St Swithun, the wind and the power of words

I hope you have been enjoying socially distanced sunshine over this last weekend. Although we had the briefest shower of rain on Saturday, the gardens are looking a bit dry and parched, and so perversely I am longing for some more sustained rain to bring back that sparkle. I’m also keen that scarce resources that might otherwise be ‘hose-piped’ are replenished. Equally perversely, I then hope it doesn’t rain for days on end. Some readers will know that I come from a small town on the edge of London where 52 years ago many houses, and our local Methodist Church, found themselves under a few inches or feet of brown, sludgy water after a sustained deluge of rain caused a local river to flood. You can’t win, so maybe I’m just a sunshine and showers person.

When I was a child I seriously worried about excessive rain. My father would often tell

me the legend of St Swithun and the saying that if it rained on his saint day (July 15th) it would rain for 40 days thereafter. I lived in a mid-July fear of a second Noah’s Ark experience, probably forgetting the promise of the rainbow. The words entered my consciousness and stayed. Similarly, and this is tangentially weather related, my best friend’s mum often pointed out to me that if I pulled a face and the wind changed direction, I would remain looking like this. She referenced a boy in our school class whose face seemed set in a permanent questioning sneer as a classic example of this phenomena, which wasn’t really a kind thing to say. Throw into the mix the pain I encountered having been sunburnt for the first time age 10, you can perhaps see where this weather related obsession comes from.

So the words we hear as children and the ideas behind them can have a considerable impact on our lives. We believed the grownups (for a while) even when what they said made no sense, and I never did get to relive the story of Noah with a distorted face.

Sadly in some families the words used can be more sinister and convey a coercive and controlling idea that is harmful to the child – emotionally, physically or sexually. They rely on the potency of the inherent trust that a young child has for their parents. They are older and wiser so what they say must be true. Life experience may not yet have provided the opportunity for contrast, and indeed in some cases, the family narrative is that ‘we aren’t like other people’ so these outside contacts are avoided or missed completely.

So as we start the gradual process of thinking about how we do church again, and as we engage more with children, keep your ears open for the sayings and stories that don’t sound quite right.

The sun will still shine and the rain will fall (eventually), but the power of early words can also remain deeply embedded for all seasons of the year.

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