Tuesday 14th July 2020
Thank you for your letter, the first part of which had an upbeat tone, even before I reached the paragraph referring to the supposedly more upbeat tempo of certain music recently broadcast. I had not noticed that detail in such programmes, but I think I understood the implication of your proposition that it could be another positive. Since last week I have resumed my usual attention to events, research reports, opinions and downright propaganda, so any increase in beats per minute was not musical. If I write anything which suggests that there could be steam escaping from my ears, then please read it with compassion.
I must point out that I am only familiar with the expression, 'red sky at night, shepherd's delight' but your mention of the other kind, angel delight, was sufficient to make me pull a face; even now, too - it was so sweet that I probably only tried it once. As for the skyscape you witnessed, I recently heard a meteorologist's description of various cloud formations and what you portrayed sounds like noctilucent cloud - I wonder if that's what you saw. I am glad that the blackbird's leg seems to have improved, but assuming you had not put a dot of tipp-ex on it as a marker, I'm not sure how you know that it's the same bird, rather than another victim that got away. A few weeks ago, I did not rate its prospects highly, but it's good news because I never like to see injured animals. I do not know much about sheep either, except that they tend to follow each other, which you know is not a characteristic that I generally seek out. However, when sheep were regularly being chased by packs of wolves, I am sure that sticking together was the best strategy.
Even the rescue of that sheep was good to read, compared with the piece about government and church guidelines, not to mention the familiar term 'mitigations'. When reading about the updating of guidelines only just circulated, I confess to an audible sigh and others followed before the end of that paragraph! There are many people to consider and many issues, especially in your role(s). I liked the humour of the person who noted the contents of the hand gel, but when some people are terrified at the prospect of gathering together, then they deserve much attention. I know many who worry a lot and the effects are very real. If somebody is terrified, or something similar, then it can have a hold, maybe as strong as a vice around the sheep's leg. Some think that doses of reassurance are required, but I wonder if an honest expression of our concerns is more beneficial; they certainly need to be taken seriously, as you obviously do. However, if a chapel is locked and closed, there can be no gathering inside; if it is opened, some will want to come in and, gradually perhaps, others who hesitate today or for weeks, may find inner confidence.
I sensed previously that you had reservations about the return to whatever kind of normal it will be. As an interjectory remark, I first read your sentence as 'I do have deep reservations on the speed society' and I stopped there, thinking, what's the speed society? You have probably deduced that, by contrast, my reflections have led to somewhat different conclusions. From early on, I formed the view that one objective was to frighten us into obedience and later, the predictions that it might be difficult to persuade us all to come out again, now seem to be proving accurate. The need to reassure everybody seems to underlie the latest instruction on masks. Months ago I predicted future face mask fashion, so here we go! One Sunday morning some weeks back, when partial easing of restrictions was imminent, a man was planning a visit to a hospital for a routine appointment, previously postponed. The fact that he was looking forward to this as an outing, told me everything I needed to know. He went on to choose to hear the theme tune of The Great Escape! On the subject of film music, the death of Ennio Morricone last week, reminded me of his impressive music for that wonderful film, The Mission. If I had to choose a film soundtrack, it would either be The Mission or the theme of Schindler's List, even though the latter is so melancholy, as I always remember some of the scenes from the film, particularly the little girl in the red coat.
In your previous letter you commented on the lasting effects of the 1918 flu pandemic and it reflected a virologist's remarks at least 2 months previously. He suggested that for known viruses, the negative effects tend to weaken by mutation, as they spread through the population; after all, these viruses need a live host. I think I have also heard that some studies have already revealed considerable mutation of this Covid-19, but I don't know if the effects of each are known. Another referred to the 1968 flu outbreak and I think it also occasioned a high number of deaths, especially considering what proportion of the total population these represented, compared with now. Most recently I listened to a researcher explaining her work on antibodies and T-cell activity, which awaited peer review, but if replicated in the population at large, it is good protection. Whenever a particular area is reported to have a high number of new infections, I ask if that is because more tests than usual were undertaken there - if no tests occurred previously, the starting number recorded had to be zero. The main question is how ill are the ones who tested positive? In most news reports we hear none of this, but a vaccine may not be found and we may have to live with this virus. With that in mind, I want it to weaken among those least at risk of serious effects; then everybody will be safer. Or am I naive? Perhaps because of watching an old film on Friday evening, the words of the main character are fresh in my mind and linked to recent conditions, "Why do we get all this life if we don't ever use it?"
The subject of your message on Sunday, the parable of the sower, is one that I particularly like. I won't say which parable leaves me uncomfortable with what we are meant to conclude - I simply feel sorry for the man who seemed to be unfairly chastised, so you can probably guess which parable. Your particular exposition of the texts and the way you expanded on them, including the Sower, appealed to me greatly. It was truly informative and demanding of reflection. Reference to the neglected plant and 'there is no coming back from this', turned my mind to the asparagus fern we found on the bathroom window sill when we moved into our present home. It was yellow and dropping bits all over the tiles, so somebody thought we should throw it out. I wondered if it could be rescued and we still have it today - it's green and healthy, by the way. Your four bullet points concerning the harvest looked fairly bleak, so the paragraph which followed was heartening and in line with my thoughts.
You may remember at the beginning of this series of letters, I spoke of Mary's pink violets which I planted where I wanted them. Over time, the seeds spread a considerable distance with the plants establishing themselves in a more suitable location. If the occasional pigeon did not strut around, picking off the seeds from the dried pods, there would be even more plants. We all know that for a productive vegetable patch, the soil needs enrichment, yet some plants thrive better in poorer conditions. We visited one garden, open to the public, which had some tall, ornamental plants that seemed to be growing out of dust and gravel. Then, following some road widening schemes, we see that a display of poppies has appeared on an unpromising bank by the wayside. Thus, with God as the Sower, I wonder if He scatters different kinds of seeds, depending on the soil. It is true that the harvest may not be great with three of the options, but could it be that even then, we can make a worthwhile contribution, just as intended? Progressing to further enrichment is even better. Is there any merit in such thinking?
With the return of the horticultural theme, I must tell you that our buddleia is in full bloom. On Saturday morning I was observing numerous butterflies settling on it in the sunshine, but thought that I ought not to venture outside in case I caused another flap. Your humorous remarks on this subject will remain in my memory. However, I think butterflies have often been seen as symbols of heaven, so what association could be better for God's messenger?
Until next time,