Thought for the Day - Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Good morning. A photo of the Rolling Stones was prominent in the papers yesterday, as they came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first live performance in 1962. Their faces revealed that they had, to put it politely, aged somewhat. “You are old Father William” said the child in the nursery rhyme, as of course is each one of us in due time.

As far as evolution is concerned, that time comes when we have done all that is necessary-that is, passed on our genes to another generation. Then we can simply be left to die. Again, as far as a society driven by economic activity is concerned that time comes we are no longer productive and are ready for recycling. So when we look at that aging face in a care home or in a hospital bed what is there to stop us getting really depressed? Do we have a vision of what it is to be a human person which will undergird and sustain the gentle care which the elderly need?

Recently I was in Georgia, what I call proper Georgia, in the Caucasus, to speak in their European week, and one day I managed to get out into the country for a lovely walk with a friend. It came out that it was my birthday, and unknown to me, he rang up someone he knew in a nearby village. In this very simple home we were shown characteristic Georgian hospitality, and then the toasts began. First to me, then to my surprise to my parents, and then to everyone's parents, and then as they put it, “to our forebears to whom we owe so much.” It was such a contrast to our normal highly individualistic way of thinking. Striking too was their moving sense of gratitude to the older generation. Yet even gratitude may not be enough. After all, sometimes people pretty fed up with the old. We need something even more powerful, something to sustain our best attitudes, whether we are feeling appreciative or irritated-quite simply a sense of the value of the human person as such. We need it in our care homes, and we need it to be expressed in the political policies of the State towards the elderly. You do not need to be religious to have this attitude. But I do think that a Christian understanding of what it is to be a human person made in the image of God, with a spiritual orientation and destination, does give a dimension that suffuses, and reinforces our best human values and attitudes. As Gerard Manly Hopkins put it in his poem on the resurrection:

This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

From one point of view we are just a joke, a broken piece of pottery or potsherd, a used match-but essentially we are immortal diamonds.

Release date: 12 Jul 2012

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