Friday, 17 April 2015

In Memoriam

I wanted to blog something from the life of our brother Reuben whose memorial I attended on Tuesday.  When the Speaker told us the story of his life, we learnt that, as a young Sussex lad, he had fought in WW2, and had actually been involved in the D-Day landings!   What that generation went through, yet they quietly got on with their life, never saying all that much about it.

Anyway, Reuben was there, on D-Day, in charge of a boatload of soldiers.  He was handed a loaded pistol by his commanding officer and told that if any soldier refused to get off the boat and into the horror that must have been going on on the beaches of France, Reuben was to give them one warning, only one, and if they would still not go, then he was to shoot them

The moment he was out of sight of this Officer, Reuben quietly emptied his pistol.   He said he would never shoot one of his own side.

He must have had a good sound heart from the outset, because under the pressures of war people can do terrible things.

It shows though that we, the children of Adam, learn nothing from our past, because, during WW1 - the Great War - young soldiers were shot for "cowardice" and "desertion".  I think we would define most, if not all of them, as shell-shocked nowadays.  

Kipling wrote this about them:

"I could not look on death
 which, being known,
 men led me to him
 blindfold and alone."

If only we would listen to our Creator, then one thing we would learn is that we are all brothers and sisters, and that we should not be fighting and killing each other - and that we are to study war no more.  

It must have been both a joy and  relief to the young Reuben, back from war, when he learnt what the Bible really teaches.  He responded, and was a faithful witness to his death.

Reuben was ninety - and, for all the sadness of his death, it is good to know his waiting is over.  He longed for the restored earthly Paradise, and now that he is in the dreamless sleep of death, held safe in the everlasting arms, the next thing he knows will be opening his eyes in...  well, Jehovah knows exactly what surroundings Reuben would most like to wake up in, because he searches every heart.   The Speaker told us of the relief that our brother felt when he was safely back home again, in the quiet Sussex Downlands.   Jehovah knows that too. So maybe Reuben will open his eyes and see the Downs all around him again.

It seems an appropriate moment for another Kipling poem, which reminds us how lovely the earth is, even now.

SUSSEX  by Rudyard Kipling

GOD gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Belovèd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
And see that it is good. 

So one shall Baltic pines content,
As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
Before Levuka’s Trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea!

No tender-hearted garden crowns,
 No bosomed woods adorn
Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs,
But gnarled and writhen thorn—
Bare slopes where chasing shadows skim,
And, through the gaps revealed,
Belt upon belt, the wooded, dim,
Blue goodness of the Weald.

Clean of officious fence or hedge,
Half-wild and wholly tame,
The wise turf cloaks the white cliff edge
As when the Romans came.
What sign of those that fought and died
At shift of sword and sword?
The barrow and the camp abide,
The sunlight and the sward.

Here leaps ashore the full Sou’west
All heavy-winged with brine,
Here lies above the folded crest
The Channel’s leaden line;
And here the sea-fogs lap and cling,
And here, each warning each,
The sheep-bells and the ship-bells ring
Along the hidden beach.

We have no waters to delight
Our broad and brookless vales—
Only the dewpond on the height
 Unfed, that never fails—
Whereby no tattered herbage tells
Which way the season flies—
Only our close-bit thyme that smells
Like dawn in Paradise.

Here through the strong and shadeless days
The tinkling silence thrills;
Or little, lost, Down churches praise
The Lord who made the hills:
But here the Old Gods guard their round,
And, in her secret heart,
The heathen kingdom Wilfrid found
Dreams, as she dwells, apart.

Though all the rest were all my share,
With equal soul I’d see
Her nine-and-thirty sisters fair,
Yet none more fair than she.
Choose ye your need from Thames to Tweed,
And I will choose instead
Such lands as lie ’twixt Rake and Rye,
Black Down and Beachy Head.

I will go out against the sun
Where the rolled scarp retires,
And the Long Man of Wilmington
Looks naked toward the shires;
And east till doubling Rother crawls
 To find the fickle tide,
By dry and sea-forgotten walls,
 Our ports of stranded pride.

I will go north about the shaws
And the deep ghylls that breed
Huge oaks and old, the which we hold
No more than Sussex weed;
Or south where windy Piddinghoe’s
Begilded dolphin veers
And red beside wide-bankèd Ouse
Lie down our Sussex steers.

So to the land our hearts we give
Till the sure magic strike,
And Memory, Use, and Love make live
Us and our fields alike—
That deeper than our speech and thought,
Beyond our reason’s sway,
Clay of the pit whence we were wrought
Yearns to its fellow-clay.

God gives all men all earth to love,
 But since man’s heart is small,
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
Beloved over all.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea! 

Clay of the pit whence we were wrought, years to its fellow clay.

We love the earth - we are made of its very substance.  Jehovah made it so lovely, just for us.   We can see that, even now, though the original serpent is still in the garden.     How lovely will it be when Paradise is restored, and when Reuben wakes from the dreamless sleep of death?

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