Thursday, 24 July 2014

Tale of Two Women

I know two old ladies, both are in their 80s.  The first was a nurse and in her early twenties she met a man she fell deeply in love with.  She said she was crazy about him and couldn't believe it was possible to feel so strongly about anything or anyone.  She was head over heels.   As a devout Anglican she wanted her fiancee to share her faith before they married.  He tried very hard to please her.  He accompanied her to church every Sunday.  He wrote to the bishop of the area where he lived to ask if he could discuss Christianity and marriage but was turned down and told to go to the local vicar.  He did so but found a dry, unenthusiastic cleric who had little time for him, and he could not find a message he could take to heart.

This honourable man told my friend he could not become a Christian but would come to church with her every week and always support her and would help her bring up their children as Christians - perhaps one day it would make more sense to him.  Deeply upset she went to her own vicar who told her that it was wrong to marry outside her faith and quoted 2 Corinthians: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darknesss?  My friend went home and the next day finished the relationship with the love of her life.  She told me that she cried herself to sleep every single night for a year.  The young man went onto marry someone else and when they had their first child, a boy, he wrote saying they had named him George, the name my friend and he had chosen if they were ever to have sons.  This was too much and she asked him never to contact her again as the pain was too great.  He never did.

It was not until she was 62 that my lovely friend met her husband, a delightful, gentle widower who went to the same church.  He walked her home one morning after a service and a few months later they married.  They had 15 happy years together before he died after a long and debilitating illness.  Of course they never had children together.  The lack of a family is a source of deep sorrow to this day, and from knowing her as I do I would say she would have made a wonderful mother.

We have talked about this quite a lot.  I asked her if she thought the advice from all those years ago was right.  She lowered her head and sighed.  No, she said, I think the advice I was given was wrong.  When I asked why she said that for all her married life, although she was devoted to her husband, she had felt guilty.  Why?  Because she often still dreamt about her first love and never had the heart to tell her husband.  I loved him, she said, he was a very good man and a wonderful husband, but nothing could ever compare to the passion I felt all those years ago.  I must be a terrible person, she said, because I could never confess what I really felt and dreamt about.

The second old lady is Catholic and had a child 60 years ago.  The baby had a congenital problem and died 6 weeks after birth.  A letter of condolence from a devout Catholic aunt said how sorry she was to hear about the loss of the baby but how fortunate it was the little girl was baptised in hospital before passing away, because, "it could have been so much worse."

By this I think the well-meaning aunt was referring to the teaching about limbo.  As Catholic teaching tells us only the baptised can see God, then a baby who is unbaptised can not be fully in heaven.  This is an ancient belief, not official doctrine, and the idea today is that you can believe it if you wish, but you don't have to.  Back then it was much more accepted that babies went into some kind of holding place until God decided to admit them.  I think I am grossly simplifying, but as far as I can remember that is the idea and what I was taught at school. Whatever, it is a cruel theology, quite bizarre and extremely hurtful for those who are suffering terrible grief.

Two women, two Christian denominations, two sad stories.  I don't quite know what to say about them, they seem so heartless and ridiculous.  Faith should bring love, hope and comfort and not blight people's lives with joyless dogma that heaps burning coals onto already painful wounds.  Would it happen today I wonder?

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