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These rare pauses

08 August 2014

THE sustained national pause for thought on Monday night, centred on Westminster Abbey, with the dimming of lights around the country and more informal gatherings for prayer and reflection, often at war memorials, was most welcome, even if it was far from universally observed. By all accounts the vigil in the Abbey was thought-provoking and beautiful. If, as a correspondent observes, it made little concession to a certain kind of popular taste, its style and content seem to us well judged, particularly given the occurrence later in the year of the Festival of Remembrance in the Albert Hall, which usually includes a drumhead service. Moreover, this is one of those matters in which the C of E is invariably damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. More important, however, is to note the rarity of occasions on which the wider community is brought together for silence and reflection. Although Christians and others are naturally moved to prayer, interpretation can be open-ended; and yet such times are usually brief and confined to Remembrance in November, or to the aftermath of traumatic events relatively close to hand, such as the terrorist attacks of 2001 and 2005. The Great War, as we know, was early on described as a "war to end war": a misnomer. It seems a paradox that, given, for example, the horrific actions being taken against Christians in Iraq, any powerful demonstration of national solidarity with those who suffer today so greatly is unlikely to take place until an entire community's fate is beyond human help. As we heard in Isaac Rosenberg's poem from the Abbey: "Red fangs have torn His face. God's blood is shed. He mourns from His lone place His children dead."

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