|Published by Louise Adey Huish on Mon, 8 Jun 2020 18:42|
Five years ago in 2015 my Mum died, unexpectedly, on Trinity Sunday. Her sister died a few months later, just short of her 100th birthday, and then my father died in June 2016, the day before the Brexit referendum (always one to think ahead, he’d already cast his vote by post!). The following June my brother and I sold our childhood home. In the intervening years I’ve retired from my hospice job, walked Hadrian’s Wall, and celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary. My “kids” (now coming up to their 30th and 25th birthdays respectively) have had their own highs and lows, all of which have proved fairly exhausting (now I know what my mother meant when she said ‘You never stop worrying about your children!’).
Such a lot of memories crowding my mind recently on my daily three-mile walk to the crossroads and back; and the hedgerows have reflected back this feeling that one thing follows another with dizzying speed. It seems only a few weeks since I was celebrating the blackthorn, and since then I have watched hawthorn, cow parsley, lilac and chestnut candles come and go. In front of the houses, the road has been edged with the blue dust of fallen ceanothus flowers, and the creamy lace of the elderflower will soon give way to dark purple berries. The hot, dry weather seems to have accelerated the rapidity with which one springtime delight has ceded its place to the next.
The Germans have a saying that life starts off at walking pace, speeds up to a canter, but once you’re forty it goes by at a gallop. Blink and you miss it. It’s a mixed blessing: we learn to savour the moment; but also to be philosophical about the hard times. It’s true that ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’ (Benjamin Franklin); but one thing we can be sure of is that whatever we encounter, good or bad, painful or sweet, ‘This too shall pass’.
Although it sounds a bit like a Biblical phrase, it isn’t. The Jewish Wisdom tradition contains similar proverbial utterances – Ecclesiastes 3 (‘To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven’) is an obvious example; but this particular saying has been traced back to the medieval Persian Sufi tradition, and was introduced to the Western world by the English poet Edward FitzGerald (who famously translated the ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’), and was then immortalized in a speech by Abraham Lincoln.
In itself I find it rather cold comfort, though there is a kind of reassurance in knowing that nothing is forever. Its underlying bleakness can only truly be redeemed, however, if we believe that there is something or someone above and beyond the transience of the everyday world, who continues to hold all things in being. That the rhythm of eternal change is guaranteed by the eternal changelessness of God. In Genesis 8:22, in his remorse after the Flood, God makes a promise: ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ Words which are familiar to us now from that popular hymn, ‘Great is thy faithfulness’:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been,
Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
May you know strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow; and remember that ‘this too shall pass’.