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A personal thought, on it being a whole year
Thursday 5th August 2021 @ 8:07 am

I recently had a joy–filled, although emotional experience. Like so many others, my family has lost loved ones over the last year. My own father passed away almost exactly one year ago. I myself had the honour of being invited to preach in the large Belfast Methodist Church where dad was the minister and where I spent my childhood.

It was poignant to be there, preaching in the same church where I had run around 40 years ago. And while I led a thought on the Hebrew Bible book of Ecclesiastes, and the classic biblical cry of ‘vanity vanity, all is vanity’ some deep memories came to me. The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says the classic King James translation of the Hebrew word ‘Hevel’ as Vanity isn’t terribly strong … it has been translated, meaningless, or futile, or pointless .. but actually it points to ‘the shallow breath.’

I ruminated on with the congregation – a congregation that he loved and that loved him – on my dad. And how acutely aware of the power of breath – in particular of shallow breath – I have become …. As sometimes it is only in the diminishing and disappearing of it, that it becomes most noticeable and most precious.

I told the church it is poignant for me to be with them with my family this morning as the coming days actually marked a year since my father took that last shallow breath this side of the veil. Earlier in the service we had celebrated and baptism, bringing new life and breath into the church, and I reminisced that it is good that as we celebrate new breath in the church we recall those gone before, who have given breath to the church over the decades.

I remember dad very clearly, stopping the organist and choir of the day because the congregation wasn’t singing loud enough – we had to repeat until he was satisfied! I remember his sermons, and his shouting from that pulpit, that woke people up!

… and most vividly I remember very clearly one year ago, being at his bedside with mum and sisters and brother, praying over his tired body as his breathing became more and more shallow and after more than 91 years on this earth, he took his last breath.

His final instructions – given a few days before his last breath –

‘look after your mum’

and ‘thank you all so very very much.’

Even in the midst of the shallow breath receding to empty, there was a pointer toward care for another, and a powerful reminder that thankfulness can sit in the middle of everything.

What a time to remember – sadness, yes. Poignant, yes. Challenging, yes. But also a call to remember final instructions …

Look after those still here.

And thank you. Thank you for everything.



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