Baked mud: tiled floor in “Auditoire de Calvin”, Geneva (Photo: Irene Bom)
Faith and Love in the First World War by Anne Richards and the Church of England’s Mission Theology Advisory Group is a compilation of reflections and prayers, “looking at little things which affected the lives of all who were involved [in the First World War], friend and enemy alike.”
Themes included: mud, rats, lice, poppies, cigarettes, daughters, ghosts, guns, wire, gas, shrapnel
Excerpts and a prayer from the entry on MUD:
When we repeat the lines from Laurence Binyon’s famous poem … ‘at the going down of the sun and in the morning/we will remember them’ … we should remember the pain, cold, wet and mud and what those conditions do to the human spirit. Mud forms part of the spiritual landscape of the First World War, representing destruction, dirt, pain and soul-sapping work. When carefully tilled fields and entire landscapes turn to featureless mud it is like the undoing of creation and a foretelling of death.
It was possible to drown in the mud of no-man’s land. If wounded soldiers fell into the mud, they might well asphyxiate before they could be reached. Mud was therefore also the enemy, lying in wait to claim you. Yet mud was also what kept you safe in the trenches …
So if we ‘will remember them’ we should remember what it is like to live on the edge of life and death in the mud, the soil of God’s good creation, sheltering you, but also ready at a moment’s notice to become your tomb, to turn you, wet and dirty, back into the mud itself.
God of the earth, God of dirt and mud,
at the going down of the sun and in the morning,
we will remember all those who endured
the cold, clinging wet and fluid soils.
We will remember the tilled fields once white for harvest,
the stands of trees, smashed to pieces,
the landscapes of human toil and habitation,
reduced to ruin, the spoil heaps of waste.
We will remember the mud-sounds of war,
the buzzing of bees that are bullets, zinging into soil,
the wet explosions, fountain splatters of earth,
the strange sucking and gurgle of submerged deaths.
God of the earth, God of the lost and buried,
help us to value your good soil, to tend it, plant it,
restore what is broken and ruined to its beauty,
and when we wash the dirt from our hands, remember them.
From the blog
In the school of prayer with St Francis of Assisi
The wells of salvation