As we know all too well, human relationships are complex, often paradoxical, states - patchwork quilts of inter-dependence and mutual exclusivity in equal measure. There is the comfort of an encounter or conversation that brings about a sense of belonging and completeness; there is also the dislocation of meetings gone wrong, the memory of paradises lost. Our experience of coming into contact with others - both those we have known from our birth, and those we meet along the way - invite us at one and the same time to both express our commitment to the universality of human interaction and establish ourselves as free, autonomous agents. We do the former out of a desire for completeness, and the latter out of a fear of committing ourselves too much, too entirely, to another person. How often have we said of another, ‘I thought I knew them’, or, ‘I wish I could have said ...’, tacitly expressing the sense that we never fully understand, never fully give ourselves to, the life of another.
In Bernard O’Donoghue’s poem Ter Conatus, the lives of a sister and brother are charted with that deep sense of things left unsaid, of affection withheld behind decades of hard labour and deadening routine: ‘Sister and brother, nearly sixty years / They’d farmed together, never touching once’. The sister’s terminal illness gives each pause for thought at what might have been, the brother’s faltering attempts to reach out to her ‘Almost breaking with a lifetime of / Taking real things for shadows, / He might have embraced her with a brother’s arms’.
Today’s gospel reminds us of what happens when we confess, simply and honestly, what we believe to be true. From Peter’s confession springs not only the Church Catholic - in all her fullness - but the reality of a human being fully alive. How well we know the faltering steps of this disciple, how well we know the difficulties the Church has encountered in ages since, but thank God today for the honesty and plain-speaking of disciples, saints and martyrs, in every time and place who continue, in the words of our anthem, to ‘keep in tune with heaven’. May we commit ourselves to the same truth, the same Christ, who is Son of the Living God and in whom there is no shadow, until we renew our song in heaven.
The recording of Parry’s Blest pair of Sirens comes from that most memorable of days - the Royal Wedding in 2011 - and is a particularly fine live recording, complete with a full orchestra in accompaniment. It’s a hugely evocative and beautiful performance, giving full weight to the Wagnerian impulse that lies behind much of the piece. The text is Milton’s ode At a solemn music, which is worth a read in itself. You can listen to it by clicking here
And our hymn is Be thou my vision click here to listen.