Carved Heads, Hard Memories

Wandering about an old English church or cathedral, one may encounter strange carvings. Medieval masons left playful and humorous examples of their skill, outliving them by centuries. Why they went to such trouble I cannot say; upon what or whom their works were based, I cannot tell. Lincoln Cathedral is awash with such things; little heads and bodies cheekily grinning at worshippers and tourists alike. I suspect some are based on persons known and liked by the mason. 


Others were perhaps known by him but disliked.


Still others are ridiculed for their foolishness or deviant sexual conduct.


Others appear rather more serious, telling tales of men fighting terrible lizards.

Whoever they were, they are now frozen in time; the mason’s little joke or idea is calcified and unmoving. In a sense, we carve our memories of people and forever display them in our heads. The playground bully remains the bully; our charming childhood friend will ever be so. The kindly teacher, helpful policeman, angry farmer, nosy neighbour: the folk we encounter we preserve in our memory banks. Most of us recall our grandparents as old and kindly, but once they were youthful and cocky. The bitter old man who lives down the road was once pleasant and care-free. The weeping woman who never smiles used to be happily married. Our knowledge of people is so limited to outward appearance or snapshots of particular moments. We can vividly remember the time someone lost their temper or offered a nasty word, but those many occasions of gentleness and sobriety we cannot recall. The God of Psalm 139 knows His creations well. We are not frozen, one-dimensional caricatures to Him, nor -because of Christ- does He dwell on our failings and imperfections 

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

Psalm 139