When I was a young boy, there was a rite of passage that we children in our family went through once we were around the age of 8. At that point in our lives we were deemed old and strong enough to go for a long walk with our granda, Jimmy Webb. I remember my first big walk with my granda well. We walked from our house on the Glen Road up to our cousins on the Shaw’s Road. It was a fair dander as we say in these parts; probably a few miles round trip. When I came home I was so proud to have made it. I remember that my granda was also very pleased. I was the oldest grandchild and this was the first of many walks he was to take with us grandchildren over the next decades.
Walking with my granda was to become a Sunday afternoon tradition as I grew from childhood into adolescence. We would visit various relatives and friends. Usually we would go to the cemetery on the way, to visit his wife, my granny, who had died many years before when they were both only young people.
Looking back now I can see that this was such a privileged time. Having those hours with him listening to the stories of his life in old Belfast and learning the old songs too (we still sing many of them to this day in our family get-togethers) was a gift to me. It has definitely borne fruit in my life. I guess I can trace my love of walking, singing and telling stories to him.
Although as I write this I can hear my father’s voice in my head reminding me that he wrote plays when he was a young man and that I should also give him some credit for helping me to develop a love of words and ideas. I have been blessed indeed!
I remember something else about these walks with my granda. It is a body sensation as much as a memory. I remember that as we walked together he would grip my shoulder firmly. When we came to a turn or came to stop at a road crossing, his grip would tighten and guide me in the right direction. This grip was a constant feature of our walks together. I realise now how reassuring I found this touch. It was a physical representation of a much deeper connection we shared. It was indicative of his love for me. It was an outward sign of his desire to protect and to guide me. That one touch was many things. While I remember finding it reassuring at the time, it’s only now as a middle-aged man that I can fully appreciate its importance.
And not only do I remember it today, I miss it too. My granda died in 2001 and today, as I write this on June 4th 2020, he would have turned 100 years old.
O, to have the firm grip of one who loves us, guiding us through life, protecting and supporting us!
In my life I have had many different images of God. From the old, bearded man on a throne of my childhood years to the ‘sin counter God’ keeping watch on the door of heaven, making sure only a select few got in I held as true in my teenage years and beyond. I have had other images of God too. This is important stuff. The image of God you have is the image of God you give to the world. I often think that those people who spew hate and intolerance in the name of religion must have a very angry, punitive image of God.
In my reflection time today I give great thanks for my granda. I give thanks for the love he had for all of us. I give thanks for the experience of growing up under his wing. And I also give thanks for the lovely image of God he has given me to contemplate- a God who walks the path with us, hand firmly on our shoulder, guiding us and protecting us.
I can look back over the landscape of my life and see examples of where God had been with me. I know looking back, that there have been times when I felt the gentle but firm hand of God guiding me. I also know that there have been times that I have ignored that guiding hand and walked my own path, as is my right- free will and all that. I can see that when I did, though, things didn’t turn out so well.
Let us pray.
We pray for grandparents.
We pray for the ability to develop a true image of God
We pray for direction when we need it.
And we pray for the ability to feel the hand of God on our shoulder and the humility to heed its guidance.
Happy birthday granda Webb.