Tuesday 21st July 2020

Dear Mark


Thank you for your letter which, once again, set me thinking and I shall begin with your starting comments. I have no reason to doubt anything you say, even when it relates to me, but I do wonder how such a conclusion was reached. To respond to your perceptions, though, I'll just say, "Who? Me? In deep water? Oh, my word!" You will understand that in this context, it seems relevant to mention another insightful poem; Stevie Smith's 'Not Waving but Drowning.' If you are there in the shallows and see a sign of any kind from my hand, I can be sure that you will contact the ultimate Life Guard. If you have perceived the intended meaning in my closing lines last time, you will know that the butterflies are well and maybe that bat suggests how the messenger is also there for anyone who might be seen as a goner.


In mid-May one Sunday Worship radio programme had the theme, The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and each gift was considered in turn. It was a lovely emission, full of meaning. For the gift of counsel, the priest told the story of his encounter with a bat while staying at a mission station somewhere in South Africa. It was large, hanging from the curtain and he was reluctant to sleep while it remained in his room. He captured it in a bucket, went outside and threw it into the air, but it plummeted to the ground. I learned that bats hang upside down in order to take flight from the initial downward movement. I did not fully understand how it had not sensed and responded to its sudden descent, but the priest felt that his own fear had killed the animal. The essence of the tale was that his emotions had blocked out what he already knew. His heart had not been open to the truth of the Spirit. In his haste, he had failed to discern the counsel of the Holy Spirit which is necessary for our human decisions.


Continuing with the zoology, rather than botany: Last week, literally when I was first considering your previous letter, particularly the ensnared sheep, my attention was interrupted by the writing on the side of a vehicle. I thought it said 'goat' in block capitals, so you can imagine how my reflections progressed. If intended for me, it was not a message I wanted! There was just time to look again and, in fact, the writing read, 'GO4IT'. Your recent letter, therefore, with one particular reference included, served to re-focus my attention on the Good Shepherd. The idea of a shepherd, no matter what he is doing, has a warm feel to it, as does the parable of the lost sheep, but I have to put in a word for the goats, too. Although I no longer recall the location of the scene, we once watched a documentary in which wild goats were risking life and limb to skip along the nearly vertical barrier wall of a dam, in order to obtain some kind of nutrient - possibly they were licking the salts, rather than nibbling the sparse vegetation to be found there. That behaviour is definitely not mine, even if the wall is solid. It is just possible that the message for me was exactly as written, 'Go for it!' It's true that I'm straining at the leash, even though I did not spend too much time last week considering government proclamations.


My restraint was tested, and it lapsed, due to the announcement sometime on Friday, that a kind of normality might be expected by November, also stating something about Christmas. On the instant of hearing that, a certain woman replied with sarcasm, "Oh, Christmas is allowed. It hasn't been cancelled!" Now your letter prompts me to add that from my perspective, your feeling, rather than your logic, is most accurate when considering the 'changing guidance' and any foundation thereof. Your thoughts about vaccine research, distribution, espionage and the like, lead me to conclude that we are far from realising such objectives and I suspect that we know so little to be able to form a reasoned assessment. Yes, even without the head of steam, the effects of music and other pleasures and consolations - some still denied - are beneficial. I must avoid counting how many times the word 'allowed' is employed!


The subject of various worship services and your own Sunday message, Psalm 139, is another text to which I have always been particularly drawn. The significant detail is probably the sense of being known, really known, and for me it ties in with my attachment to the last two verses of Romans 8, to which I have previously referred. I suppose we all have a different image of God and Christ. Some passages in the Bible speak of fearing God and the context is always significant. However, even with that in mind, and without meaning to be insubordinate, the mention of God and Christ, always suggests to me, a trustworthy friend; Supreme Friends. Yet all words are inadequate really and immediately I have to mention Our Father which, in itself, does not quite fit the friend concept. Clearly, my initial description fails, but the sense that we have within tells us what we need to know. Not long ago, but during this pandemic period, somebody repeated what his grandmother had said. Although the context was completely different, she had told him that too much thinking was stopping him from knowing. It sounded wise to me. As your summary and the text remind us, there are sometimes forces working against the ways of God and it is unwise to pretend otherwise.


You wrote of a 'moment in time' and I was equally struck recently by a phrase that I think somebody wanted as his epitaph, 'every minute counts'. You had me momentarily fooled when I was reading of the inspiration you had gained from two people; seeing the sum of their ages, it did not tally with my ideas, but on the instant, I also realised whom you meant - and it had nothing to do with your earlier reference to 'sabre rattling'. I only saw a small clip of the ceremony at Windsor Castle, but I am so glad that the occasion has been possible. Although you have mentioned privilege, most of us have no idea of the experiences and suffering which either of these people may have known. Also without knowing them, my impression is of their sense of duty, composure, diligence, discretion and humility. All these are qualities in my estimation which many of us may not match.


I must have overlooked the Biblical references to the interpretation of the sky, but the signs of the times are indeed a puzzle and you raise perhaps the most important question. I can identify with what you keep going over in your mind, asking what the Holy Spirit is saying to you and others. Quite a number of weeks ago we referred to Quink ink and you are probably already thinking, what on earth is she going on about now? If you do read on, I'll explain. When you mentioned the ink then, a detail previously forgotten was remembered: As a small girl I had blotted my Bible with such ink and at the time, I was very upset about it. I read the same Bible now, but blots are not prominent, so I looked carefully. I must have allowed the tip of the pen to rest on the edge of some pages, so that the ink was absorbed. It is hardly noticeable, but the page where the ink had seeped on to the top surface was in Mark's gospel. Weeks ago, therefore, the verse adjacent to this ink trace did not seem particularly relevant to anything we were writing. Yet, in view of your deliberations now, the verse, together with some aspects of its context, does have a changed significance. I leave it with you to decide any relevance to current interpretations : Mark 13: 11.


Incidentally, at the end of your previous letter you wrote of the A30 traffic jam and as a clue to the exact location, 'a frozen form of precipitation', indicating the answer would follow in what is now this week. I cannot find the answer in your letter, but perhaps you can tell me if I was on the right lines when I thought of the hymn 'All hail the power of Jesus' name' ? This is beginning to sound like a secret code, so I'll stop.


All peace and calm to you,


Truro Methodist Circuit, Cornwall    |   01872 262907