ANZAC Day is arguably the most spiritual day of the year.
For many Australians, listening to a bugle call during a dawn service will be their most spiritual experience. The dew underfoot. The huddle of community. The warming rum. The dark. And the long unwavering notes of The Last Post that peal into the reverent air.
We stand there in the throng and remember the savagery of war, the sacrifice for our freedom and the scars our country bears, acknowledged on the breasts of generation after generation.
It’s a church service for war, sacrifice and tragedy.
What I love are the stories that surface of men and women of faith who served our country. As they served, God served their needs – in the trenches, on hospital stretchers, in their darkest hours.
This year The Bible Society has released a book and website that tells profound true stories of service men and women who relied on God through the grisly bits. They all died – some during and some after the respective battles. Most were not saved the torturous details of war. But all found comfort and hope in the pages of their Bibles.
Some more literally than others.
Lance Corporal P.J. Davies was digging and laying telephone cables in Belgium near the German border in 1917 when two large shells exploded nearby. One of his fellow soldiers was killed, two were wounded and Lance Corporal Davies suffered severe shrapnel wounds to the back of his legs and arms.
He was transported to a London hospital for surgery.
When the 20-year-old reached for his Bible the next morning, he found it in the usual place: the top, left-hand pocket of his tunic. But its shape was altered somewhat, caved-in and distorted. When he opened the small New Testament volume, he discovered a piece of shrapnel buried in its pages.
A surgeon standing at the soldier’s bedside said, “You’ve been saved by that New Testament! If the stiff back cover hadn’t stopped the shrapnel, it would have entered your heart.”
The shrapnel stopped not far from Ephesians Chapter 6:16-17, which reads:
“Above all taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
Boom. What a story, huh?
Lance Corporal Davies died in 1972, but his son Richard, now 92 years old, still has that Bible and has lent it to the Bible Society as part of the organisation’s 2015 exhibition.
Not all Bibles will save their owners in such an illustrious way.
But as the Ephesians verse that stood up to the blast shrapnel says, evil does not have the last say. All the “fiery darts of the wicked” – whether they are tangible weapons or darts of malice and hatred – have no place in the flesh of faith.
I know that many an Aussie digger took refuge in the knowledge that his or her body could be riddled with the bullets of the enemy, but nothing could separate them from the love of God.
The enemy could separate them from the world, but not from God.
As I read these moving stories of bravery, it seems their reality couldn’t be further removed from my own. Yet their legacy speaks a simple truth.
Sometimes it takes a war, a time of intense hardship, to open our eyes to God’s presence.
But it doesn’t have to – God is all around us, he doesn’t wear camouflage!
During the dawn service on Saturday when you feel your spirit heave and your spine prickle, I hope you’ll open your heart to the possibility that God can help you through your modern-day wars too.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday April 20, 2015.