Two things before I go on; firstly, the full title is 1000 Hands: Chapter One and secondly, this is actually a 2019 album that I unfortunately missed, but which was re-released in 2020. Well, no one’s perfect!
Compiled over many years, it’s a wonderful collaborative album, one that’s clearly been made with love. It features a whole range of guest performers, from the late Yes bassist Chris Squire, through pianist Chick Corea, to Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull on flute.
You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.
The judging panel said: “KIWANUKA by Michael Kiwanuka is the well deserved winner of the Hyundai Mercury Prize 2020 for Album of the Year. Classic yet contemporary, drawing on the history of music while remaining an intensely personal work of self-expression, this is an album that will stand the test of time. Songs such as ‘Hero’ and ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ deal with hot button topics like race and identity, but in a reflective way that draws the listener in. From its narrative flow to the interludes, from Civil Rights speeches to its panoramic mix of everything from psychedelic rock to piano jazz, KIWANUKA is not only a complete work, but also one that is borne of the courage of its creator to build his own world and invite us in. Warm, rich, hugely accomplished and belonging to no one genre but its own, KIWANUKA is a masterpiece.” (Source)
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.
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.
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.