Sunday, 29 December 2013

C.S.L & J.F.K

I remember standing, an 11-year-old, in the hallway as my parents opened the front door. Their dinner guests’ first words were ‘President Kennedy’s been shot.’ They had heard the news on their car radio.

The death of Kennedy on 22nd November 1963 had a huge international impact. My knowledge of politics and the ways of the world was limited, and yet in the following days I took out my Lego bricks and constructed a ‘President Kennedy Memorial Tower.’

News of the death, earlier the same day, of another well-known person was swamped by the electrifying events in Dallas. He was C. S. Lewis, academic, poet, author, novelist, a man committed to demonstrating the reasonableness and relevance of the Christian faith to which he had returned in his early 30s, ‘the most reluctant convert in all England,’ after becoming convinced that God was seeking him out.

Which of these two men – C.S. Lewis and J.F. Kennedy – has had the greater influence?

Many of us in the late 1960s and ‘70s, when the word was that science could explain everything and that religious faith was in terminal decline – were encouraged that a thoughtful, highly-intelligent person had remained convinced of the reality of God and of a spiritual dimension, and was able to give convincing reasons for this conviction while showing understanding of the inner struggles of people seeking God.

I remember around the age of 20, in despair because I longed for but never seemed to find God, being encouraged by Lewis who judged that a longing for God is an indication that ‘a person has in fact found God, although it may not be fully recognised yet.’ And he added ‘At any rate, what is more important is that God has found this person, and that is the main thing.’

Later in the 1970s I met people to whom Reepicheep had been a childhood bed-time friend, and to whom the words Cair Paravel are among the most beautiful in the language – people who had been brought up on the Narnia Chronicles.

I discovered that C.S. Lewis, articulate defender of Christian faith was also author of these children’s books in which through descriptions of relationship between Aslan the great lion, the inhabitants of Narnia and the Pevensie children he allows readers – whether or not people of faith – to enter imaginatively into the experience of relating to Jesus Christ and seeing reality through the eyes of earth’s Aslan.

The beliefs of Christianity, and the facts about the death and resurrection of Christ had always left me cold and unmoved. But Lewis’s Narnia books and science fiction works were one of the influences opening my eyes to the power of symbol and metaphor and story to breathe life into theology’s dry bones.

And the Narnia Chronicles, despite their datedness in some respects, still speak powerfully. For instance, there’s a sequence in The Last Battle where some creatures who have been disloyal to King Tirian of Narnia and Aslan himself are in the small, dark stable which has been central to the story.

Through Aslan’s magic, Tirian discovers that the interior of the stable is in fact a whole new dimension of unimaginable perfection. The disloyal creatures are unable to appreciate their surroundings – they think they are still in the darkness. To them, fresh violets smell like straw and dung, a delicious feast tastes like turnip and cabbage, fine wine like polluted trough-water. Aslan growls gently, but they find rational explanations for the sound. They are held captive in the prison of their minds ‘so afraid of being taken in,’ as Aslan says, ‘that they cannot be taken out.’

To me this speaks so powerfully of the rich reality we miss if we will not allow our eyes to be opened to new ways of seeing.

Later still, I read C.S. Lewis’s A grief observed – an honest, visceral, heart-breaking reflection on the death of his wife in which Lewis questions everything he ever believed and defended before coming to find rest in Christ as the one who bears our suffering with us.

No other author has addressed me with consistent relevance at each stage of my journey.

J.F. Kennedy, a flawed figure who came to symbolise hope and new things is now a figure in history, an inspiration perhaps but not, I think a living voice. C.S. Lewis, despite his own imperfections, is represented on the shelves of almost every bookshop on both sides of the Atlantic, his writings signposting a hope of new things which does not disappoint.

And here I am 50 years after his death typing a memorial in words to a man who still speaks powerfully, still opens the eyes of those of us who are stable-bound, a man through whose thoughts God still beckons.

(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 21st November 2013)

A life in letters: school dinners

When I was at Primary School in Carluke, I went home at lunchtime. My mother gave me lunch, a comic (on the days the Dandy and Beano were published) and (on Wednesdays) some last-minute tuition in grammar prior to the dreaded afternoon session. Sometimes when I was leaving the house to walk back to school, my father would be returning from the hospital for his own lunch – if he saw me further along Douglas Street he’d drive along to say ‘Hi!’ and sometimes, at my request, try to judge from the car’s speedometer how fast I was running.

At the start of my 1st year at Wishaw High School I bought my dinner tickets on Monday morning from Mrs Costley in the back office which opened directly off the playground and had my lunch in the canteen. The girls entered, and sat at one end of this long, prefabricated building, the boys at the other. There was room for eight people at each table, four at each side. I think we were free to choose any free space, but senior pupils occupied the seats adjacent to the corridor while those in lower years sat closer to the window. The seniors would appoint one of the younger boys to go to the hatch for the food and plates, and I think to tidy the table afterwards.  

Most days, there was a main course and a pudding, accompanied by custard in a battered pink metal jug in which, inevitably, a skin had formed. I loved the days when there was soup instead of pudding, because it was accompanied by shortbread, and for me the combination of sweetness and the savoury taste of the soup was irresistible. Not everyone shared my delight, and often I was able to have someone else’s piece of shortbread as well as my own. But normally it was the seniors who dished out lunch from the ceramic tureen on to the plates – and in my experience their perception of division by eight was rarely equitable. 

The canteen environment was noisy and cheerful. Someone must have had the surname ‘Cater’ because I recall the shout ‘Cater the waiter’ when it was this boy’s turn to go to the hatch. And someone else’s physiological abnormality was rather unkindly celebrated in his shouted nickname ‘Mono’ and sometimes in the phrase ‘Mono is having a ball!’  Tables were thumped loudly in response to the sound of dropped crockery smashing on the concrete floor.

I must have found all this somewhat intimidating, although I don’t recall any particular incidents of bullying in the canteen, and must have voiced my concerns to my father, because he decided to give me money to go into Wishaw town centre for lunch. This was common among less-conformist pupils – on Wednesdays I would join a crowd of WHS pupils at the Wimpy Bar, or the cafĂ© near the station, or the cafeteria at Wishaw Baths. On Wednesdays, Bairds’ department store was closed so I had to me more adventurous. Bairds was where I normally ate at lunch time, all alone, the only school pupil in the restaurant. And I liked it that way.

A life in letters: Wishaw High School

I was a pupil at Wishaw High School from the start of my 1st Year in August 1964 until the end of my 6th year in June 1970. Carluke where I lived, five miles away, did not have a six-year Senior Secondary School and so the more academically able pupils attended Wishaw High (with a small number choosing Lanark Grammar School or Dalziel High in Motherwell.) The Latin motto of my new school was ‘Qui non proficit deficit’ – he who doesn’t advance falls behind.

I wasn’t aware of much liaison between my primary school and Wishaw High. There was certainly no ice-breaking familiarisation visit at the end of Primary 7. On the first morning of 1st year, I took the service bus to Wishaw as I would routinely over the next six year (we were provided with season tickets free of charge by Lanark County Council) and turned up at the boys’ side of the playground in Dryburgh Road.

Wearing the statutory blue blazers and regulation grey trousers or skirts we were summoned into the octagonal school hall where we came under the eye of the gowned, austere Rector, Neil McKellar who had a distinguished war record, and retired at in the summer of 1965. He was standing on a lectern which served as the school’s war memorial and added to the impressiveness of his demeanour.

By virtue of the first letter of my surname  I was assigned to Allanton House (there were four Houses, each named after a local area – Allanton, Belhaven, Coltness and Murdostoun) and by virtue of expectations of my performance to class 1A2. This was the second highest class in the year in terms of ability. I must have achieved above expectations in 1964-65, because the following year I was moved up to 2A1, and remained in the top stream for the rest of my school career.

1A2 was directed to Room 2 on the ground-floor corridor close to the back door where we met our registration teacher whom we would see first thing every morning. He was Mr Annand, a gentle, kindly man, a music teacher. I think I recall him saying it was his first day at the school also. He had written our timetable on the board for us to copy down, and set us the task of memorising within the next few days St Paul’s words about the supremacy of love in 1 Corinthians 13 from the Authorised Version of the Bible. I think most of us accomplished this, but soon any activities in registration other than noting who was absent were soon abandoned.

The whole day was spend finding classrooms, meeting teachers, having introductory lessons in largely unfamiliar subjects, and writing down homework assignments. At lunch time, I ventured out of school and walked down Wishaw Main Street. Going into Woolworths, I bought a plastic toy dog on a black base.  This cheerful creature was shaped from small coloured plastic tubes with a taut thread running through them. When you pressed the base, the tension relaxed and the dog collapsed in a heap. When you released the base it sprang into shape again. I secreted this comfort purchase, which no doubt expressed a longing for the securities of childhood into my leather school bag.

Eventually, I was back home in Carluke, sitting in the rocking chair in the living room overlooking the peaceful garden. I had survived the first day, but I knew I would have to return. I rocked back and forwards, learning the contents of the table on the first page of Paterson and MacNaughton’s Approach to Latin, headed ‘The First Conjugation’. ‘Amo, amas amat…..’

The Dryburgh Road building was an elegant, two-storey structure erected in 1928 to house a school which had initially been formed in 1906. The building was basically and E-shape, with a further wing running along the rear. At the heart of the structure, forming most of the middle strut of the E was the impressive octagonal hall, with four windows bearing the crests of the four Houses. In 1964, the corridors running round the inside of the building at both levels were open to the elements at one side, but during my time at the school they were enclosed with wooden and glass panels. The rising school roll had prompted the proliferation of outbuildings – the canteen, and hutted classrooms. The school sat in extensive grounds with playing fields and two blaize pitches.

Unquestionably, the worst thing about the buildings were the toilets. The boys’ loos consisted of two foul, ill-lit rooms, one lined with a grim concrete urinal, the other, across a narrow corridor having perhaps half-a-dozen stalls. In a school of around 800 pupils, this was surely under-provision, and these toilets were fearful places for anyone needing some peace and quiet to get the flow started, and anyone prone to being bullied – I found myself in both categories.

My years at Wishaw High School were not particularly happy ones, but I think this was not so much due to the staff and my fellow-pupils as to my immaturity. I was unsure who I was, and in fact was probably not yet capable of accepting who I was. I felt an expectation from home and from church that I should be a model Christian teenager, and had a mental image of what fulfilling this would entail. I tried so hard to be the person I thought I should be, but the ‘Christian teenager’ role didn’t come naturally to me. However, embracing any alternative model seemed inconceivable. In this tension of identity, I was not unnaturally plagued by anxiety.

I compensated for my lack of self-confidence and self-knowledge by unconsciously cultivating an arrogant, zany image, always deploying abstruse vocabulary so that people mocked me by asking if I’d had a dictionary for breakfast. Beneath the bombast, there was only confusion.

My immediate classmates were largely accepting of me, but I didn’t feel I belonged. And yet I tried so hard to please, especially to please the teachers. This was the 1st Year boy who, when ‘Goof’ Lindsay our Latin teacher didn’t turn up for a lesson, rather than accept the gift of time to lark around, left the class, and walked resolutely to the Rector’s office to inform that fearsome individual of the matter. I following Neil Mckellar back, along the open corridor, to Goof’s classroom watching his black gown billowing.

This was the boy who was so eager to help at the school’s Christmas Fayre one Saturday morning (organised by ‘Granny’ Young, stern history teacher, who in her role in those days before the creation of guidance posts, as ‘advisor’ to female pupils was reputed to wield the measuring tape to ensure that skirts were of regulation length) that he turned up at the school door an hour before anyone else had arrived. Later he was so heart-broken at being reprimanded by Miss Young for agreeing with a buyer a price for an item which fell short of her perception of its worth that he lost confidence in his ability to contribute further to the event and went home early. This boy was an odd child.

During my time at Wishaw High I studied, to one level or another, Maths, English, Arithmetic, History, Geography, Technical Drawing, PE, Latin, French, Physics and Chemistry. I left with 8 ‘O’ Levels, 5 Highers (English at A, French at B, and Maths, Latin and History at C, and a C in Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (English.) I only scraped through Higher Maths, the services of a tutor whom my parents engaged to come to the house to support my learning having made little difference. Having achieved a C in Higher History in 5th year, I repeated it in my final year, but ended up with another C – at a lower band.

I had jumped through the hoops with reasonable competence, but I had not been taught to learn, or to think for myself. At the end of my school career, I still equated learning with memorising information. For me, studying largely meant pacing up and down in my bedroom committing to memory the facts and views I had taken down in my jotter at a teacher’s dictation. And I was not a particularly conscientious student  - I’d have Radio 4 playing on my transistor radio with the sound turned down when my parents thought I was studying, listening to the evening comedy slot. A small hooray, perhaps, that I sometimes rebelled.

I view my years at Wishaw High School in a mosaic of memories, both major and insignificant. I remember the crates of milk which were delivered each morning to the back of the school. At that point, milk was still supplied for secondary as well as primary pupils, but there was no effective distribution system, and we were free to grab as many of the third-of-a-pint bottles as we wanted.

I remember the morning a large piece of equipment was delivered to the school – it was, I think, an electrical switch box for installation in the janitor’s room. It was too big to be manoeuvred up the front steps of the school and through the front door into the hallway, so it was unloaded at the back entrance, and cautiously edged along the corridor on rollers until it reached its final resting place. According to the branding on the switch box, it had been made in Bootle, and someone (probably me) wondered if the device was actually a computer, in which case it would have been, I said, a ‘Compootle from Bootle’ – a reflection, if nothing else, of our awareness of the existence, and dimensions of computers.

I remember the day (20th September 1967) when the liner Queen Elizabeth II (QE2) was launched on the Clyde by the Queen and Prince Philip, watched according to the BBC report by ‘tens of thousands of people’. There had been much speculation on possible names for the vessel which curiously some of us pupils entered into. I remember someone listening to the launch ceremony on a radio in the playground at afternoon break, and excitedly announcing the chosen name.

I remember the Young Enterprise Company which some of my year group were involved in setting up under the Young Enterprise scheme which had been initiated in 1962/63, and the filming of a television report on some of their activities. I recall Margaret Campbell and some others walking nonchalantly along the upper corridor being tracked by a cameraman.

I remember the prefects, appointed from among the senior pupils, who stood at strategic points in the corridors keeping the crocodiles of pupils in order. I also remember the sense of injustice I felt when, for a minor misdemeanour, I was assigned by one prefect the task of writing out the whole of Psalm 119, which seemed disproportionate and vindictive. In my 6th year, I myself wore a prefect’s badge, but I have no recollection of carrying out prefectly duties.

I remember the annual sports day, which always seemed to take place in bright sunshine. Being utterly inept on the sports field, I was never involved in any way, but the whole school was released from classes for the appointed afternoon. We’d sit in small groups on the grass around the playing field, and there would be card schools, and Radio 1, and though made perfectly welcome by the others, I would once again feel that I didn’t really belong.

I remember taking part in a presentation arranged by an English teacher, Mr Mason, when I was in my 2nd year on the theme ‘Songs and poems of World War I.’  This was one element of an evening event in the school hall which also included two short dramatic performances, including scenes from Pygmalion. Our segment including songs – I remember Sunset song, It’s a long way to Tipperaray, and Mademoiselle from Armentiers. ‘Who was it tied his kilts with string, to stop him from doing….’ Mr Mason was dictating the words, and paused mischievously after ‘doing’ while we savoured the various possibilities. Once we had rewarded him with the anticipated titter, he continued with the remainder of the line ‘…from doing the Highland Fling.’ A couple of senior pupils duetted on If you were the only girl in the world, and that stirred and beguiled me. What were those ‘wonderful things’ the boy and girl would do to one another? My particular role was to proclaim Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for doomed youth. I enjoyed the limelight. I enjoyed getting my tongue round ‘Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle can patter out their hasty orisons.’ I enjoyed being at school in the warm glow of evening, when the corridors were safe. I enjoyed seeing Mr Mason, his wife, and two small kids at the event. It all made me feel, momentarily, that I was more at the heart of things.

I remember standing one day in the boys’ lines. Someone has a copy of Fanny Hill, and some of the others are pouring over well-thumbed pages, and sniggering. I feel both attracted and mildly shocked. Another day someone sitting beside me in music cheerfully announces (possibly aiming to wind me up) that he has what I think he calls a ‘hard one’ though no doubt what he actually says is ‘hard on’. I am prudish and disdainful. The graffiti on the wall read ‘Have you started yet?’ which I assumed referred to wet dreams rather than sexual activity. I similarly assumed that ‘nookie’, another word ubiquitous in the places in the school which played host to graffiti referred to semen, when it would in fact have referred to the sexual act. I didn’t know how to handle this obsession with sex in others, and was both troubled and energised by my own growing sexual awareness.

I remember the few school trips I was involved with. Someone (I think it was history teacher Maurice Bonner) organised a trip to the Dumfries area when I was in 2nd year. You could visit two destinations out of the three on offer – Sweetheart Abbey, Caerlaverock Castle, and Chapelcross Atomic Power Station. In the event, I think I only saw the latter. I was impressed by the resonance of the sign on the gate: United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, but my only recollection of my time there was of searching for a toilet - by then I was afflicted by a tiresome toilet anxiety while travelling. We had a fish and chip tea in a Co-operative Hall in Dumfries, but by then I was tired and stressed

The only other trips I recall were to Glasgow (at that point a city of massive holes in the ground as the inner city flank of the M8 was constructed) to see Oedipus Rex and Charade at the Cosmo Cinema, The Battle of Britain at the ABC, and St Joan at the King’s Theatre. Charade, the first feature film I had ever seen was magic, but I wasn’t sufficiently relaxed to enjoy the other performances.

I remember the times the school decamped en masse to Wishaw Old Parish Church in the Main Street. There was a Christmas service each year when traditionally the boy and girl Captains would read Matthew and Luke’s account of the nativity and other pupils would participate. I remember a smallish boy singing one year, and approaching him enthusiastically afterwards, telling him I thought he was ‘a great wee singer.’ It was only when I saw a puzzlingly bemused and slightly belligerent expression crossing his face that I realised that he was at least one year above me, and I felt suitably embarrassed.

The annual prizegiving ceremonies were also held in the Old Parish Church, and ordeal for anyone with toilet anxiety as we had to listen to some worthy droning on before the distribution of prizes began. I remember taking part in the choir at one of these events, singing tenor in Magnify, glorify and in Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham, though I remember taking advantage of the fact that being up-front to suing took you near the door leading through to the toilets to sneak out when everyone else was singing.

Most years in the upper school I was awarded one prize or another.  You were told how much money had been allocated for your prize, and then chose from Collins catalogue – the school, or the Education Authority must have had some special deal with the Glasgow-based publishers, and extensive though the coverage of the catalogue was, this somewhat limited one’s choice. The ordering of prizes was co-ordinated by biology teacher Miss ‘Bella’ Hogg, who ran the girls’ Scripture Union group, and had problems with classroom discipline, but who bravely persevered in what she no doubt found a somewhat stressful occupation.

My prize choices were a combination of what I thought I should be reading (War and Peace in the 3-volume Everyman edition and Philip Zeigler’s The Black Death for example) but didn’t ever get round to, and what actually attracted me (such as a paperback biography of Rasputin and some reflections by Neville Cardus on the life and work of orchestral conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.)

And then there are memories of a couple of things I didn’t do. I never attended a school dance, or participated in dance practices in PE periods in the weeks before Christmas. I assumed that such activities should be proscribed in a Christian family, although perhaps in this I was being more of a zealot than my parents. It was difficult to know what they would consider acceptable. I agreed to go to an inter-schools Burns Supper in January 1970, and wrote a poem for the event, a lame parody of Tam O’Shanter in which a modern-day Tam was pursued over the old brig by ‘helicops’ in a helicopter, equipped with breathalysers (breathalysers having been introduced in 1967.) However, attending this event was the second thing I didn’t do, because my parents (to whom I did not explain the extent of my commitment) expressed their disquiet at my involvement. Rather than insisting on going as a self-determining 17-year-old, or coming clean to my parents about my commitment to read the poem, or asking someone at school to try to talk my parents round, I simply lied about being unwell on the day of the event. My classmate Yvonne M. Davis went to the Supper in my place and read my Tam O’Shanter parody, to some acclaim, she told me the next day.

In general, however, I had a little more self-confidence by the time I was in 6th year, but much of the time I was still hiding behind the arrogant, verbose persona. That year I took part in the school opera, HMS Pinafore, helped edit the 1970 issue of the school magazine The Octagon, was one of a team of pupil librarians, was President of the Debating Society, and spent some free periods sitting in on a Higher Music Class, getting to know rather well Wagner’s Mastersingers overture, and Bartok’s Music for strings, percussion and celesta.

Some of my Higher History studies in 6th year were spent in the class of Mr ‘Dougie’ Hope with whom we explored European History from an ever-so-boring, unillustrated door-stopper of a book with small type in a font with curious, diamond-shaped full stops. Dougie’s classroom was in one of the new hutted accommodation erected during my time at the school on one of the blaize pitches. I remember going out to see him one wintry lunchtime. It had been snowing, and the ground was covered. A group of younger pupils were throwing snowballs, and when they saw me, whether in fun or from malice I don’t know, I became the target. I hurried up the steps to Dougie’s hut – I could see him through the window, warm and dry inside in his short sleeves.  I tried the door, but he had locked it.  Snowballs were thudding against me, the door, the window. I knocked, sure that Dougie would let me in, as a responsible 6th pupil. I knocked again. And again. I had in the end to walk away, through a deluge of snow, feeling humiliated and unvalued.

My 6th year concluded at the end of June 1970. There wasn’t much drama on the last day of term, other than the suspending of a bra from the very apex of the octagonal school hall’s roof. Only a little wistful, I walked away, never to return.

22 years later, Wishaw High School closed permanently, and the building was demolished in 1998.

See School teachers - Wishaw High School

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Orphans no more

Last week, I went to see Philomena the new film based on a true story starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Dench plays Philomena Lee, Coogan the journalist Martin Sixsmith who helps her track down the son she gave birth to as an Irish teenager, and was then compelled to give up for adoption, The film is based on Sixsmith’s book The lost child of Philomena Lee.

In 1952, the pregnant Philomena was sent to Sean Ross Abbey in Rosecrea, Tipperary where she gave birth to a son, Anthony. She was compelled to work in the laundry at the Abbey to pay for her keep, but had opportunity to bond with her son.

When he was 3, an adoption was arranged by the nuns (with a payment to the Church involved); Philomena was compelled to sign away all rights of access to Anthony, and according to the book told that if she ever spoke about her baby she would burn in ‘the fires of hell’ forever.

It’s fair to say that the Church has disputed some of the detail in the film, and that it is by no means entirely critical of Catholicism. But Martin Sixsmith, an atheist, is depicted as being justifiably horrified by the judgementalism of the nuns, the compelling of young girls to give up all rights to their babies, the apparent willingness of the Abbey to profit from arranging adoptions, the abrupt parting of young children from mums with whom they had deeply bonded; the refusal to give information to people seeking the story of their past.

The film contrasts Sixsmith’s antagonism towards God and Church with Philomena’s quiet faith in God and in the goodness of God.

Churches and individual Christians do sometimes get things grievously wrong. While it’s fair to say that the Roman Catholic Church seems to have got it wrong more than most, there are many ‘walking wounded’ who have been hurt by the practices and teachings and attitudes of Churches and individuals. It is absolutely right to highlight and criticise such abuse in constructive ways.

And it’s easy to allow the bad stuff to make us cynical about God and about the whole Christian enterprise. Philomena’s example shows us that in a universe where we have freedom of choice it is wrong to blame God for the behaviour of some of God’s followers.

The bulk of Martin Sixsmith’s book focuses on the story of Philomena’s son, which is only touched on in the film. Sixsmith describes the impact on Anthony of being adopted by American parents, along with another Rosecrea child, and renamed Michael Hess.

According to Sixsmith’s research, Michael suffered severe consequences from being a virtual orphan with no identity, no back story. He believed his mother (about whom he was told nothing) must have abandoned him, and that he must be inherently ‘bad’. Despite good times and good friendships, he had a pervasive sense of worthlessness, was tortured by addictive behaviour patterns, and, believing himself unworthy of happiness, perversely sought to destroy his own joy. On top of all this, he faced the challenge of being gay.

A teacher described the theme of a poem they were studying: ‘our fate is to suffer the memory of Paradise in the torment of exile.’ This resonated with Michael who had come to feel he’d been expelled from an Irish Garden of Eden.

It struck me that Christian teaching depicts each of us as being to a greater or lesser extent orphaned from our Father God, struggling with the consequences of orphanhood – issues of worth, identity and happiness – while all the time searching for a Father of whom we may never have heard.

Sixsmith has Michael Hess reflecting on faint memories of Ireland: ‘It’s like you’ve heard a song and really loved it, and you can’t get it out of your head, but then it fades and you can still recall the feeling of it but it won’t come back to you.’ He recognises an Irish ballad, and thinks his mum once sang it to him. It seemed ‘like a message to me from that other world I come from.’

I believe our Father gives us a similar yearning for home, seeking us out with whispers of love which awaken us to our true identity and encourage us to reach out to Father and find ourselves orphans no more.

The strongest evidence in the film for God’s reality is Philomena’s willingness to forgive the Rosecrea nuns for their treatment of her – a willingness more explicit in the film than the book.

This willingness to forgive, contrary to all logic and reason, is I believe a sign of the gracious presence of the Father who at such great personal cost forgives all who are willing to come home.

(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 14th November 2013)