Putting your hand in God’s at the Gate of the Year...
Fr Jason Murphy's beautiful reflection for the New Year...
Bridgie Murphy was all of nine years of age when she stood in the back hall of Hough’s awaiting a setting of eggs when the word came through on the big Marconi wireless that war had broken out across Europe. She had been sent over the road and in by the wood gate and across through Veneable’s demesne with a big penny in her hand to ask of the housekeeper in the large dwelling along the Scotshouse road for the dozen or so of eggs to put under the ‘Light Sussex’ that had started to show signs of clockin’.
She can remember well that first September day in 1939 standing there in the stilly silence as the light streamed in from the back door ajar, elongating the shadow of the little girl in a summer frock across the polished black and terracotta tiles of the back hallway. The housekeeper stopped still, the eggs in her hands looking out the kitchen window over the deep Belfast sink into the way beyond as the hesitant voice of the King could be heard over the crackles of the signal coming through on the BBC Home Service that Mr Hough at all times tuned into.
Bridgie, though only nine, felt in those moments that even the birds in the trees had given up their song as people of every race and creed across the lands heard the news of the beginnings of this second of world wars in just over 20 years.
All would change over the months and years to come, fields would be ploughed in Veneable’s estates and little shops around the village green would be dealing in rationing books. Tea, sugar, flour and nylon tights became valuable commodities in the cross border trade down Drumbaughnagh lane in the dead of the winter nights.
De Valera called it an Emergency but, for countries in the thick of battle, thoughts of the Great War came flooding back and the loss of life that they might well again have to endure.
In the Christmas of that year the King returned to the airwaves with the speech his father had first delivered to the Empire in 1932.
In that broadcast on Christmas day in 1939, in a voice that spoke volumes of the burden that weighed heavily upon his shoulders, he quoted from a little known poem written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins, entitled ‘God knows’. At the cusp of a year when no-one could foretell what the days would bring, he gave a message of encouragement to people of every dominion across the globe as he read from its lines:
‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
“That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day.’
For people listening in to their wireless sets, living in fear of what the future might bring, in that Christmas of 1939, these were reassuring words; words which have re-echoed throughout the decades to come, unbeknownst to the king or the poet.
As a child there is nothing more reassuring than being able to put your little hand into the hand of an adult, as you take steps not trodden before, be it on your first day of school or along a crowded street or crossing a busy thoroughfare.
In a world where we feel increasingly self-sufficient, without the need of God in our lives, we forget to reach out our hand, be it in the form of a lighted candle in a darkened church, a prayer of intercession, sitting with our children at the end of the day to recite with them the simple prayers we ourselves have learned to unburden their little minds of the cares of the day and to place all into the safekeeping of God.
The little girl Bridgie Murphy who stood in the back hall of Hough’s those years ago, has over a lifetime, placed her hand into the hand God many, many times and now as Mrs McGrath in her 92nd year can still be found in her chair looking out the window at the snowdrops peeping through the frost bitten ground, quietly praying as He leads her onwards into another year and the breaking of day.
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