The seven-year itch

In 1955 Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell starred in a film adaptation of a play by George Axelrod, ‘The Seven Year Itch’.  The film, which featured the famous  ‘Marilyn over the grate pose’ popularised the idea that at the point of seven years a relationship can begin to go stale and the eye begins to wander and terrible things can happen in a relationship that once appeared good and sound.  Perhaps there’s some truth in it, I don’t know, I’ve never experienced that phenomenon myself.


But I was thinking about ‘seven years’ this last week when on the news we were told that the war in Syria has now been going on for that long.  Footage was shown of children, aged seven, who were born into the appalling and frightening situations that we see day by day in Syria and who have never known any thing different.  Their world experience has been formed and framed in a situation of appalling and brutal warfare.  They have known what we shouldn’t know as children, the death and mutilation which is part and parcel of indiscriminate warfare in which every person is a legitimate target.


Yet another scene of pain and devestation

The question I posed to myself was the extent to which I was ‘itching’ for things to be different.  An itch is an interesting thing.  There’s that lovely scene in the Disney version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ in which Baloo the bear, voiced by Phil Harris, is singing ‘Bear necessities’ and trying to rid himself of a troublesome itch. But sometimes the itch won’t go.

Both in the Old and New Testament writers refer to us having ‘itching ears’, ready to listen to anything, not necessarily the truth.  But my ears itch to hear some good news for the people of Syria.

It is a long time now since I had the privilege of visiting that country.  I was helping to lead a pilgrimage from Southwark Cathedral, a journey that took us first of all through Jordan and then around Syria.  It must have been around 2001 I think when we went and life seemed very different.  Things may have been very difficult under the surface, but as pilgrims we were not made aware of that.  What we did experience was a beautiful country full of beautiful people with a rich heritage of faith.  What I saw there were Christian communities that had been the first to be formed, a tradition going back to the very first days of the church and still being lived out in remote hillside communities where the liturgy was in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

We saw stunning archaeological sites, Palmyra, the queen of the desert; Bosra, Aleppo; the Crusader remains; the monastery of St Simon Stylites; Damascus itself, walking down Straight Street and thinking, ‘This is where blind Saul was led by the hand.’ And everywhere there were people ready to greet us, to take us by the hand and welcome us.  And no day passes when I don’t wonder where those people who were so kind to me now are, whether they are even alive, and I have no way of knowing.  But I am itching for change.

An itch keeps us restless, and we must be restless until this horror ends.

Restless God,
for the people of Syria we pray;
as you never forget them,
neither may we.

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