Vale of Tears

Last Sunday I spoke on two of the beatitudes as an introduction to the principles of the kingdom, and used Jacob of old to illustrate the word for ‘mourn’ by his weeping over the supposed death of his favourite son Joseph. “Blessed [happy] are they that mourn . . .” The father’s weeping is the same kind of Hebrew word used in the New Testament Greek, which expresses the deepest pain of loss. To add further to its meaning I spoke about when my wife died, and this was it:

The carer had arrived for the morning duty and I showed her into Patricia’s bedroom and explained that she probably only needed washing in the bed from the waist down as she seemed especially fragile, and I then went out of the room to the garden room to finish off a small cleaning job, but as I did I heard the doorbell go again, and opened it to see the second carer had arrived.

As she was changing in the entrance hall and putting on the plastic overshoes I went back into the bedroom to see the first carer who was leaning over Patricia testing her breath. I simply said. “Is she dead” and the carer nodded. I fetched a shaving mirror from the ensuite bathroom and it was unmarked by breath and her pulse had stopped so this confirmed it. I ushered both carers into the dining room to write their report with a promise of a cup of tea. I went into my study and rang my eldest son in Bristol, and told him what and happened and then without warning just burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. He said “we’ll be there in 2 hours.”

I eventually came out of it and then rang my daughter who lived in Straitfields, Wimbledon, and the same thing happened. All she could say was “Oh daddy,” [something she had not said since childhood, but she was so upset for me]; “we’ll be there in 30 minutes.” The anguish of looking after Patricia for 47 years and constantly for six months culminated in a sudden overwhelming thought – “I‘ve lost my best and dearest friend” and I was in excruciating emotional pain. I could not explain the depth of hurt that I felt, it was inexplicable and hardly bearable.  A carer came into my study and put her arm round my shoulder and hugged me as a kind of help, she did not really know what to do, and neither did I.

Eventually I snapped out of it and went into the kitchen and made their tea as promised [the best kind of therapy is work], they drank and as they did they asked a few questions about her life, and then left quickly, best they did. They needed to be in another environment where there was life and their skills could be used effectively. I needed time to consider where to go and what to do. I was still in shock for although I knew she was dying, I didn’t know it would be so swift.

I now know what Jacob felt and what Matthew meant about mourning; it became crystal clear, often unexplainable but understood by experience. As I prepared my PowerPoint slide for last Sunday’s sermon I was in tears again remembering that previous moment and the same now as I write this out of my soul. But, it cannot be taken away from me and it had to be to purge the pain and anguish and gain the reciprocal comfort it brings. It helps and it heals. Countless people through myriad ages have found that to be true as they have battled with failing relationship through death. I am but one amongst millions. But I can also say “God has given and God has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart                                                                           And all is darkened in the vale of tears;                                                                                       Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,                                                                           Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.                                                                         Be still my soul; thy Jesus can repay                                                                                             from His own fullness all He takes away – Amen

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. 

(The Message]
[Matthew 5:4 KJV]


Sometimes when preaching in my early twenties I would say some outrageous things, and looking back cringe at the foolishness of the comments; that’s youth, but as we mellow we begin realise our immaturity and lack of life knowledge. I once said “I will never marry a woman who wears makeup,” and there were titters round the church. I further compounded it by emphasising that the “same woman who went into the bathroom would be the same woman who came out” [In other words she wore no makeup and so was unchanged] and someone quick as a flash said loud enough for all to hear in the congregation “I certainly hope so too!”

Fortunately, I did fall in love with a woman with fair skin and a beautiful complexion and she wore no makeup, and my words were therefore fulfilled, by God’s good grace. However, some women definitely need makeup, of that there is no doubt!  But one wonders what of the inner man or soul, how does that obtain makeup, for often our face reflects our internal turmoil and stress. The first thing that attracts us when speaking of the opposite sex is their appearance, you cannot see their soul or spirit just by looking across a crowded room.

Cosmetics has a long history, and it is now accepted that Neanderthal women carried scallop shells which contained pigment residues which were thought to be the basis of cosmetics; some 150,000 years ago.  More recently advanced technology has revealed through a CT scan the facts about a woman called Tamut, who lived about 900 years before Christ and was a singer in the Temple of Luxor. Her hair was cut short to allow a wig to be worn, so vanity or an attempt to touch up the image has been prevalent through the centuries.

Egypt was a nation that used cosmetics extensively and gave birth to a style still used today. One reason was to protect against the harsh weather conditions; too bright sunlight and air born grit on the fierce winds. Even their Gods were painted, and most of those who used these paints and potions used a brush, and also they had full body cosmetics. Visitors were amazed at the extent of its use in the populace.  “Religious priests guarded the secret of many recipes for ceremonial oils for they objected to Egyptian traders sharing these products with neighbouring nations.” A bit like patents today.

In 2 Kings 9:30 we read “When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair . . .” and in Esher 2:9 Mordechai put forward his adopted daughter to catch the eye of the king “The girl pleased him [The king] and won his favour. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food.” They used to anoint these maidens for six months with perfumed oil before being brought to the king’s chamber. With so much oil I would assume she would slip out of your hands!  Thus, to early Christianity painting of the eyes and lips spoke of evil and loose women.

However, whatever is or is not said about beautification, it is more than skin deep. My wife never wore makeup but there was a loveliness in her that radiated outwards from her soul.  It came from over 40 years suffering and combating a deteriorating physical condition — in and by God’s strength.

God said in 2 Cor 2:16 – “To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” Smell is part of cosmetics, but in a spiritual sense it is also part of the Christian life in the spirit.  To achieve that in mankind I assume God has three large jars of anointed ointment, one called trial, another called adversity and the third called suffering. All unique brands.  Those applications will cause our soul to smell wonderful. They are the only potions God can use for our refinement and beautification. For Paul says that “this small affliction works for an eternal weight of glory.” For glory read beauty, which will transform any face or situation. Some of the kindest, warmest, loving and gracious people are those who have trod the fire path for many years. That is real beauty. It cannot be washed off and the spiritual mascara will not run when they weep!


Kiss of Life

I’m not sure how far you would go in rendering the kiss of life to someone, but I expect most men would prefer a beautiful film star to a smelly sick old tramp! A woman, who had just attended a medical class on giving the kiss of life to someone, came out of the building and saw a man lying in the gutter. She immediately went in to action, turned him over, bent down and gave him the mouth-to-mouth. He struggled free and said, “Do you mind madam, I was cleaning out the drains!”

The Daily Telegraph surveyed several people, asking them if they would give the kiss of life to someone; their replies were interesting. “Dangerous” Dave Pearce, Breakfast Show DJ, Kiss FM: “Only if they had flossed their teeth, weren’t wearing Brut and didn’t support Millwall. And I’d avoid beards.”

Jacques Cuvellier, artist; “All kisses are the kiss of life, and we French love kissing. I would imagine that we would find it easier to give the kiss of life to a stranger than the British – who seem to hate kissing under any circumstances.”

John Gannon, fireman; “I saved a dog from a fire by giving it mouth-to-mouth. I’m sure he had fleas because I was scratching for a week after. We were called to a fire on a barge on the canal, and we searched the place twice because we had a report that someone was in there. We didn’t find anybody, but we found this dog. We tried to resuscitate it using an air cylinder, but it ran out so I carried on, with my mouth.”

Claire Rider, singer, barber shop choir: “Being a bass with excellent breathing control I might blow the person up. Or I might end up kissing them by mistake, especially if it was someone I knew. Good grief.” Lastly, Ian Bleasdale, aka Josh Griffiths in Casualty: “I’d do it as long the person wasn’t a member of the Tory party!” The replies were numerous; some were serious but most were humorous. The essential feature of this act is to restore vitality and vigour, to bring a person back from the brink of death, thus making them live again, where death was imminent.

I expect kissing is a rarity to a single person, unless they are courting or promiscuous, but to the married person, perhaps every day? This most often quoted act in religious terms was when the father was looking for his prodigal son: “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him”. (Luke 15:20). The lad would smell of pigs – it takes about two days to get that kind of smell off your hands, yet the father ignored the stench and embraced his son, smell and all. When you realise his son (“fain would fill his stomach with the beans the pigs would eat,”) had eaten slop and his breath would be foul, yet love broke through and conquered all. It was, in effect, a kiss of life.

Judas gave Jesus the kiss of death, and the woman, whom Jesus delivered and pardoned, worshipped, wiped and wetted his feet – kissing them through her tears of gratitude. The bride in the Song of Solomon pleads for the beloved’s kisses – they are life to her and the advice of the psalmist is “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way . . . Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” (Ps 2:11-12).

I did not kiss my wife properly for years because she took two immune suppressant drugs and I may have unwittingly imparted an infection that could be critical, but we held hands and a squeeze equals a little kiss. However, we can kiss God in worship and be kissed back with no fear of infection, just the reverse – the impartation of life.