Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Faith and the family - a tribute

I have searched for ways to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of God and into the mystery of who I am since my self-awakening as a child in early primary school.

My parents belonged to the Anglican Church in Wales, without being intensely devout or involved in its intimate affairs. I was not compelled to go to the Church Sunday School. In fact, I went with a few friends to a Congregationalist Sunday School in our village, which I found friendlier, although eventually I got bored with it. The lads talked about football in class, and I had this idea that we were meant to be learning about God. Football failed to win my enthusiasm then as now, half a century later. I was interested in something bigger than just a few people playing on a limited piece of grass according to rules that had no relation to the rest of life. I wanted to know more about life.

At home, from my mother, I learned awe and wonder in the face of the beauty and vastness of the world, about beginnings and ends, about finitude and infinity, time and eternity. From my father, I learned about respect, value, dignity, work and creativity, vision and practicality.

My mother spoke about God with reverence and not without anxiety. She took me to church with her, to kneel in quiet adoration at the Parish Church's early Sunday Communion service. My father took me to the sea shore, and to the engine room of the ship that ferried us on holiday. He took me on his travels, showed me what being a representative meant in his world of the mining industry.

My mother opened to me the world of singing, that spoke of life so much more than speech alone.

My father taught me how to press down the first guitar chords I ever learned, and introduced me to the joy of accompanying the music of others. My mother failed to impart to me her expertise and enthusiasm in piano playing, much to my continuing sadness. The guitar has remained my close companion ever since.

Together my parents made music, giving pleasure to others, especially to members of the extended family. Through them both I learned to value hospitality and friendship, and openness to each other in family life. Through them I discovered delight in learning and the pleasure of hard won achievement. “Work hard and you'll go far.”, my father would say to me as I grew up.

Through my parents I learned to be careful with money, but not to put my trust in material wealth. Through them I learned to treat success with enjoyment, but also with caution. Through them I learned that enquiry and questioning was as acceptable as having one's own convictions.

Their religion was grounded in the way they lived, more than in their outward forms of piety. They valued the organisation of the church, but were never in its thrall. They were surprised to become the parents of a priest, and far from certain of what this meant for them and their faith. They may never have understood quite how much my calling owed to them.

I grew up in the aftermath of the second World War, and the story of what this meant for members of a mining family. They taught me to be responsible in using freedom as the birthright of one who first saw the light of day in the same month Hitler died. Yet, they were not always sure in their understanding of what our generation did with this freedom, and made sure we knew it. It made for conflict at home, and a deep searching for truth at the core of my life.

What could I ever rely upon to see me though, to make something of life's opportunities?

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