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Reflections on #‎100Somme 


Craig Cardiner was invited by BBC Radio Wales to reflect on the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme for its 'Weekend Word' feature. He spoke immediately after a minute's silence at 7.30am today (1 July): this is his script 


Good morning;

It's difficult to break a silence, the like of which we've just observed. I feel a burden of responsibility to return us to a world of words and the present tense, and yet not move too quickly from the carnage at the Somme.

Such devastation ought to be remembered. But in the death and destruction of places like Mametz Wood, words don't seem adequate for the task. The passing century hasn't changed that. It's why, at least in part, we still fall silent today.

But silence is more than the absence of noise. Many of us already know the positive presence and the sufficiency of such silence. As a Christian pastor I have sat in stillness as friends faced tragedy. Much later they have thanked me, for not filling their terrible void with empty and anaemic words. Instead, they say, 'It was enough, just to share the silence.'

And yet this is The 'Weekend Word.'
For all the Battle of the Somme exhausts our vocabulary
For all the stone cut cenotaph silently laments
Words need to be said … and it's often poets who do it best.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we honour those who've fallen by listening to what they said. Siegfried Sassoon described his war as a 'hell where youth and laughter go' and Wilfred Owen questioned whether it was still a sweet and honourable thing to die for your country.

In Wales, we might listen to Dai Greatcoat, the solider from David Jones' epic poem 'In Parenethesis'. He challenges us directly from the Somme. 'You ought to ask why', he says, 'what is the meaning of this?'

Of course for many who survived those battles, Christian faith and its meaning perished in the trenches. Others found some purpose in the belief that this would be the war to end them all. And yet we still seem shackled to recurring cycles and repeating voices of violence.

In finding meaning on a day like this, silence rightly affords us the time and space to listen to the past. But it also invites us to imagine a future. Christian faith, while looking back to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, is also profoundly shaped by moving forward, to a promised future of peace and reconciliation for families, communities and countries.

It's a day the prophets proclaimed when swords would be beaten into ploughshares, when nations would prepare for war no more, when everyone would be liberated from fear and pain and weeping. It’s a future that still seeks a home in what we do today.

So if we dare to break our silence,
may every word we speak bring peace into being
and may every action take us further from the Somme. 

Picture: British troops moving up to the attack during the Battle of Morval / Wikimedia Commons

The Revd Dr Craig Gardiner is a Tutor in Christian Doctrine at South Wales Baptist College. This script is republished with permission from BBC Radio Wales 

Baptist Times, 01/07/2016
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