12 November 2021

Connectivity of History
by Matthew Betts

“The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another...” - GM Trevelyan

The eminent historian GM Trevelyan reminds us that our ancestors were just like you and I: and we are all connected by genetics and history. We are particularly reminded of the connectivity of history when we consider that we commemorated the fallen of the various wars yesterday. My children came home after school and asked me about their ancestors who had been in the two world wars, and I was able to tell them about their ancestors and family members. They were particularly interested in their great grandfather, John Saunders who never came home. He died on a minesweeper of peritonitis, which if left untreated, is life threatening. He was fighting a war, so they couldn’t get him home and he died in service. 

Those sacrifices made by that generation are still remembered by a boy and girl who were born 100 years after the First World War began. Connectivity of history. Here’s another example of that…

In the letters page of The Times in 1910 a Mr Cocks wrote:

“..my father (as a boy) knew an (old) gentleman, who (as a boy) had danced with an (old) lady who (as a little girl) had danced with Charles II. There were therefore only two lives between my father (born 1815, died 1899) and Charles II..”

In answer to this letter another one arrived at the newspaper on 23 July 1910 from Mr Richard Hollick:

” ..thought my father’s case would be interesting…Mr Francis Hollick of Birmingham, is still alive, and has a birth certificate for his father, who was born in 1750, so that the two lives extend over seven reigns, including the two “record” ones of George III and Victoria..”

Another reply came into The Times on 25 July 1910 from Reverend Daniel Radford, who wrote:

“I do not know whether but dare say there are many family instances like my own, but on this subject it may be of some interest to mention that my great-grandfather was born in the reign of Charles II. If this saviour of antiquity is partly explained by my being more than half-through my 83rd year, the youngest child but one of my father, who had ten children, and who himself the youngest but one of 25 children by the younger of two wives…”

I discussed this connectivity of history with my children yesterday. I explained that I knew my grandparents who were around during the second world war; and when I was born my great grandmother was still alive, and she had been born in 1895. In this way, I had managed to show them the connectivity of history - two centuries worth and only three generations of family. They were amazed to discover that I had once known people who were alive when Queen Victoria reigned. 

I believe that right here, right now, we are in one of those moments of historical connectivity. First, this Pandemic will never be forgotten by anyone alive right now. Indeed, I am still recovering from catching COVID-19 and even with a vaccine, it’s not very pleasant. I already knew that with all the lockdowns and changes to life, I would never forget these two years but catching it was the ‘cherry on the cake’, but a slightly acidic one!

However, secondly and I believe more importantly, we are at a moment where we must make changes to what we are doing to God’s creation. This historical connectivity again – an industrial revolution which was an amazing time of achievements has led us to this point where the human race selfishly carries on destroying everything so that it can progress further. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way, and we can't keep doing it this way.  Now for future generations we must change our way of thinking and fix the problems. Like when we commemorate those people who sacrificed so much in two world wars and beyond – this is a moment in history where we might one day commemorate those people who pushed for a change in how the human race cares for God's creation.

Human beings are part of, not separate from the natural world. Human survival and mental health and personal fulfilment historically depended upon establishing a wholesome relationship with the natural world..” ― Kilroy J. Oldster

At COP26, Sir David Attenborough summed up this historical connectivity perfectly, because of our need now to fix the world for future generations: “Today those who have done the least to cause this problem are among those to be hardest hit. Ultimately, all of us will feel the impact, some of which is unavoidable. Is this how our story is due to end? A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals?

Let us pray that this is not the case and COP26 can produce some real goals and meaning – that we can save God’s creation and provide for future generations – just like all our ancestors had strived to do in other ways. We now enjoy creature comforts because of their sacrifices. Can we sacrifice some of our creature comforts (walking instead of driving is one small exapmple) to protect the future? The children are watching and will judge us if we don’t get this sorted.

All powerful God,
you are present in the universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with your peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle,
for justice, love and peace.

'Prayer for our Earth' which was originally published in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.

•    Thanks to The Times Archive and “The Second Cuckoo”.
•    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/01/david-attenborough-urges-leaders-at-cop26-to-be-motivated-by-hope-not-fear


Matt is the Development Manager at the Shrine of Saint Jude.



Image credit:Fredrik Boberg (IStockPhoto .com)