Chagall and Lament

All Saints’ Church in Tudeley is famous for a set of beautiful stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall (1887-1985).  The east window was the first to be completed and it is dedicated to the memory of Sarah D’Avigdor Goldsmid who died in a boating accident when she was only 21.  Her family and friends commissioned Chagall to design it as a lasting and tangible memorial to her.  Revd. Pamela Ive, who serves at All Saints’  Tudeley, and Revd. Penny Stephens, Chaplain from St. Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, explain how the Chagall windows have become a focus for reflection and lament.

PI: Lament is a really important part of our human experience.  It is the focus of the book of Lamentations in the Bible and the Psalms also recognise lament as a healthy part of our human condition.  So often after a tragic death churches become the focal point of a community where people gather, bring flowers and light candles, as they have for centuries.  They are places where people can grieve and where memorials, the physical expressions of lament, can be found. Their history and purpose can help us to hold our grief and to receive comfort at times of bereavement.

The church is often visited by those mourning, especially, but not exclusively, those mourning the loss of a young person.  The memorial window for a twenty-one year old woman and the image of a mother weeping at the loss of a daughter resonates.   Many find it helpful to reflect and pray.

Revd. Penny Stephens bought colleagues from the chaplaincy department of St. Joseph’s Hospice to the church as part of a team away day.  We discussed the importance of allowing people to find places of lament.  Although our gospel message is one of hope there is still a need for us to recognise loss and bereavement.  We may want to move to a place of rejoicing but that takes time and cannot be forced.  Churches need to communicate that it is natural to express sadness, anger and confusion.  When we welcome people and offer hospitality we are recognising the need to mourn.  Our churches can then become places where we can lament with God sitting alongside us.  Loss of life is the most significant, but there are also other losses,  such as relationships, social and financial status, employment and health, that can find expression through the process of lament.

PS: For some years I have found All Saints’ a welcoming, holy place.  It is still a living parish and so it is steeped in worship and the presence of God. It is a place of solace, comfort and peace. Here is beauty,  without lots of words.  I have taken many guests there.  The time is always valued and the things put out for visitors, such as prayer suggestion leaflets are very helpful. There is quietness and privacy, yet a sense of community too.

It is here that the reality of grief and suffering is evident and recognised in a personal way.  A vivid life event for real people is remembered without being glossed over.  Yet this suffering is thought about in the context of something bigger, something beyond.  There is the beauty of the colours, the welcome of the Christ figure, smiling, warm, on the cross – yet at peace, welcoming Sarah and reaching out to all.  The windows show the symbols of creation in so many beautiful ways, expressing hope and new life in colour and shape. They somehow give a sense of safety in expressing grief and lament because there is a sense of being held in something beyond ourselves where grief can be expressed in a place where these things are known and shared.  It is not a place where easy solutions to sorrow are pushed.  Instead it offers freedom and space to be as we are.

It was an obvious place to bring the multi-faith chaplaincy team from the hospice.

Pamela’s meditation on lament helped us as a team to share together.  Her sensitivity gave us space to bring ourselves and the stories and experiences we have as hospice chaplains to God and to be able to express that sense of lament.

I remember coming to Tudeley with a woman who was dying.  It was very profound to sit with her there.  She knew that in the years ahead I would bring members of her family there, as they mourned her.  There was little to be said as words aren’t appropriate, but it was a God given experience of grace and comfort.  It gave a sense of Christ’s love beyond ourselves, for each person, and all people.

All are welcome to visit All Saints’, Tudeley.  For more information about the windows and details of when All Saints’ is open or for group visits please visit the website at – Revd. Pamela Ive.