Golden moments9 Jul 2023
Some memories, people and places, have an extra special hold on our hearts.
In the busy little alleyway is a cobbler’s shop. It opens 8am to 6pm seven days a week, and a steady stream of people travels past, eyes mostly fixed on somewhere else. Above the shopfront there is a little sign: KEYS CUT. SOULS MENDED.
It always makes me smile. I think angels might work there, helping the cobbler to ease the pilgrims’ tired feet, and unlock the answers to their questions. I left my brown suede shoes there to be re-heeled. When I returned to collect them they were cleaned as well, brushed and polished, and the cobbler and I shared the time of day.
‘You’ve done a lovely job,’ I said, as he wrapped my shoes in brown paper. ‘It makes me happy to do a good job – look after good shoes. Make people happy, you know what I mean?’ I tried the shoes on when I got home. They seemed happy too.
As I put my shoes into the closet, it seemed to me that there was a touch of gold on my memory of that chat with the shoemaker. You find that as you go along. Moments when you recognise a soul friend, or a soul welcome. Why you always choose this Post Office, rather than that big new one near the station, or step out into the garden instead of finishing the tasks for the day. Something truant undermines your ordered intentions, and I breathe the sweet outside air, or glimpse the honey-eater flitting across the flower-heads. When I reflect on the day, it is often these unplanned moments that are its treasures.
Have you ever had to stop driving and pull over, sitting in the car to finish listening to a piece of music? Or overheard as you walked past which single song is enough to bring alive a memory of a beloved friend? Or been transfixed by a familiar beauty – the first glimpse of the sea, or the first frost of autumn on the grass?
The scent of a pine tree brings to mind and heart my childhood family, and memories of my mother, roasting the Christmas chicken Dad had raised in the backyard Chook Pen with such pride. No-one in that plain little street had much. It was always make-and-mend. And yet what I remember most is the love: the care and anxious decision-making about the choosing and waiting for presents; and the fizzing anticipation and joy that hummed through our days. It still warms my soul, like a warm fire in the little hearth, or the checked blankets on the children’s beds.
Again, that fleeting gleam of gold, touching that place on earth, in my heart and soul, where memory dwells.
There are songs we sing that become our soul songs. How to understand why ‘Nessun Dorma’ is roared by a football crowd of thousands, or why Saint David’s Feast Day is remembered by a Welsh choir singing “Men of Harlech’? It’s not the words that carry the meaning, but the sharing, the voices, the making of song together that transports us. Something in these moments celebrate the soul memories of a people. We know that what binds us together in the end is so much deeper than our differences.
There is a well-loved story from the trenches of WWI in 1914. A Christmas Eve cease-fire along the Western Front was declared between the German and Allied soldiers. The shooting ceased. Cautiously, men left their trenches, and stepped out into No Mans’ land.
They exchanged Christmas greetings, played makeshift soccer games and sang carols, each side to the other, in turns. Then as the night wore on came a carol that they could sing together. And ‘Silent Night’, sung by a hundred thousand voices far from home, made its way along the lines in the starlight.
The next day, Christmas Day, hostilities were suspended, and the keeping of Christmas offered a chance for each side to collect their dead from where they lay in No Mans land.
Is there a touch of gold in this memory? I think so. It is a soul story, still told with wonder, long after the guns stopped firing.
The ancient prayers and litanies left to us by the Celtic Christians of Ireland and the British Isles celebrate an understanding of soul and body as one with God. There is no aspect of this world and our existence, created body and soul, that is not imbued with the Holy Spirit, and our lives are lived in this guiding, protecting love of God. Everything in creation expresses the glory of God, and the blessed way we tread.
A soul-blessing for our way? Of course.
Be O Lord
a guiding star above me,
a smooth path below me,
a kindly shepherd behind me
and a bright flame before me;
today, tonight and forever. Amen.
– St Columba, 521-597
This article first appeared in the winter 2023 edition of Madonna magazine.