the enormous, painful struggles of people for justice, equality and peace continue.
The killing of innocents – so many little ones – in the atrocity of a nerve gas attack in Syria last week has far surpassed the worst of our imaginings. We need to know, even though the images grieve us, anger us and make us question. There are some words recounted in St. Matthew's gospel which I find I cannot erase from my mind at the moment.
Matthew tells us that Herod the king, in his fear of having his brutal power and authority overturned by the simplicity of the power of God in the Christ child, orders that all boys in Bethlehem, under two years old, are to be killed. Matthew, in his story, quotes some words of the prophet of Jeremiah, voiced thousands of years before.
'A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.” (St. Matthew 2:18)
Then as now, it is still, overwhelmingly, women and children who bear the scars of conflict and injustice in our world. Like the almost unbearable grief of Rachel, throughout the long centuries and since, so many mothers and fathers have echoed her cries as they weep for the loss of their beautiful children. The wet of their tears mingles with ours, as we pray for the world's inhumanity. In trying to find new ways of revealing where the loving justice of God might be found, history and these present times show us that it will not be found in arsenals of chemical, nuclear or conventional weapons.
Theologian and poet, Kathy Galloway, is Head of Christian Aid Scotland, an aid agency working to end world poverty and injustice. In her book of poetry, The Dream of Learning Our True Name, she writes,
“…the coming day delivers grey-edged intimations of a grey mortality, and a shadier morality… Here, in the grey forgotten wasteland that is not accident or fecklessness but just the grey, inevitable result of choices made, and burdens shifted…here he walks…in his heart he carries yellow…awaiting yellow springtime's sun
to kiss it into bloom…
Yellow for courage.
Yellow for beauty.
Yellow for resistance.
Yellow for love.
Yellow to obliterate the grey…
He walks, yellow in the grey.”
Kathy speaks to me of God's gift to us of transformation and the hope of human flourishing, that goes way beyond the weary, self-defeating sabre-rattling, gun-toting, power-politics of conquest, failure and oppression by one group over another, by one nation over another. I want to remember some words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
“…goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness…life is stronger than death…God has made us for goodness, for love, for compassion, for peace, for laughter, for gentleness, for sharing…”
On Friday 16th of August, in the region of Marlborough where I live, we experienced another magnitude 6.6 earthquake at Lake Grassmere. The fractured earth still moves beneath our feet. The lake's namesake, Grasmere, is a pretty village in the English Lake District. From a tiny shop there, nestled in the corner of St. Oswald's church yard, gingerbread is made using Sarah Nelson's original 1850 recipe. It is a rare ecclesiastical sweetness to be enjoyed.
Grasmere is also the place where William Wordsworth, the poet, lived with his sister, Dorothy at Dove Cottage. There he wrote a famous poem about daffodils,
“ For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
Looking out, on the far side of the world, at our cottage garden, I see, in the emerging light, yellow in the grey.
© Hilary Oxford Smith
27 August 2013
References and Notes
Galloway, K., The Dream of Learning Our True Name,( Wild Goose Publications 2004)
Wordsworth, W., Daffodils, 1804
Song: Blackbird https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrxZhWCAuQw, Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC