Tuesday 16th June 2020
Thank you for your letter and I am so glad that you began with a description of nature in your garden, perfectly portraying what you observed. You did not mention the lily, though, and whether it had withstood the wind. As with the parables, I was picturing the scene. I don't know if it was sunny that day, but in such conditions, the magpie's feathers glow with multiple colours. a wonderful iridescence on an apparently plain bird. Yes, the cat is adept at stealth, making it a successful predator, but that Mr Tufty is fed at home, so my sympathy is with the meanest sparrow. Blackbirds have an effective alarm call to alert the unwary, but one such bird in our garden had lost its tail feathers, so had not been alert enough. In view of all the recent events, my thoughts and feelings seem to be in a complete tangle. You quite rightly mention the hardships that have come about because of the virus and other illnesses when combined with lockdown. Yet, I suppose our individual outlooks are tempered by past experiences and future hopes, including where exactly we feel we are on our journey of life. For me personally, I have not felt afraid due to the virus. The events and instability in recent weeks are much more disturbing in my eyes. One of the hymns which I rarely hear, does sometimes knock Dear Lord and Father off my number one spot: It begins 'You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst'. A reference to the beatitudes is included and the refrain, 'Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come, follow me and I will give you rest'.
When I read your reference to 'good people', I wondered how I could have used that term because I believe that each of us is a mixture of good and bad, perhaps in differing proportions, and maybe, either shaken or stirred. However, I quickly realised that you were thinking of the book title that I had mentioned. The context was polarisation of opinion, so my thought is that the author is challenging the notion that a group with one set of ideas is good, while the people who oppose it are bad. I may be mistaken, but hope that he has started with the assumption that both sets are good, so that he can focus on the merits of the arguments expressed and what may be causing division. It seems a constructive approach.
Over many years I have heard the rector, Giles Fraser, in discussion with others and although I have not always agreed with him, nor liked his style, I still wanted to hear his perspective. A few years ago I felt that I was hearing a softer side and that was also true of my attitude towards him. He had recovered from major surgery earlier that year, I think, and the broadcast was a conversation between himself and his surgeon. He stated that this man had literally held his heart in his hands. Life changing events do affect how we see everything and it links with your comments on reality. He has written many articles in recent months and this past week, for the first time, I discovered a long list of them in one church journal: Some titles seemed to leap off the page as those to be read first and although written almost a decade ago, it could have been yesterday in terms of relevance. He spoke of the need for honesty and trust in discourse, even suggesting some benefit in 'a good row'. He has insight, although in my view, rows produce too much heat, as well as grounds for future regret. Your consideration of gentleness shows a keen awareness that in its absence lies 'a real danger of appearing' harsh or whatever else. That phrase also suggests to me that somebody is interpreting the words or actions at the same time. In that case, the second person could benefit from looking at what lies within the self, considering if there could be a misinterpretation and then taking responsibility for any reactions chosen. I suppose we are back to the mending of torn relationships, if they ever existed.
There was a certain irony that a few weeks ago some police officers were confronting individuals who were sitting on the grass, alone in a vast space, sending them home and possibly issuing fines. Yet, more recently, hundreds gathered in our cities, while some officers were kneeling before them. Maybe they fear the actions of certain crowds, as do I, even if the outcomes are sometimes peaceful. Concerts, large outdoor faith gatherings and some sporting events, for example, appear to be uplifting times of pleasure, but I am thinking of other recent images on our screens. People speak of mindless crowds, but it looks to me as if the crowd has a mind of its own, while some actions which ensue appear senseless. Presumably, when in the middle of so many people, it is difficult to have an overview, but looking from the outside, there seem to be surges of synchronised movement. Unfortunately, these collective behaviours lack the beauty and grace of a vast shoal of fish, twisting and turning in the ocean, or of a murmuration of starlings which can halt us in our tracks as they swoop and turn, preparing to roost. Just over a week ago, watching the images of a statue being torn down, I remembered a similar scene in Baghdad - stamping on it or beating with a shoe are similar actions. Whatever the hopes and expectations in Iraq on 9 April 2003, I have no sense yet that they are nearing a safer, better life. Happily there have been some examples of kindness in resisting the force of the crowd.
Even in small groups, many studies have demonstrated how readily individuals conform to those around them. As individuals we are involved in organisations, or at least are in contact with their employees, and many of us know the pressures exerted within the workplace. As far as I can discern, individuals from many different backgrounds across the whole country, have encountered injustice from well known establishments. Any individual who tries to challenge such bodies will pay a high price, not least emotionally, sometimes with the loss of life. I suppose that whatever our roles as individuals, the only place we can start to improve matters is by aiming to follow the standards that we have set for ourselves, following the line that matches our true beliefs. Somebody once suggested that we should bloom where we have been planted.
Your idea of returning to the garden is apt. Currently, the main plants flowering in ours are roses, honeysuckle, perennial geraniums and several plants with spiky flowerheads serving as exclamation marks. However, there is a particular disaster zone since the heavy rain. You probably know the spherical shape of cotton lavender plants - ours are a lemon colour, rather than yellow - with numerous flower stems. We also have a similar shaped plant sold as lotus, but we have never seen it for sale since. This is not the aquatic plant, known for its symbolic significance in some eastern countries, but as far as we can tell, is in the same family as lotus corniculatus, otherwise known as 'birds-foot trefoil' which sounds less appealing. Ours has velvety blue-green foliage and off-white flowerheads, tinged with pink on the edges and whose form resembles clover. Every year it seems that we have a downpour just as the multiple, fine flower stems are ready on both these varieties, so even after shaking off the weight of water, they are never the same. They have that bad haircut look, or these days, the tousled, no haircut appearance! The lotus seeds itself profusely, but any large plant rarely survives being moved because it relies on a long tap-root - yes, we need such a root, too.
Whatever changes you may be making in your circuit, I wonder if you came across the question in Parliament yesterday from an MP's constituent. He raised the issue that shops and zoos could open, but not churches for collective worship. He continued that presumably he could hold a barbecue with five others in the church grounds, but if they said prayers, they could get busted! - Was that so? The terminology amused me, but I hope you will not be offended. The answer was that they could have a long grace!
Wishing you happiness at the weekend with some family time.