At the end of the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the two main characters are reunited after time apart, forced upon them by seemingly insurmountable difficulties during a war of tragedies, loss and self-sacrifice. They have tried to conduct useful lives despite the aching void at the centre of their hearts. Now, as they cling together and address whatever the future may present to them, they are assured of the strength, courage and hopefulness that come with the binding together of soulmates. Many waters cannot quench love. There is still something deeply satisfying about a happy ending to a story, however unrealistic it may seem to the sceptical readers of our day.

In the nineteen seventies, it became apparent to those of us who were teachers and parents that the happy ending folk tales and family sagas had been replaced by reality accounts of catastrophe and upheaval from which the hero might emerge after enduring great trial. These reality woes of abuse and conflict were coupled with a surge in books depicting the dark arts, often portrayed with intrigue and even humour, e.g. The Funniest Witch. The decades that followed snatched away the cherished innocence of childhood as the proliferation of mobile phones and easy access to the internet opened wide a door to the most degrading and ugly aspects of society. It sometimes seems that a monster is slithering through the airwaves, morphing from form to form, intent on devouring our children. It has always existed, but now emboldened and enabled, it moves with devastating effect, leaving in its wake a tragedy of depression, addiction, suicide, bullying, eating disorders and anxiety.

So, what is going wrong?

The Apostle Paul drew attention to three vital factors in life, namely faith, hope and love. The greatest, he said, was love. No matter what talents and skills he acquired, without love he was simply a sounding gong. The harsh or booming note of a gong is intended to alert the hearers. It sends a message of warning or notice of required action. It has no merit of musicality or soothing cadence. It crashes through the senses. Our society is divided, angry and dissatisfied. We are searching for hope and increasingly devaluing the faith that seeded our societies with the real, genuine compassion which is love in action. This is not the charitable manoeuvres of those who seek philanthropic recognition, nor the limelight seeking acts of celebrity. This is the selfless, all surmounting love that protects, nurtures, comforts, encourages and teaches by example.

Out in the African bushland on the edge of a village, a small child fell into an old dried up well. Hearing a cry, a woman rushed to the scene, but realized that the child could not be rescued without equipment. She also noted a more immediate danger, a black mamba snake had also been trapped in the hole and would fatally strike the child at any moment. Without hesitation, the woman pitched herself down into the well. Later, when rescuers escorted the woman and child safely home, they became aware that the woman was dying and could not be saved. She had taken the poisonous venom of the snake bite into herself, thus saving the life of the child.

In Genesis ch.3, the deceitful serpent receives the prophecy that a time would come when the offspring of the woman, Eve, would crush his head, and he, the serpent, would bruise his heel. The prophecy found its fulfilment in the crucifixion of Christ. The power of death lost its sting when the Son of God gave himself for our eternal salvation. We are free to live by faith, to renew hope, and to demonstrate the compassionate love of Christ as he asks us to do.

There is a great gong booming across our world, not to be ignored. We need to heed its warning sound whilst we may, and deeply consider how we may best share the blessings of faith that endures, hope that uplifts and love that transforms and regenerates.

Iris Niven.

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