Sorrow and Courage
Today happens to be the Feast of Julian of Norwich, observed in some churches. There is a lot of facile rubbish in circulation about Julian. We need to remember that it is only by 'seking to the beholding' through weal and woe that we come to the knowledge that 'all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.'
In one of those strange coincidences it is also VE Day here in the UK and all over Europe. Appropriately, the BBC is broadcasting Benjamin Britten's War Requiem this afternoon. It's a work that usually engages (no other word for it; it's not something you can listen to with any detachment) me on Good Friday, but this year, for me, Good Friday took a different form.
VE Day is now overshadowed by Remembrance Sunday in November, but consciousness of geographical vulnerability and contingency, and the fragile nature of peace, are never far from the surface in the UK—two key elements, in my view, that make British culture at its best what it is.
But today I also want to focus on a battle, on victories and on beholding of a different sort. I don't think George Swanson would mind at all if I called him one of God's Holy Fools. It's been a privilege of mine to have known him since he was a curate in Menlo Park, California, back in the sixties. To try to summarize the life of this extraordinary man is simply beyond my capacity or, perhaps, anyone's. You can find out something about him at www.katrinasdream.org, but that does not begin to express the measure of this person who has spent his life in the cause of justice issues, within and without the institutional church.
In the past few years, George has suffered a number of hard blows from fate—beyond the lingering death of his first wife, who was an example of courage in her own right. First, his Significant Other (and a former schoolmate of mine) discovered that she had cancer of the jaw. Having successfully seen her through treatment and reconstructive surgery, George himself discovered he had stage 4 melanoma—even as, in his most recent burst of creative energy, he was struggling to mount an opera that describes the torture of inmates in US prisons.
Then, over this past weekend, George received the news that his son had died in a diving accident in San Francisco Bay—William was a professional diver. This is what George wrote:
"The police just notified me that my son, William Gaines Swanson. was found in the bay where he worked as a diver.
"If William had lived today he would have been feeding the poor at a shabby park in wealthy Sausalito. He and his wife Helene led simple Agape meals for the retired law-skirting sailors who live on beat up tubs —"Anchor outs" they are derisively called, because they can not afford to rent slips, Helene told me she will be there at 11 am to start the Agape.
"William and Helene went to India at Christmas and founded 'Katrina's Dream India' where Magda Kamble, a woman priest of the Church of North India will travel in a van across the country teaching in various Indian dioceses that men should not rape and kill women and girls but rather respect and treat them as Jesus wants us to treat others and be treated ourselves.
"At the last Lambeth Mother Magda Kamble was the Archbishop's chosen teacher of Biblical Prayer, if I remember correctly.
"May I request that somewhere in the public intention . . . William's journey home may be commemorated?
"With much love and vast gratitude to the giver of life while tears continue to come, George."