Matthew J Hughes
March LeaderRecently, whilst trudging along South Norwood High Street, at the top end near the Railway Bridge, I noticed a small picture of a man attached to some wire mesh. The notice read ‘MISSING Robert Gibson, last seen in 2016. Robbie Gibson, Community Worker, mid forties with a northern Irish accent last seen….’ The notice took me by surprise and I found myself wondering about Robbie, picturing him as a baby and child, who had loved him, what had been his problems, and where was he? Each year over 275,000 people go missing in the UK, although many soon return, in the region of 16,000 don’t. Children and teenagers tend to make up the vast majority, and men are more susceptible than women to disappearing. In mortuaries up and down the country there are on average over 1000 unidentified and unclaimed bodies and globally almost four and a half million people go missing every 20 years.
The reasons whilst people feel the need to walk away from their families and former lives are mixed and complex - abuse, financial hardship, relation break up, dementia, aloneness and addiction, to name a few. Thankfully there is a charity called Missing People which works round the clock to help the disappeared and their families. The heartbreak and sadness around this must be incalculable. In the Bible there is a strong sense of people being known and remembered by God from their conception onwards, I am always struck by the words of Psalm 139; ‘Where can I go from your presence, if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand hold me fast, for it was you who knit me together in my mother’s womb and formed my inward parts.’ On the graves of those who disappeared in the horrors of the First World War there is the simple epitaph ‘Known unto God’. The unknown and unidentified millions wandering the face of this earth, detached from family and friends known and remembered by God, who once ‘knit them together in their mother’s womb.’
This sense of the anonymity of people, their coming and going, and Christ’s love of them, is captured brilliantly by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) in his poem, The Lantern Out of Doors. In this poem Hopkins is observing the movement of lanterns held by men walking in the dark. He writes, ‘death or distance soon consumes them ……… and out of sight is out of mind, Christ minds:’ It would be so easy to miss the little notice about Robbie Gibson and then of course to miss seeing, or thinking about him. Wherever he is and whoever he is, living or departed, he will always be a child of is Heavenly Father, as we all are. I will leave you with the Lantern Out of Doors.
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?
Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quiet.
Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, out of sight is out of mind.
Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
There, eyes them, heart wants, care haunts,
foot follows kind,
Their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast, last friend