One of the many shared church traditions at Dunsfold, Hascombe, Cranleigh and Chiddingfold is bell-ringing, and a wonderful tradition it is. The bells sing their own song, and tell their own story, reaching out to all the local community, church-goersor not. From Sunday worship, to the brilliance of the celebration of weddings, to the respectful, commanding, sombre tolling at funerals; these and many other public occasions and pronouncements are told in music, in rhythm, and in faithfulness, to the local communities they serve.
When it comes to funerals, all of us will experience different memories of love and loss, and without a doubt, the bells will remind us of the essential connection between all things, and all people, as their tangible vibrations immerse us, body and soul, into the seminal and community importance of the occasion.
John Donne famously wrote about this connection between all people in ‘No man is an island’. The poem ends ‘…therefore send not to ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee’. And at first, that’s a depressing thought. A literalist might think, ‘well, that’s depressing – he means I am next!’ But not so. The poem is not about identity – but rather connection – the silver thread of humanity that connects us all, and that can be tangibly experienced and felt, for example, at this time of State funeral.
There is a story about the Queen’s security guards who heard a commotion – shouting – in the royal living quarters. Fearing an intruder, they burst into the room, only to find that the – I am sure polite – shouting was coming from the Queenherself, watching television, and encouraging her horse to win the race. (Fortunately, perhaps, it did!).
And that got me thinking again about that essential connection between all living things. Because our imaginary literalist might say – ‘The horse cannot hear you!’ To which our souls and I spirits cry back, ‘Oh yes it can!’.
When the English national cricket team play at Edgbaston, for decades they have said that it feels like playing with twelve men, such is the support of, and the connection with, the crowd. And an extra man in cricket makes all the difference.
I expect all sports fans have felt this connection, caught up in the spirit of the moment, where in the terraces, or even at home, watching or listening to the match. The feeling of connection is palpable.
And so it was on Monday, when I think almost all of us felt a huge connection with others, as well as a surge of memories for those we have loved and lost.
And the Donne poem says we are all diminished by the loss, for we are all ‘involved in Mankind’.
What can be done with this huge sense of loss?
For the Christian, the key is always to remember that this life is not all there is to it.Indeed, the apostle Paul says that anyone who thinks that is to be pitied above all others. We are spiritual beings, made in the image of God, and there is purpose beyond this life, and life after death.
But that is an article for another day.
In the meantime, we mourn together, we experience together, we support each other, and we journey on, with loss and memory, yes. But also in faith, in a God in whom nothing truly good is ever lost.
And talking of connection – keep in touch when you can!