Yesterday we accompanied Leslie Lyndon to his final resting place. He was a founding member of our community, leader, cantor, teacher, for over a decade at the heart of our ministerial team, and a close friend. I shall miss him.
He had three especially great gifts: an unfailing smile which expressed a warm, calm and unfailingly kind presence; a beautiful and gracious voice in leading and facilitating prayer; and an unshakeably positive spirit. He was a man who welcomed, enabled, encouraged, included, and wanted no one to be hurt.
When I came home from the funeral and returned, reluctantly, to my computer, I found the following message* from the team who run our Drop-In for asylum seekers. It has no connection with Leslie, and is yet most deeply connected:
We’d like to share this inspiring version of “We Shall Overcome” sung by asylum seekers and refugees. You can watch at http://bit.ly/2h09hFJ
Do listen. ‘We shall overcome…We shall all be friends…’: are these convictions not what lies at the heart of the very power of music itself? For music expresses the strength, tenacity and joy of spirit which tyranny, with all its ever more brutal weapons, its cruelty and its contempt for humanity and God, cannot extinguish, so long as life itself remains, so long as there is a heart to feel and a tongue to sing?
And there is so much to overcome, in the Congo, from where so many of those who attend our asylum seekers drop-in have fled; in Syria, about where the UN humanitarian advisor for, Jan Egeland, just tweeted:
For 3000 years #Aleppo gave so much to world civilisations. How come, when Aleppo’s people needed us the most, we gave so little back?’
I thought of Leslie and his music when I joined the tribute at Westminster Abbey’s Martyr’s Memorial to the men, women and children murdered and wounded in the vile attack on the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. They went there to celebrate the miracle of life, said Bishop Angaelos, who only two weeks ago was a guest in our community. But, he continued, evil cannot and shall not put out the light of compassion which has come into the world. He may have meant the words in a different theological context from mine, but it’s the same light and the same compassion.
It’s precisely the meaning of the miracle we celebrate at Chanukkah through the story of the one flask of incorruptible oil which the Maccabees found and lit when they re-entered the devastated precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is the inextinguishable light of the human spirit, which always burns longer and deeper than we might have thought possible. By the time one of its flames eventually goes out, another and then yet another has been inspired and ignited.
In the dimension of sight, the spirit is expressed through light; in that of sound, through music. Leslie and I once discussed the Torah’s puzzling words
God is my strength and my song
Is song, a mere sequence of notes, really strength? After all, it can’t prevent bombs from killing innocent people. It can’t often stay the ruthless power of disease. But it keeps the heart of humanity alive, the heart of goodness, kindness and compassion, and it is with that heart that we shall overcome.
*From the team at the Drop-In for Asylum Seekers:
We hope the video will raise money for the Drop-in to purchase supermarket vouchers and travel money for our clients. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so here. The project provides support to hundreds of asylum seekers. It offers food, clothing, consultations with doctors, lawyers and therapists, supermarket vouchers and travel money. It is run entirely by volunteers.
Please also give generously to these urgent causes
Please click here for links to charities helping refugees in the UK and in Greece.