Some words spoken at the Christening of my granddaughter, Gloria:
A long time ago, as a family, we’d sometimes stop off at the Little Chef near Godalming.
And after the inevitable Olympic breakfast, we’d feed Sid, our dog, with the scraps, very gratefully received – and then Harry and I would sometimes take her for a short walk before journeying on.
And I remember Harry once saying, as we walked, ‘Perhaps one day we’ll walk here with my children.’
Years passed, times changed, leaders fell out, hair fell out, Harry met Rebecca – and the rest, as they say, is history. Though for Harry, being a primary school teacher, it’s also maths, English, science, geography, art and religious studies.
And if I’d been teaching religious studies this week, I’d definitely have been talking about the story of Jonah and the whale because a recently, you will have seen, a man in Cape Cod found himself in the mouth of a hump back whale.
He fell off his boat, the whale’s mouth closed, he knew this was a prison he couldn’t get out of and he thought ‘This is it!’
What saved him, because there is a happy ending, was his size – his size saved him – so don’t lose weight. He was too large to swallow and so the jaws opened and he was expelled outwards and upwards, released back into the light.
And I thought it was a brilliant/terrifying image of what it feels like to be consumed by life. When something consumes us, and we all know the feeling – perhaps it’s a difficult relationship, a fear we have, an anxiety, a depression, an incident, a situation, a despair, a scream, we are consumed by it, kidnapped, abducted, swallowed…and we might as well be in the mouth of a whale.
And this will happen to Gloria; of course it will, because it’s life. Sometimes we are consumed by events, by circumstances; and more particularly, by our reaction to events. We don’t have the resources to cope. And Gloria will know this feeling. And she’ll imagine it’s the end – it’s what we do.
So, what are we doing here? When Jesus said ‘Let the children come to me?’ what was he offering – because there are whales out there, life is difficult, our boat is small and we’ll sometimes end up in their mouths.
Another memory of mine is Chloe and Harry watching the film The Never Ending Story on our cutting-edge Betamax video cassette recorder; and that, of course, is what baptism is: a gateway into a never ending story.
A story that is not shallow – but deep
Not narrow – but wide
Not stunted – but high
Not short – but eternal
A story that is never ending… in all directions, in quality and length…depth, width, height – eternal.
When Jesus says let the children come to me, he is inviting them into big lives – lives free from the dismal ghosts of anxiety, shame, insecure attachments, clinging, self-hatred and fear. For these are the whales. These are the whales.
And how they narrow lives, constrict lives. These visitors make lives small; they don’t extend us; they limit us.
But Jesus invited children into big lives, lives wide, high, deep, long…lives that are too big for the whale to hold in its mouth. The abduction fails – it must free such a life back in to the light. And it’s very good when we get back there.
‘I came that you might have life and have it to the full,’ said Jesus.
And this is the divine dream, it’s why we’re here, that we might be fully human – rather than consumed-human.
The dismal house guests are invited to leave, their welcome long out-stayed. Anxiety, shame, self-hatred, fear – what a bleak roll-call, and they have no place here.
Instead, the full human. The full Gloria. That’s a pretty good dream.
The Little Chef near Godalming has closed now, along with the Betamax factory, not as busy as it was; and Sid, our dog, has died; many have died. Things pass, animals pass, people pass.
But family stories live on, as one generation gives way to the next; as one generation bows to the next. And Harry’s words live on: ‘Perhaps one day we’ll walk here with my children.’
Because here they are! Incarnate! Not at the Little Chef, but here in St Simon and St Jude’s, East Dean: Sylvie and Gloria. And today it’s Gloria at the gateway to the never ending story – never ending in all directions.
A story not shallow – but deep; not constricted – but wide; not crushed – but tall
Not short – but eternal. An unfolding story made possible by love.
This is a good gateway.
Full human. Full you, full me, full Gloria.
So be it in heaven, so be it on earth.