Posted by: Jennie Pollock | July 28, 2012

O Thou Who Changest Not

This cartoon by Jason Ramasami perfectly captures the heart of this post. (Click the image to visit his website)

Did you watch that? Last night, the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. Did you watch?

It was incredible, amazing, superb, outstanding.

It was the most fantastic outpouring of British creativity, humour, pride and joy.

It made me cry, at several moments. This is the land I love. This is my home. This, warts and all, is part of me.

And it was ‘warts and all’. There wasn’t so much a thread of sadness running through it, but a great, wide river of sadness. The ‘green and pleasant land’ filled with children dancing and men playing cricket was ripped away to reveal a dark, menacing, industrial landscape. Though Brunel (Kenneth Branagh) gazed on it with pride and hope, and though it was part of forging Britain’s greatness, the point was not lost that it cost many their livelihoods and changed us all forever.

The joyous celebration of our literary heritage was also a celebration of the NHS and a famous children’s hospital – and thus also a reminder of disease and suffering. Even the description of Neverland read by JK Rowling emphasised its threatening dark shadows rather than its joyous possibilities and magical beauty.

There was a memorial to the World Wars, and a moment to remember the loved ones of many in the stadium who have passed away, and there was Mohammed Ali.

The voiceover said he was there to represent strength and determination, but actually what he represented to me was the decay of greatness. This man who had been feted, idolised and adored, who had been at the very top of his field could no longer stand unaided, could not reach out to touch the proffered Olympic flag, could not even respond to his wife’s repeated instruction, “Wave, Mohammed, wave.”

In his programme notes, Danny Boyle, the creative genius behind the spectacular show, said that the ‘golden thread of purpose’ running through it all was the “belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.” Yet what his own ceremony showed was that despite all the progress we have made, we are still dogged by decay at every turn. Everything continues to change. We’re no longer world leaders in industry. Mohammed Ali can no longer float like a butterfly. Paul McCartney can no longer sing. The things and the people we love pass away and we are powerless to prevent it.

Neither the Queen, James Bond or our 541 Olympic athletes can deliver the future he longs for.

Yet all is not lost, for in the midst of the ceremony came a hymn. A hymn which pointed every man, woman and child who cared to listen in the direction of the One who can deliver this dream, who has promised to do so and who has opened the offer to all who choose to accept it.

The hymn was ‘Abide with Me’, sung in full to a hushed stadium, accompanied by a flowing and beautiful dance. I can think of little that would better answer the yearning expressed through this opening ceremony than this hymn and, in particular, this verse:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Danny Boyle, well done. You created a ceremony to make your nation proud. Your creativity, style and humour shone through and reminded us of the many reasons we have to celebrate this country. And above all you – albeit unwittingly – pointed us to the only One who can make sense of it all, sustain us in life and renew us in death.

Well done.


Responses

  1. I hadn’t read the opening ceremony the way you did, but now you have so persuasively described the message you saw in it, I am looking at it in a different way.

    • Thanks Adam. That’s about the most encouraging thing you could ever say to a writer!! You’ve made a great weekend even better. 🙂

  2. Incredible piece, Jen!

  3. I was moved to tears during the opening ceremony, and now again, reading this. Beautifully clarified and elegantly expressed, Jennie.

    • Now I’m almost in tears reading all your comments in different places. Thank you – it really means a lot.

  4. That’s a super review of the Ceremony. You’ve summed up the event & more importantly, God and the gospel well in it. Thank you!

    • Thank you Ben, much appreciated.

  5. I thought I had nothing to add, so I added nothing. Just now, however, a thought dared to cross my mind. At the end of all things The King will hear ‘the Spirit and the bride say “Come” ‘. He will descend from the sky and men and women of all nations will gather before Him.

    That is how the opening ceremony culminated. When everything was in place the one who had been sent thoughout the world on behalf of the monarch delivered the message that it was time. She then descended from the sky and, having taken her rightful place, people of all nations assembled before her. The flames that they had carried through the world, through wind, rain, and sunny days, were all gloriously united as one – while those who had declared themselves to be the greatest were left speechless and immobile.

    The picture of the new Jerusalem was complete.

    • Wow, very profound. Thanks dad!

  6. […] This is a fantastic summary by a Christian lady, there’s nothing more to add. Well worth a read. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  7. I wish I’d written this! Beautifully said, Jennie – thank you.

    • Wow, that’s quite the compliment! Thank you.

  8. Saw this shared on facebook- so pleased that I stopped to read it. All very true- well done and thank you for sharing such insight

  9. I was SO upset that NBC cut that portion of the ceremony. Terrible choice given that they had the time but chose to run an interview instead.

    • Yes, I heard they did that. Why do you think it was? Too religious? I wouldn’t have thought so. Too politically sensitive?

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • They claim they didn’t know what it represented, which I’d normally be disinclined to believe but:

      1) A lot of people who aren’t English were baffled by a lot of it
      2) The London bombings were such a sensitive issue particularly as they were seen as a follow-up to 9/11 that I don’t think they would have skipped it if they has realized!

      • Oh, and Jen… Ang England is super awesome… and not just because of her last name! 🙂

        • It IS an awesome name. nice to ‘meet’ you Ang. Do you two know each other on real life or just through the blogosphere?

          • We have met at least twice… at Type-A.

            I’m not sure, Ang might have been at blog world last November VERY pregnant… but I have a terrible memory.

      • There were lots of bits that were far more baffling than that, though. The whole section with the pop music and a guy finding someone’s phone and somehow managing to text her to let her know, for a start!

        I’d have thought that a lovely dance to a hymn was one bit that pretty much everyone could appreciate.

  10. i have never liked the beatles and I’ve never really liked Hey Jude but i thought Paul McCartney sounded amazing – if it didn’t sound good to you i think it’s time to buy a new TV set! also, im pretty sure that was Mohammed Ali’s nurse, not his wife – check your facts, otherwise it undermines the credibility of your entire work. Other than that, and excellent and insightful piece – thankyou.

    • Thanks James. We’ll have to agree to disagree on Paul McCartney, I think – though I admit my TV is tending to decay itself, so maybe it was just exhausted by the long night!

      My sources say Ali “was supported by his wife, Lonnie”. I’m only getting that from the Daily Mail, but a google image search for his wife brings back the same face, so I’m pretty confident of the truth of that one.

      Always good to check, though.

      Thanks for stopping by and for complimenting the essence even though you disagree with some of the detail!

  11. Your brother sent me here. (Okay, not me specifically. Anyway.)

    I’m glad he did. Beautiful analysis. thanks.

    • Thanks very much, Sheila – and thanks Peter for being the best publicist a sister could wish for!

  12. Wonderful way with words, Jennie! Thank you:)!

    • Thanks Gail! Much appreciated.

  13. Perhaps “Paul McCartney can no longer sing with his fellow Beatles” might have been kinder (and more poignant?)!

    Great article on a great spectacle – God bless you and those you touch with your writing.

    • Yes, you’re right, that would have been better. Thanks for your input, and your encouragement.

  14. […] want to take an axe to the root of the jealousy when a beautifully crafted and impeccably timed post goes viral. I want to disconnect my worth from the attention I […]

  15. “Mohammed Ali can no longer float like a butterfly. Paul McCartney can no longer sing.”

    To equate Mohammed Ali’s devastating and debilitating illness to Paul McCartney missing a few notes is not good.

    • Thanks John, you’re right, Ali’s condition is far more serious than the decline of a man’s career. I apologise for any offence caused to sufferers of this terrible disease, or their hard-working and dedicated families and carers.

  16. […] Jennie Pollock on the One who changest not […]

  17. […] Thou Who Changest Not […]

    • Thanks for the mention, Dan!

  18. Jen, cracking post on the Opening Ceremony that I caught via LICC. You have a God-given talent in the way you express yourself. I should know as I really value crisp, thought-provoking journalism. The ceremony was, as one pundit commentated, ‘bold, British and bonkers’. Recommended read: ‘Among the Hoods: My Years with a teenage gang’, by Harriet Sergeant. I’m reading it and quietly weeping at the underclass of black, poor, young this country has spawned, but trying to figure out how God’s people can respond.

    • Wow, thanks so much, Rob, really appreciate that! I’ll look out for that book, sounds interesting. Yes, ‘bonkers’ was the adjective I most frequently heard used to describe the ceremony – very apt!

  19. Jennie, I left the UK in 1978 and now lead the secondary in a British school in Madrid. The ceremony was a emotional time for me, educated in British schools and university, and teaching for a few years in the UK before coming to Spain. I was surrounded by Spanish family and friends, even my children, who did not really capture the pointers to so many things which make up what has up to now been an English heritage. But what struck me most was the inclusion, in our ‘post-modern’ Britain, of clear references, through some of the older music, to spiritual roots – not only with Abide with me’ but also, for instance, the children’s song, I recollect. We can try to ignore it, but the evangelical roots of our British culture are deeply embedded. Let’s see for how long!

    • Thanks Michael, I suspect many ‘ex-pats’ feel like you. Yes, one reason I think it’s good to celebrate these Cristian reference points is to help push back against the tide that seeks to sweep them away. Long may they continue!

  20. […] seem to be getting a glimpse or foretaste of just how good life and community can be at its best! Jenny Pollock’s brilliant piece of writing also put a lot into perspective for […]

  21. […] post also appears on my other blog, but I thought it was worth reproducing here in […]

  22. Hi there and thanks for this piece which I came across via LICC’s email. I was just wondering though about the final paragraph, and whether Danny Boyle’s pointing to God was actually unwitting or not bearing in mind his background? Thank you again and have to agree that the word I most often heard used to describe it all was “Bonkers”! Linda

    • Thanks , Linda. My understanding is that Danny Boyle has no personal faith, so from that I assume he had no particular agenda to point people to God. I have since been informed, however, that the ceremony was scripted by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who is a man of faith so may well have intended to direct our thoughts towards God. I guess we can never be sure. Thanks for your feedback.


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