Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Pictorial Reflection: A little tour through an Olde English Church Yard
One of the most comforting places - the place where I visit at least twice a day - is the Church Yard of St. Stephen's, Hackington.
It is a place of solace, surrounded as it is by 'all the saints who from their labors rest'. Indeed, several of the previous rectors are buried in the church proper, their graves marked with their tombstones over which one must walk to the altar rail to receive Holy Eucharist.
I have read most of the tombstones, many of which reveal much about their lives. In between the names and the dates, one can read some of the lines of the stories of their lives - or, at least, their deaths.
I am so accustomed to seeing the doors to the entrance of a church in the color of deep red or royal blue that the door to St. Stephen's surprises me every time I see it.
Just beyond the doors, however, the gravestones call to me. I find them irresistible. I start off on the path and before I know it I am off the path, wandering over to another gravestone, curious to read whose dust might be singing 'Alleluia'.
I have not been able to detect a pattern to the way people are buried here. Some are by the door, others are by the wall; still others are in a grove of trees. Families do seem to be clustered together. Otherwise, there is no discernible hierarchy or 'preferred' spot.
Most of the grave sites are in very sad repair. Some are so covered by moss or worn down by the elements of time that the lettering is illegible.
It is obvious, at least to me, that some once had little gardens planted within the stones that mark the borders of the grave. Alas, there seems to be no one left on this side of Paradise to care for them or keep them up.
Still, there is a sense of peace which prevails here. The quiet is oddly calming and reassuring that "life is not ended but changed."
One is led to wonder what theology of death leads a person to guard his/her mortal body in the grave. Or, perhaps, what realities of the day prompted the fence around the grave.
The graves that are marked tell fascinating stories of the individual people and families buried there. Reading this one raises as many questions as it does provides information.
I am left to wonder about the young wife and mother who lost her husband and two children. Did she remarry and start a new life somewhere else? Since her surname would have changed, it would be hard to know if she is buried here with her new husband and family. I trust the sadness and tragedy of this woman's life, no doubt suffered at an early age, found at least a modicum of happiness and peace.
A few of the graves have monuments like this one - a lovely Celtic cross.
Or this one, which I found interesting in that it is not overtly religious. It is not an angel, but perhaps she held a cross in the arm that has been lost to the ravages of time. It is the only feminine image in the entire yard.
The little groves of trees provide shade as well as shelter. I love walking over to them and sitting in the cool of a shade in the midst of the hot weather we've been having of late.
Some of the newer graves have little bird baths or seats where one can sit and take a wee rest. This is one of the few with fresh flowers.
There are a few rose bushes - sweet, small pink buds which speak of the promise of new, resurrected life in Christ.
Of all that is of comfort here, however, it is the church bells that bring the deepest solace. They peal once an hour, on the hour, marking our mortal time and calling us to the presence of God.
In the roller coaster emotional life that has been Lambeth thus far, the church bells call me to another aspect of the church - a place which can provide us with the comfort and assurance of our faith.