The tree of healing

I said last week that I needed time to reflect before I said anything about the first anniversary of the London Bridge attack. In fact I had to say a great deal without the luxury of much reflective time.  But that is the reality of life – you are asked and you have to answer. But as we approached the Sunday, which was the first anniversary – the media wanted to get answers to their questions.  In the welcome that I gave at the beginning of the service of commemoration I said this

Let me be honest, I’ve been fearful approaching this day.  Memories have risen to the surface, tears have once again flowed, scars have been reopening.  The media have been asking me what I hope for this service – my answer has been simple – I hope it helps our healing.  Whatever your hopes are, whatever your pain is, whatever has kept you awake at night, whatever anger or sorrow or guilt you’re feeling, God is here for us, God is here for you.

Love is stronger than hate.  Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death.  It was true a year ago, it’s as true today.

Olive tree

The Tree of Healing

I was fearful approaching the day, I was being entirely honest. The whole lead up to that weekend served to open up memories and wounds and, I suppose, I hadn’t, until that moment, thought that I was a ‘victim’ of the event as so many others had been. But my needs to think and reflect were nothing in comparison to the family members who came along that afternoon. Those who had been so brutally murdered, slaughtered, that evening were at the forefront of our thinking.  Whether it was in the candle lighting or the completion of the planting of the Tree of Healing, they were the ones we were focusing on.

We had decided last year that a tree needed to be planted and as we cleared the mountain of flowers that had accumulated by the needle at the south end of London Bridge a commitment was made that that would happen.  But most wonderfully the London Borough of Southwark committed to taking those flowers away, composting them and bringing back the compost so that the tree could be planted in it.

One of the moving songs in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ is the circle of life. The lyrics say it all

It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life.

Those flowers left as signs of love became the food for new life to grow, like that would bring healing, all part of that circle, the divine circle.

The olive tree, of course, carries huge symbolic power; its oil provides, heat and light to very many people, it helps in the cooking of food and is used to anoint particularly in the tradition of the church.  Priests have always taken olive oil and anointed the sick, as a symbol of our prayer for healing.  Babies and adults are anointed with it as they come to baptism. Monarchs are anointed with it before ever a crown is placed upon them.  But even more significantly for Jews, Christians and Muslims when the dove returned to Noah in the ark it carried a branch of the olive, a sign of peace and of God’s blessing.  This will be our tree of remembrance but also our ‘Tree of Healing’.  Around its pot will be inscribed a verse from scripture that was read at the end of the service as with the families we gathered at the tree.

‘The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ (Revelation 22.2)

But as moving as all that was, as emotional as it was as we all gathered on London Bridge at the end of the service it was the Grand Iftar held in the Cathedral later that evening which spoke so powerfully to me.

For the two weeks before the commemoration a group of twenty of us had been meeting to rehearse a ‘play for voices’. The script ‘Testimony’, had been put together by local writer, Michelle Lovric, from the memories that we had been sharing with her over the last year.  She had turned our reflections back into an account of that evening and afterwards.  It took thirty minutes for us to ‘perform’ and we had practised it, in her apartment and in the Cathedral, on many occasions over those weeks.  But standing there and speaking my own words and hearing my friends speak their words to a nave full of people was emotional and powerful and staggering.

Part of that was about being reminded of what happened, part of it was hearing about what had happened to others, part of it was about realising how strong our local community has been, and part of it was about recognising how much I had depended over these months on God and on my sisters and brothers.  The Iftar began with the Borough Market Choir singing ‘Lean on me’

‘Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friends, I’ll help you carry on, for it won’t be long, till I’m going to need somebody to lean on.’

Bill Wither’s words are powerful. It was part of the healing for me. But I’ve got a lot more thinking and praying and talking to do.

Lord Jesus,
you do not forget us
and hold us in the palm of your wounded hand;
as we continue to remember the events of a year ago,
the dead and the injured,
the traumatised and the sorrowful,
heal our memories,
bind up our wounds,
calm our fears
and remember us in your kingdom.
Amen.

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