Tuesday 26th May 2020
Once again, some of the descriptions in your letter leave me smiling. More seriously, it is clear that you have recognised in various locations, some notable, lasting influences and I suspect that not all of these have been mentioned; a sure foundation, then, before and since following your calling as a serving minister. Regarding Songs of Praise, it is probably best if I refrain from writing too much or I may find myself breaking into a gallop on my poor little hobby-horse. At some stage the format and content of the programme changed, possibly when the BBC was referring to such broadcasts as 'the religion and ethics genre,' but that is probably called something else now. I tend to listen to radio more, especially if there is an actual service with some coherent content. However, I suspect that at about the same time as TV was modified, somebody thought it necessary to do a 'relaunch' of the radio programme, Sunday Half Hour. This reminds me of another one which I regularly listened to until it was removed for ever, called 'Ten to Ten', broadcast at that time on a Saturday evening. Although short, it was concentrated, rather than the kind of programming we find now in most subject areas, the assumption being that we have the attention span of a butterfly.
It is a long while since I last read the passage from Ecclesiastes 3 and it is one which I appreciate, although I had forgotten some of the detail. For instance, a time to sew, at verse 7, but the wording in the NIV, "a time to tear and a time to mend" sounds a little more tolerable to me, even though I prefer not to tear in the first place. There is a strong Old Testament tone to it, but nevertheless, it is a timely reminder that all the juxtapositions included, still apply, whether we talk about them or not. The verses show us the limits of our knowledge at any one time, as well as our place in the order, such as our relationship to our surroundings which, maybe, our society has tended to forget. I can almost hear the pop version of this text in my head with the repeated words turn, turn, turn, but I dare not check the date of that song.
When responding to your remarks about loneliness in a previous letter, I was conscious at the same time of those who say that we make our own happiness. This idea has always weighed a little heavily with me, since as you state this time, loneliness has a negative connotation and that implies to me, at least some degree of unhappiness. I suppose we can think of a given individual who has a very different reaction from another, to apparently similar circumstances - say, to disability, which few, if any, would choose. In your most recent Sunday message, you used the word 'contentment'. Somehow, reading that word started some kind of link to previous thoughts. Just as solitude and loneliness differ, maybe the distinction between happiness and contentment is on the same lines. Going back to your suggestion of one step at a time, it could be that people can find contentment, rather than happiness, as a first step and thereby come to deal with the loneliness, albeit gradually. We may be able to ease the process for somebody, as may the Holy Spirit.
Our exchange of letters some weeks ago brought into focus a screenplay, Lost for Words, based on the book by Deric Longden about an elderly woman and her son. Thora Hird and Pete Postlethwaite played these two characters, both of whom have been gone for some time now. As the mother's health deteriorated, she became more anxious in her home, but her attitude towards care homes was already evident. When visiting, her son noticed sticky tape along the length of the stairs and at points of entry, but she was trying to trap whatever she thought was coming into her home. I gained two lessons from the drama, but I must refresh my memory at source. First, her behaviour was less bizarre if we adopted her perspective on the situation and the accompanying emotional reactions. Secondly, when she was no longer able to speak coherently, she was uttering some word, but at that moment, the viewer was seeing an image of the name of a particular care home, on the sign at its entrance gate. It was obvious what she was trying to say, but the word came out jumbled. I thought at the time that I must remember this useful detail - just by rearranging the syllables, we may come to understand somebody's intended true meaning. Both scenes are really a variation on the same theme, that of listening to the other person in order to understand better their point of view. It is easier said than done.
However, it occurs to me in our current era that some of our reporters, presenters and various people participating in so-called political debate, might benefit from this notion. When observing the encounters, or listening to them on the radio, it is often impossible to hear what is being said as one talks over the other and even the person in the chair often joins in the fray! I wonder if they ever watch or hear their performance later. Rather than listening in order to understand the meaning, they seem intent on their claim to being right. We are brought back to Ecclesiastes 3: 7, not just because of the fray, but due to "a time to be silent and a time to speak." There is a poem by Yehuda Amichai which begins " From the place where we are right flowers will never grow" and it goes on, that from doubts and loves "a whisper will be heard where the ruined house once stood."
This time of Pentecost is one that I value and for me, the presence of the Holy Spirit is comparable to a gentle breeze. You cannot see it, there may be some sense of hearing, and while it is not exactly tangible, the primary sense is a feeling of this presence. I think you are on to something important as you reflect on the stirring up of your spirit. In your online message you referred several times to the 'prompting' of the Holy Spirit and that is another excellent way of putting it. Responding to the main paragraph where you were considering this, I would say that you will know when it is a prompting aimed at you! There's no hurry, nor any time limit.
Blessings to you,