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All shall be . . . Alleluia

05 October 2012

David Adam begins a series on the joyful acclamation


The glory that is about us: a view of Lindisfarne Castle and surroundings

The glory that is about us: a view of Lindisfarne Castle and surroundings

THE Archdeacon of Lindisfarne told the story of a child who went to church with her nanny, and of how this little girl, though not fully understanding the ceremonies, got caught up in the joyful acclamations of "Alleluia". On the way home, she would suddenly exclaim "Alleluia" at intervals, and, over the next few days, she continued to utter "Alleluia" as an expression of joy, and with a good deal of gusto.

Nanny could not tolerate this for long. "You are not to say Alleluia. It's a vulgar thing to keep saying Alleluia, and you must stop." The child became silent, and some of the joy went out of her countenance. There will always be people around who are afraid that we are enjoying ourselves.

One day, when the sun was shining and the birds sang to welcome the day, I was out walking on Holy Island, where I was the Vicar. But one person I met did not notice the sun shining, or the beauty around him, and seemed to emanate a kind of darkness. Although well dressed and obviously well educated, he was in a poor state.

I invited him to the vicarage, and he told me that his name was George. He could not look at me as he sat there, but kept wringing his hands, and I became aware of his deep depression. He told me that he was having medical treatment, but did not like the fact that the tablets dulled his senses. He had a loving wife, a home, and a well-paid job. He lacked nothing, and yet a world-weariness kept coming over him; he was unsatisfied.

In the time that we had together, before the tide closed in and the island was cut off from the mainland, I could only offer a listening ear. George made me realise that, too often, we do not see the world as it is, but as we are. We fail to let the glory that is about us touch us, because we are uptight, preoccupied, and unable to rest. I must admit that I was glad when he was gone, and, for comfort, I turned to one of my favourite resurrection prayers by St Augustine of Hippo:

All shall be Amen and Alleluia.We shall rest and we shall see.
We shall see and we shall know.
We shall know and we shall love.
We shall love and we shall praise.
Behold our end, which is no end.

I often use this prayer at funerals; for it shows how, in God, our life does not end. Much of the time, we are so busy multitasking that there is no room in our lives for wonder; but, in fact, fullness of life is rooted in the ability to rest, and the courage to allow ourselves to attend to what is about us.

The prayer has a lovely flowing movement, from resting to seeing, from seeing to knowing, from knowing to loving, from loving to praising. Augustine, obviously, did not think of rest as a time of idleness, but rather as a time of harmony in our actions. Such resting, in its turn, will help us to see more clearly, and, when our vision is clear, we have a better chance of real relationships with our neighbours, the world around us, and our God.

Our relationship with God assures us of a joy that will last for ever. Death is not fatal for Augustine, because it is not the end. The Christian's attitude to life is different from that of others because, in the words of Augustine, "We are Easter people, and Alleluia is our song."

This is the first of four edited extracts from Occasions for Alleluia by David Adam. It is published by SPCK at £8.99 (CT Bookshop £8.10); 978-0-281-06577-6.


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