In the Second World War famous poems were used to encrypt messages supporting resistance agents in occupied Europe for the secret Special Operations Executive. However this was found to be insecure because enemy cryptanalysts were able to locate the original from published sources.
Leo Marks, an English writer and cryptographer who headed the codes office for the SOE countered this by using his own written poems. One of his most famous creations was first composed by him on Christmas Eve 1943 in memory of his girlfriend Ruth who had just died in a plane crash in Canada. Three months later, in 1944, he gave the poem as a code to Violette Szabo, a British agent of the SOE who was eventually captured, tortured and killed by the Nazis.
The poem was made famous by its inclusion in the 1958 film about Szabo, Carve Her Name with Pride, starring Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch. (Marks allowed it to be used in the film if its author was kept secret.)
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
Mindful that it was written originally in memory of his girlfriend who had just died, the poem stands out for its pledging of total love by one person for another despite their separation by death. It’s a pledging of a love to continue beyond death.
The poem always comes to mind when I hear Jesus in today’s Gospel speaking about the closeness of his relationship with the Father. He says more or less the same thing as in the poem when he prays before his death to God the Father:
All is have is yours and all you have is mine.
I know some of you will think me too idealistic here but isn’t this the same commitment that people setting out in a marriage or a long-term relationship make to each other? … all I have is yours and all you have is mine?
Jesus speaks these words in prayer at the Last Supper, shortly before being arrested, and within the earshot of his disciples. Initially, he prays for himself and what awaits him in the ‘hour’ of his death and resurrection. Then he goes on to pray for the disciples with him and for future generations of believers, people like us.
In our reading today (John 17:1-11) Jesus asks God to draw us into the close relationship he has with the Father: ‘may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you’.
(Again, you may think me too idealistic when I say this plea of Jesus to the Father also expresses the hope parents might have for their relationship with their children:
‘may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you’.
In this relationship with him and God the Father, Jesus promises elsewhere that people will experience a ‘joy’ not found elsewhere. This is not a happy-clappy or transient thing but, rather, the long-lasting contentment and peace of knowing that I – in spite of all my limitations and past errors – am loved eternally by God. .
Whoever and wherever you are taking part in this Mass today, may you know that however much you may have screwed up in life or even messed up the life of another, whatever your past sins and failings, in your relationship with Jesus you are loved as much by him as he is loved by the Father.
So hear those words of Leo Marks again – which you can address to another person – or you can hear Christ speaking directly to you …
Holy Name, Jesmond
24 May 2020