It was one year ago (26 May 2019) that my 94-year-old mother (Jean) died in hospital in Northampton, my father (Fred) having died in 2013.
As I’ve written previously, special days and anniversaries awaken powerful emotions which lie barely below the surface of my day-to-day life, along with the ongoing emptiness of loss. Additionally, this is combined with the strange feeling of ‘lostness’ that occurs after the death of both parents, a feeling which may be magnified for me because I’m an only child of only children.
I had the following words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer printed on the back of the order of service for both their funerals as they expressed something my family wanted to articulate. These words have become even more meaningful to me with the passing of time, and I hope you find them helpful as well.
There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve, even in pain, the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.
I hadn’t been looking forward to leading two worship services on Mother’s Day this year, because it would have been my first after her death last year. In fact, I hadn’t really given my preparation much thought, possibly secretly hoping that it would go away. Not only did the thought of it awaken some powerful emotions that continue to lie barely below the surface of my day-to-day life, but there’s the ongoing emptiness of loss combined with the strange feeling of ‘lostness’ that occurs after the death of both parents, which may be magnified in me because I’m an only child of only children.
So there’s a sense of relief I’ll not have to minister to others in public on this sensitive occasion because of the coronavirus pandemic. But clearly, I’d rather have had my vulnerability and emotions laid bare than being in this current health crisis. Equally, I’ve discovered over the years that my ‘wearing my heart on my sleeve’ nature has been used by God in Christian ministry to bring comfort and strength to others, a very humbling experience. Central to my faith is the vulnerability of Jesus, demonstrated powerfully in his willingness to suffer and die. This reminds me that emotional openness and vulnerability must never be confused with weakness, for in our weakness we can be strong.
For this year, that’s all I’m going to say. I’ll leave others to share their thoughts, emotions and spiritual insights on Mother’s Day, and I’ll be pleased to read and share them.
Note: The photo of my mother and daughter Pollyanna was taken in 2018.
No one wants a slow watch, or do they? In our busy world, maybe we need to think again about the meaning of time and how we can best live in the present. The present is the only time we’re given to live in, the past has gone and the future is not guaranteed.
Last year (as our family is now complete and we’d celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary) I decided to buy Naomi an eternity ring, and because she knew I’d had my eye on a Slow Watch for a while, she bought me the watch in the photograph as an early retirement present (I retire in July this year).
I’ve had an app called TerraTime Pro on my mobile for a while now, and this has the concept of an hour hand that rotates once every twenty-four hours, rather than once every twelve hours. The idea is to reconnect with the rhythms of earth and sun, night and day, moon and stars. This is also the concept behind the one-hand of the Slow Watch.
A Slow Watch allows you to see the entire day in one view and experience time in a natural way. It fundamentally changes the way you look at your watch and gives a much better consciousness about the progression of the day. With only one glance at the watch, I get a good orientation of where I am in the day. Taking a closer look, I get a precise enough indication of the time.
This way of showing the time is inspired by the original clocks that were based on the sun clock. Those early clocks had only one hand and displayed all twenty-four hours, and you can still see them on some old church towers.
In modern life it’s so easy to chase the minutes and get stressed by time, maybe we’d all benefit from turning back time and being slow again.
Mind you, I currently only tend to wear it on my day off or holidays. Perhaps I’ll wear it more when I retire.
I love reading, but I’ve made a resolution this year not to have more than one on the go at a time (one of my failings). Obviously, I’ll make exceptions for the Bible, poetry anthologies and the like. For Christmas 2018, Naomi bought me two great poetry anthologies, and last year I read a poem a day every day. Rather than start the second one in 2020, I decided to re-read the first one because I enjoyed it so much (as well as the fact that I couldn’t immediately lay my hands on it). One of the books Naomi bought me this year (she knows me well) was the one above by Dan Snow, which features a short and excellently written article describing an event of that day in history. I’m already hooked.
Once I’d chosen my top albums of the individual years of the decade (15 albums in total with joint-favourites) the album of the decade just shouted out at me!
Blackstar (stylised as ★) by David Bowie was released on 8 January 2016 (Bowie’s 69th birthday). Two days later, he died of liver cancer; his illness had not been revealed to the public until then. Co-producer Tony Visconti described the album as Bowie’s intended swan song and a “parting gift” for his fans before his death. Staying true to himself, he again produced something new and unique.
The album is remarkable in that David Bowie turns his own death into a work of art. Without discussion or question, it’s my album of the decade.
2010 Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
2011 Björk: Biophilia
2011 Radiohead: The King of Limbs
2012 Sigur Rós: Valtari
2013 Black Sabbath: 13
2013 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky Away
2014 Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
2015 Public Service Broadcasting: The Race for Space
2016 David Bowie: Blackstar
2016 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree
2016 Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
2017 Brian Eno: Reflection
2018 Nils Frahm: All Melody
2019 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen
2019 Thom Yorke: Anima
This is the remarkable video of the song Lazarus from Blackstar.
There have been some great independent albums released this year, but one stands out as my favourite: William Doyle’s Your Wilderness Revisited.
These are others I have particularly enjoyed:
ambienteer: lost | found
The Collective: The Glow of an Old Valve
Cousin Silas: Short Stories 4
Cousin Silas: Soft Focus – Guitarscapes Volume 1
Dronal: Internal Motion
James Hoehl: Cosmic Oblivion
Martin Neuhold: Ende / Anfang
Robert Farrugia: Adrift
Robert Otto: Dreams
I discover independent music through Bandcamp, you can find my collection here.
See my favourite commercial albums here.
My feeling this year (you may disagree of course) is that there have been lots of good albums, so it’s hard to pin down. For me, there are two outstanding albums that are my joint number one commercial album. Because there have been so many, this year I’m doing my top 20 instead of my usual top 10, and even that wasn’t easy!
Ghosteen by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is the final part of a trilogy of albums released in the last few years, it is simply an astonishing album. In his first album wholly written since the death of his son, Cave reaches an extraordinary, sad and beautiful artistic evolution.
Anima by Thom Yorke has been described as “full of wraithlike frequencies and fibrillating pulses” in Pitchfork. The wonderful track Dawn Chorus is a “reverential song about loss, nostalgia, and regret” with “hushed”, almost-spoken vocals.
Above & Beyond: Flow State
Alice Merton: Mint
Angel Olsen: All Mirrors
Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars
Cate le Bon: Reward
Ed Sheeran: No.6 Collaborations Project
Ezra Collective: You Can’t Steal My Joy
FKA Twigs: Magdalene
Gloria Gaynor: Testimony
Jane Weaver: Loops in the Secret Society
Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen
Nils Frahm: All Encores
Sheryl Crow: Threads
Sigur Rós: Liminal Sleep
Steeleye Span: Est’d 1969
Steve Hackett: At the Edge of Light
StuckFish: The Watcher
Thom Yorke: Anima
Wildwood Kin: Wildwood Kin
Dawn Chorus – Thom Yorke l Anima 2019 from Anderson Oliveira on Vimeo.
Finally, two releases deserve special mention:
Brian Eno: Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983) Extended Edition (2019)
Radiohead: MINIDISKS [HACKED]
See my favourite independent albums here.
I was privileged to attend an evening Christmas performance, along with the Wallsend Salvation Army Band, at Western Community Primary School again this year. We’re so grateful for the donations of toys, food and money towards the Salvation Army’s Christmas Appeal for poor and vulnerable families.
A favourite Christmas movie in our house is The Muppet Christmas Carol, a wonderful retelling of the classic Charles Dickens story. Like many such seasonal stories, it depicts the softening of a heart and compassion being shown at Christmas.
It’s important that we show compassion to those less fortunate than ourselves, especially in our divided society. There’s a huge need today, although sometimes we’re fed lies and propaganda about those in poverty, sometimes suggesting it’s their own fault. In reality, many are in work and simply trying hard to support their families. We can come alongside these families and help them, especially the children.
In addition to it being the right thing to do; for Christians, it’s also showing the compassion of Jesus. Christmas hopefully brings out the best in each one of us, because God gave his greatest gift to the world.
A big thank you to everyone connected to the school for your generosity, may God bless you this Christmas.
Even though I’m English I do like to have haggis, neeps and tatties on Burns Night each year. Sadly, I feel I’m letting my Scottish friends down today by not having this traditional meal. I’ll have to make up for it in the coming days; although my wife Naomi doesn’t like haggis, she’ll have to have Scottish mince, pie or something else. Liking haggis as I do, I’m fortunate that my local fish and chip shop does haggis in batter, so I can always get her an alternative.
To make up to my Scottish friends for now, here’s a famous poem by Robert Burns, which I dedicate to Naomi (although I’m not leaving her as the poem suggests).
My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June :
My love is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my love,
Thou’ it were ten thousand mile.
Happy Burns Night to all my Scottish friends!
Note: the photo is from a previous year.
In our worship meeting on Epiphany Sunday, I asked the congregation (from North Shields, Shiremoor and Wallsend Corps) how observant they were. This was because I had chalked something outside the entrance. But what does it mean?
Well, it’s an ancient custom in the Christian Church, especially amongst the Eastern Traditions. Chalk is blessed for everyone in the parish, and this is then taken home, and used to make this inscription on or around the entrance to your house. This is a sign of the Christian faith being lived in that home, and a sign of God’s blessing. 20+C+M+B+19.
You might have guessed that 20 & 19 refers to the year, but what about the C+M+B? The three letters have two meanings: they are the traditional names of the three Wise Men; Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, ‘May Christ bless this house’.
It’s a way of witnessing to the world that in all our comings and goings in 2019, we will always be in search of the truth found in Jesus, the Word made Flesh, who the Wise Men search for by the light of the star.