This is my church
this is where I heal my hurts
Hello. This post is about Death & Birds.
I’m compelled to share that I feel a little nervousness in writing about what follows. It touches upon some sensitive themes. I will preface that I have a profound respect for all faiths, for faith in general, and that the events spoken to are recent, reverberating around my body, still. Perhaps it’s unwise to write from this place…if so, I am indeed unwise...
A few weeks ago, my love and I walked up to the village churchyard to visit my mothers grave. She was buried there thirty-four years ago, when she was one year older than I am now. Her grave has a natural granite headstone, two, well established, English Lavender plants and a ‘Peace’ Rose; planted shortly after her funeral.
Although, on this particular day, her grave did not have these things. It had short, broken remnants of the plants where they had been hacked, strimmed and mowed to almost nothing.
My response to this scene was one of total confusion. I knelt, inspecting what remained, an inch or two of split Lavender stems, the Rose barely recognisable as such, and I found myself unable to form a coherent thought. This cannot have been malicious, so, was it negligent? Did the churchyard gardeners not see these plants? Were they that careless? The graves either side of my mothers are grassed-over, and so are mown by the gardeners—but, destroying these established plants? It made no sense.
My beloved was enraged. I have loved this man for fifteen years, and there have been very few occasions when I’ve seen the type of rage cross his face that can only be described as murderous—this was one of them. Without a word he turned and walked, fists and jaw clenched, towards the church. I thought about trying to stop him, but instead said a wordless prayer for whomever he might meet inside. Fate would have it that the church was empty, and that when he ‘knocked’ on the Vicarage door, there was no answer. We took photographs, and went home.
An email was sent to the Reverend with pictures attached and a request for some answers: How could this have happened? Who needs to be educated so that something like this does not happen again?
In the days that we waited for a reply, we removed the remains of the Lavender (it was beyond saving), planted two, young Rosemary plants, tended as best we could to the Rose and purchased some natural slate chippings—placing them around the three plants in an attempt to prevent further desecration.
Three weeks passed, and we received a reply from the Reverend. She had been on annual leave and, having seen the photographs, could see why we “might” be upset—however, the small team who tend to the churchyard are unpaid volunteers, mistakes happen, and can we “please remove the slate immediately as it is not in accordance with the Diocese of Rochester Churchyard Regulations of 1981, set down nationally by the Church of England”.
My personal relationship with faith, religion, even God, has been an eclectic one. I have spent time in that churchyard as a child, unable to conceptualise Death or God. I have spent time there as a devout atheist, as an agnostic, and as someone desperately searching for something that felt like truth. Growing up, my exposure to religion consisted only of mandatory church attendance at school; its mandatory nature ensuring my rejection of it—though I always held a secret envy of those who ‘believed’. I wished I could pray. I wished I believed that my mother was, at least partly, somewhere other than in a box in the ground.
Over the last five years, with the guidance of some wonderful teachers (Richard Rohr, Mary Oliver, Death, & Birds) I have come to experience, what I now feel comfortable in calling, a relationship with God.
I feel God’s presence in abundance in the natural world, and in the heartbeat of my beloved, I feel God when I am deep in the throws of grief, and I feel God when I attend to the Birds.
This church, is not my church. My church is tending to the Birds, my church is stopping everything I’m doing to watch an aphid make its way along the length of my finger, my church is sitting and holding the hand of someone who has very little time left here on earth.
My church is reverence, attention. It is Love.
We have removed the slate, and have asked to meet with the Reverend in-person. For now, I am in something of a limbo, holding questions that this situation has raised:
To whom do our Dead belong? To us? To the institutions to which their remains have been entrusted?
How is it that someone titled Reverend can be lacking in any perceivable reverence?
Why does it feel to me as though the cutting down of these plants somehow echoes the Death of my mother? Perhaps because they were not ready to die, either…
How we relate to our Dead directly effects how we relate to our Death.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, on any of the above, whatever your beliefs—whatever, whomever or wherever your Holy places may be.
Thank you for taking the time