A 2020 February 16 - Revd Marion Millin: Choose Life
Readings: Deuteronomy 31:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5: 21-26, 33-37
In our communion liturgy there is a phrase that always stands out for me and that is the call `to see beyond the terror of our times`. But some recent experiences have caused me to think more what about those who find themselves directly encountering the terror of our times. And today I bring you two such realities, firstly the mother and father who recently lost three children because of the stupidity of a drunk driver. How would you be in that horror? Shatteringly devastated of course and I think I would be incredibly angry too. Which is probably why I was quite surprised when I saw their father Danny Abdallah on TV just a day or so later saying that he and his wife had forgiven the driver and then begging people not to drink and drive. He also expressed a sense of their children having gone on before them to a better place and asking parents to enjoy their children while they are here on Earth.
I suspect those parents` attitudes have had quite an impact even extending to last week`s Sunday Times newspaper where an article written by Claire Harvey, highlights how the Abdallahs have spoken of the powerful comfort they`ve gained from their Christian faith and recounting how Mrs Abdallah on seeing her children in the morgue had grabbed everyone`s hand and `we started praying from all our hearts - and after praying I felt at peace. I felt like my kids are alive - and they are around us.` The journalist then goes on to ask `And if it`s not true? Let`s say heaven doesn`t exist and Mr and Mrs Abdallah persist in a delusion. They`ll cling to comfort that turns out to be false. And when they die, nothing. So what`s smarter? To have lived with false hope or to have snuffed it out and accepted a far bleaker truth? I know which I`d prefer as a lifestyle, the one that allows for some glimmer of light.
Then comes a remarkable statement (which I never expected to find in the Sunday Times!) - Perhaps in fact a strong faith is the pinnacle of human existence. Faith doesn`t make heaven real. But if I were in the Abdallahs` circumstances, I hope I`d have the intellectual courage to see goodness where others might find only a void to fill with hatred - [The key it seems to me is] living each moment with love. Making your own heaven, right here on earth, whether you believe it or not.`
The Abdallahs have indeed chosen life to be lived.
And the second reality I bring today dates from a literal terrorist attack just over 15 years ago. I recently listened again to Ahn Do`s Brush with Fame when he was painting Gill Hicks who survived the London tube bombings. It`s a most remarkable story and still on ABC IView. When Ahn asked Gill what she remembered, she said `I remember immediately thinking `I must be dead - must have had a heart attack - everything has gone black - I heard nothing - no pain at all - [but then] a strange comfort when I heard other people screaming because I`m not alone.
[And then] Death appeared to me as a voice and it was female and it was beautifully softly spoken. And it just said `You`ve lost both your legs - you don`t want to lie like that. Come with me.` And it felt the most embracing, most beautiful. And, as I was contemplating this beauty, the voice of Life the opposing voice entered my field. And it was male, and it was angry. And it just said `There is so much that you need to do, legs or no legs, it`s got nothing to do with your physical ability - but it`s your choice.` And I was completely floored by this idea that I got to choose. I felt completely intimidated! To say `Um no thanks, Life. I think I`ll go with Death.` [meant]` I`d just upset Life too much [and] I don`t want to be yelled at!`
But there was [also] a curiosity - Ok I know how beautiful death is going to be, but I`m so curious to know what is it I am going to do? What does this mean? .... As far as I knew I wonderfully worked in the arts ... had found my dream position. So what was it that life had in store for me and [then] I thought `I want to stay`. And it was as if something just washed over me. A complete calm. Others remember looking at me seeing I`d lost both my legs and there I was tourniqueting them at the top, holding myself upright and talking calmly to others. And they in turn realised if that person can be that calm then so can I.`
On eventually seeing a photo of the bomber, Gill said she felt nothing but absolute pity that this person had chosen to take this course of action. He had chosen the path of death and destruction leaving no message at all. It was on looking at that picture that she realised what she needed to do with her life was to talk to all those people who were feeling like he did, that she needed to be part of a message which said `if you have something you want to change, this isn`t the way to change it.` She then felt compelled to enact change herself as an advocate for understanding differences and in 2007 Gill went on to found the Making a Difference for Peace organisation.
`See I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.` When a deep chasm opens up in our lives we can indeed get lost in it, with energy sapped by blame, anger, or bitterness, wanting justice OR we can bridge it with love and courageously keep moving till we reach another side to our journey. And so we conclude with the Deuteronomist`s words -` `Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.`