Auntie Beryl died earlier this month. Some years ago she had asked me to take her funeral - and then she died a day before I returned home from an extended period overseas. I scrambled. One of my sadnessess will be that I was not able to articulate the farewell for her which I had been imagining.
Auntie Beryl was a great New Zealander, although you'd never know it. Honoured by the Queen and granted an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Otago, Auntie Beryl was one of the first (some say, the first) female professors of obstetrics in the world - but she was humble and unassuming until the end.
My enduring memory of Auntie Beryl is from my first month as Principal at Carey Baptist College - in 1998. I was wanting to add a stronger narrative component into the weekly 'principal's hour', and tracking down some 'ripe saints' was the number one goal. Auntie Beryl was our first guest. She wrote down a Latin phrase on a card and spoke to it from the story of her life - for an hour. Solvitur Ambulando Cum Deo ... 'the solution is found in walking with God'. Clearly, this was the chorus of her life. I asked if I could keep the card. It has been hanging in my line of sight in my study ever since. And a generation of students have received '(whatever the problem), the solution is found in walking with God' at Orientation each year...
One thing about Auntie Beryl is that she was lonely. Not just the aloneness of remaining single for 88 years. It was more than that. She was the only believer in her immediate family, and so there was a familial loneliness. She was also theologically lonely. This is the context in which we renewed our friendship. Auntie Beryl had been in the UK at the start of the evangelical renewal in the 1950s - and when she finally came home to NZ from India, she found a denomination with churches that did not share her confidence in the Word of God. In addition to this, Auntie Beryl knew what pain was all about. It was no great surprise that the one passage she wanted to be read at the funeral was 2 Corinthians 4 - about frailty and vulnerability, about having something precious in 'jars of clay', about God's glory and power being magnified in our weakness...
I enjoy the raspy voice (on which she has already had surgery, not surprisingly). Echoes of Tina Turner and Anastasia... But I love the way she holds an audience through the power of voice and lyric. There is no need for that crutch of special effects - or, the stuff they can do with sound today - with Adele. The emotional intensity of 'truth through personality' captures both ear and heart.
Her songs are sad. She writes after a break-up. The problem is that she has been dumped. She gives voice to that relational loneliness encountered by so many in life.
Close enough to start a war/All that I have is on the floor/God only knows what we're fighting for ... I braved a hundred storms to leave you ... So I won't let you close enough to hurt me.
Didn't I give it all? Tried my best/Gave you everything I had, everything and no less/Didn't I do it right? Did I let you down?/Maybe you got too used to having me around/Still, how can you walk away from all my tears?Or, what about the ballad, 'Don't You Remember' - sung here at the Royal Albert Hall:
When will I see you again?/You left with no goodbye, not a single word was said/No final kiss to seal any sins/I had no idea of the state we were in/Don't you remember?/The reason you loved me before/Baby, please remember me once more.
For Adele, the solution seems understandably confused - lying somewhere in the turbulence of giving the one who dumped her the one-fingered salute (which she literally does in one performance on youtube) and that longing to start all over again.
So come on and give me a chance/To prove I am the one who can/Walk that mile until the end startsI have been imagining Beryl and Adele chatting together. I think they would have liked each other - a lot. In my imagination I can hear the Adele 30 album, set for release in 2020. Auntie Beryl's warm humility and quiet confidence has found its way in. The album is still acquainted with grief - oh, yes it is ... but this time, it testifies to the reality that deep though the pain may be, deeper still is found the solvitur of ambulando cum deo 'until the end starts'. Actually, it is not such a new idea. The psalmist does exactly this in his Psalm 120-134 album.