Tuesday 30th June 2020
What a thought provoking letter, on many levels - thank you. You ask, what's an 'm' between friends? - Well, it could leave me with only ark! Then you suggest that my thinking is too linear - were you throwing me the curveball? Of course, you may dare to say anything you like, always, as long as you are prepared for a response! The reference to 'old normal' and 'new normal', leaves me thinking of somebody who recently asked if we could just have 'normal' please. Seriously though, the sharing of food and drink has been part of human culture for thousands of years and it would be a pity to lose it. Your suggested eyes and nose approach would, no doubt, counter the curves you spoke of, but I for one, would resist this novel idea. What could be better, you ask; well, at least a paper straw, I'd say.
As a result of your statement I have considered the relevance of linear thinking, as opposed to what some would describe as an intuitive, creative approach. In current times, nearly every discussion refers to evidence, some of it of flimsy foundation, but I'll put that to one side for now. My view of time is definitely linear, but in other parts of the world, apparently, that is not the case. Indeed, it is no surprise that in previous eras, time was probably understood more in terms of the seasons, day and night, and the positions of light points in the sky. I believe I am right in saying that even today, some isolated groups have no word in their language for 'time'. On many issues, I do trust what I would call a sixth sense, but when phrased that way, I guess many would reply, that's unsubstantiated. It reminds me of a challenge concerning 'blind faith'; the person replied that it's not faith without proof; it's belief without question. As a questioner, my faith would be instantly written off, but it's still there. In the context of coronavirus, I have also heard the line you quoted, 'absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence' and I agree, even though hearing a little more in context would be enlightening.
It is true that the Covid-19 virus is no laughing matter, but there seems to be a tendency to speak as if the virus acts with intention against us. Reactions to the resulting illness have been different around the world and I currently think that we shall have to wait a considerable time before scientists can reliably conclude what effects were caused by it, or indeed by the policy decisions in response to possible contagion. Even comparisons in our immediate geographical area, let alone worldwide, will be difficult because of the differing age profiles of populations, living conditions and so forth. Barely six months ago, the disease was unknown, so I would not want to over criticise any government for its actions because I believe they were all trying to do the best they could for the population as a whole. Already some decisions appear to have been unwise, but that is how hindsight is.
On the positive side, two people we know who were hospitalised, both with underlying health issues, have come home feeling fitter than before. Giles Fraser whom I mentioned, has written that as a result of intentional weight loss during lockdown, his medication has been reduced and he hopes that his diabetes may go into remission. Another person whom I have heard over many years on the programme, Word of Mouth, was in a coma for weeks because of the virus. He is a real whiz with words and I heard him briefly this week, but thought his voice sounded thin, if that makes sense. He spoke of having lost some sight in one eye and in his ear - of course, I knew what he meant, but that error would not have occurred in the past, or would have been corrected. Thankfully, he is on the mend and I hope to learn more from him in the future. Linear thinking?
You mentioned the first bishop of Liverpool which prompted thoughts of our first visit to that city, including time spent in both the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals. As you probably know, these buildings are situated at opposite ends of Hope Street which adds to a good memory of the sun shining through the coloured panes of the lantern shaped RC structure. This past Sunday, I was reminded of a hymn based on Psalm 42, so I re-read the psalm and just as I came to the last verse, 11, the sun broke through the cloud outside, highlighting those final words. You know the hymn, which begins: As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You. You alone are my heart's desire and I long to worship You. This hymn is associated in my mind with the other one I mentioned, beginning 'you shall cross the barren desert' - presumably linked by reference to our deep needs, physical and spiritual, while the melodies are also similar. On the subject of melodies, you commented a while back on Lead kindly Light sung to the tune Sandon. Since then I have heard it sung to a different tune which transformed the meaning for me and I would definitely follow that sound. It was sung by the talented Libera Boys Choir - I later found their recording online, but the date suggests that those particular individuals are no longer boys! Love Divine is another hymn, transformed for me when sung to an arrangement by Howard Goodall, but it's all about preference and I tend to like tunes in the minor key.
It seems that we have already touched on the subject of standing alone, being faithful to Christ's call and His love. In the context of discussions among Christians only and your suggestion 'to come apart and rest', it can seem so difficult and confusing that I landed on the word tricky. Then there are other faiths and ideologies to consider and just this week, when listening to one father's testimony relating to his son's kidnapping in Syria and what they found later, I could fully appreciate why people would want to be as far away as possible. Here we rarely encounter such a grim test.
I have taken your reflections seriously and when reading what follows, I hope you will keep in mind that my position is not fixed; I'm still considering and uncertain, so much so, that letters seem inadequate. Ideally in conversation, different issues can be explored so that we know what the other person intends to put across at each stage. However, let's start with what seems like our shared view, that the wild characteristics of the domesticated cat remain identifiable. In my opinion you could not improve on that wonderful description a few weeks ago, where you mentioned its jolting and rotating ears. There you also identified what for me is the essence of the complexity within our own species. So far, I am not convinced that the inherent, survival instincts of our distant ancestors are far below the veneer of civilisation. I used to think that we had progressed, but perhaps our awareness of so many world events and attitudes is overwhelming. I am not sure where excuses enter the picture and neither are you naive. I would say, though, that while you know to Whom you need to look for guidance, what percentage of humanity knows that? Just as yawning is said to be a remnant from the behaviour of ancient ancestors, perhaps the aggression and tribalism is, too. One factor of hope is that we also learnt some benefits in altruism. The kernel of truth is that God is love, we are invited to love God and our neighbour. The words may come easy, but even our thoughts are significant, as well as deeds. Yes, we turn to the living Word and then interpret the texts differently. For now I'll hang on to the relationship with God and what I've previously written, that I can only start with myself.
When you wrote, "we are His holy ones, we are all saints," I assume that you were not simply engaging in semantics. This contrasts so much with what we usually hear in church, the focus often being on sin. I am currently unable to see any saintlike qualities in myself, but I shall continue to look for them and to try harder, whilst still not believing that there will be any halo to polish! Not surprisingly, I can identify with Ryle's concept of a steadying truth, but my thoughts return to the question in your previous letter, what is the optimum state, and my answer is veering towards the snowstorm idea, while hoping for grace. Thank you for provoking all sorts - it is good for us all.