Sermon Preached by Acting Dean Trevor Harrison on 7 November 2019. I met the ‘Black Widow’ first when I was asked... read more
When I saw the readings for today, I was unable to see what the lectionary writer was pointing me to. Usually it’s possible to discern a theme, but it wasn’t clear. This week it just wasn’t there.
So, I am pleased to offer something a bit different this morning. It is largely the work of a Quaker friend, who seemed genuinely surprised when I asked her if I could use it. Despite considerable talent both as a writer and as a judge of good writing, she didn’t think her article [recently published in a Quaker magazine] would really be of interest to others - let alone others in another church. You be the judge-please- so I can let her know what you think of it.
She already knows how I admire her, but as I practiced reading her piece in preparation for today, a strange thing began to happen. I found myself thinking back to the readings set for today. Those words from Mark 6, Ephesians 1 and 2 Samuel came to me in echoes from her prose; and from a favourite poem she includes.
Most of all, I want to share this piece of writing with you, because when I first read it, it was you who came to mind. I hope you may see yourselves, as I did, in what she has written because it had me curious about all the things this Cathedral community does. Thanks Ailsa for this booklet. I was astonished how many there are and I’m guessing most of you here will be a member of one or more of the 51 groups listed in here!
So, here’s my friend’s article, which she’s called “Getting Better":
During 2011 I became extremely tired and ached all over. I was so tired I found I could not engage in conversation as I could not concentrate on what another person was saying nor enter their world to respond. Doing the washing took 4 days —
Day 1 Carry basket to machine. Go back to bed.
Day 2 Put washing into machine. Go back to bed.
Day 3 Hang up washing. Go back to bed
Day 4 Bring it in and go back to bed.
Was this me, who had run up mountains and mixed cement without hesitation?
I sought medical help and went through several diagnoses and drugs but the way forward came from two fortunate inspirations.
One evening at a shared meal I was listening to a Life Story from a man whose schizophrenia had made his life one of struggle and homelessness. He described walking from Raetihi to Jerusalem in winter with leaky shoes. “I was cold, I was so cold” he said. Then he lived rough on the streets of Wellington “I was cold, I was so cold” he said.
I felt for him and said "I'll make him a quilt”.
I am long irritated by the amount of waste in this country and, since I live minutes from a large good Op Shop, I negotiated with them to give me bags of clothing destined for the dump .
These I cut up into large pieces and assembled as simple quilts— in stripes or squares with bands of plain colours between patterns.
I found duvet inners from the box labelled Dog Bedding and made a backing from their sheets.
For his 63rd birthday I gave him his quilt with his name embroidered on the back. He wept. He wrapped it round himself and cried. He was particularly moved that I had made it and that it had his name on it. He took it everywhere.
Soon I was asked to make one for another man with mental health issues who lived in the ruins of his house in damp bush, his ex-partner having burnt the rest down in anger. The squares were all wool checks and once more I put his name and the date on the back. He also wept, not believing that someone would actually make this for him, not just give him an old one that was no longer needed. I believe he and his dog sleep under this every night. So I went on to make a quilt for each member of a large family, plus their several additions, on their birthdays, finding motifs and graphics from T-shirts that suited the person. One was for a young man and was covered in rugby boots and motor bikes; his mother said "If you can interest a 13 year old boy in patchwork you’ve achieved a miracle”. I thrived on the joy and laughter from everyone when each quilt was presented.
Now behind all this lies the progress I made in getting better. I found that, instead of sleeping most of the day and night I was now up for increasing hours at a time absorbed in simple sewing and anticipating the joy of machining something another person needed. I was distracted from pain and fatigue, I felt more cheerful, could do some gardening again, converse and do the washing without effort.
Now it is 2018 and I am still living with conditions that affect my energy and mobility. I was losing interest in fighting back, in believing I could totally recover and that the effort is worthwhile, when I came across the poetry and CDs of David Whyte.
This poet has a rare insight into the human condition and the struggles we have. When I read this poem I said ‘Who is this man who can look straight into my heart?"
It doesn’t interest me if you believe there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or you feel
if you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes ,
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
the centre of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequences of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
The gods speak of God
David Whyte. Self Portrait from Fire in the Earth; Many Rivers Press
Reprinted here with permission
So it is my experience that to get better from chronic conditions, take the pills and do as you are told, it may be beneficial, but lose yourself in some simple activity that brings joy to others - and keeps them warm— and you will recover while distracted, and be encouraged to persevere in recovery by reading good poetry from inspired writers.
[Being amongst those who’ve received a quilt, it’s been a surprise to hear that our joy at these gifts proved so healing to the one who’d made them.]