Saturday 16 May 2020
The week is far spent. Is this the correct term? Well it’s Saturday as I write. I have been reminded of the beautiful hymn by John Henry Newman ‘Lead, kindly Light’. The reason for this may be a residual effect of the nostalgia felt following last week’s letters. The tune which I know and like is called Sandon. This can be viewed as being somewhat melancholy, though of course it depends on how you sing it! It speaks to me of our confidence in God’s presence and guidance, with Jesus as the Light to lead us. I feel it is a good hymn for today. Thinking again about ‘the road less travelled by’ this hymn takes us one step further in the faith and confidence we have in God’s care and God’s plan for each of our lives. At a more basic level it encourages me to be patient. I don’t even need to be concerned to see a fork in the road as two ways diverge (don’t you hate it when people are careless with cutlery!) or a multi-choice roundabout looming large. It is sufficient to know that God is leading:
‘Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home, lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.’
I was speaking on the phone this week with someone who has received these reminder letters and messages from the Health Service advising that they keep in strict isolation, at least until the end of June. Although the letters and frequent text messages from health professionals were appreciated, yet at some level to hear, see, or read it made the feelings of vulnerability and of confinement harder to deal with. I must try to make some more phone calls, because whilst this Coronavirus is literally a plague on us; the less visible plague of loneliness is running rife in homes up and down the country and around the world. Being allowed the freedom to now travel widely doesn’t help a person who has to remain at home alone and possibly neither has a car nor the means to travel farther even if they were permitted to do so.
It’s strange the things we are being asked to do. I’ve been thinking and writing this week about my role as a ‘minister of religion’ and my dislike of such a general word as ‘religion’. But here’s an interesting one. I received a letter this week from a dear friend (yes, another one – I’m showing off aren’t I) with a request to complete a form with my official hat on. Well actually I don’t have a hat, or at least not an official one. Furthermore I wouldn’t be wearing it indoors anyway; I’m far too polite for that! Anyhow, the form I had to complete and witness as a ‘minister of religion’ was actually called a ‘certificate of existence’.
I’m not sure if you would ever have this particular form displayed in a frame on your wall or shelves. You know, alongside your 25 yards (yes yards, I am that old) swimming certificate, cycling proficiency, and for attendance at a course you had to go on, but weren’t too sure why and were even less convinced after spending a day completing it. Quite a wordy title, that last one, for a certificate, making it disproportionately large in comparison to its value and relevance.
I do realise such forms are necessary, but it did start me wondering how we quantify or qualify our own existence, if not in possession of said certificate of existence? We can check our pulse or notice again the breathing and movement we constantly exhibit. Yet, as I think of my friend and my capacity to be able to say, ‘yes, I can confirm this person exists’; it does strike me how it is our interactions with others that can be the greatest proofs to our own existence.
As many families and friends are experiencing over these last weeks and months, it is when we no longer exist, in terms of our earthly lives, that the pain of loss is truly felt by those who remain. Very suddenly we can be made aware of how important a person is in our lives when they are no longer with us and a certificate of existence becomes void. I know this is true of other things in life; it is their absence that makes our appreciation of them all the more acute.
I listened to Songs of Praise last week, focusing on the VE Day commemorations. One interview featured Rena Stewart, who had served at Bletchley Park during World War II. She was reflecting on the outbreak of peace on 8 May 1945 and said,
‘I think when one has lived through a war, peace becomes even more important.’
It’s that old adage isn’t it: We don’t appreciate what we’ve got until it’s gone. We need to take the time and realise the value of what we have and who is in our lives; the things, the people who really matter – as you have described it, our ‘significant others’.
Before I begin to ramble off topic I will close for this week in commenting a little on your last letter. Yes, I remember the car and the window sticker. I used to have another with jigsaw pieces in bright colours with one needed to finish the puzzle and the statement ‘Jesus the missing peace’. I liked that one. As for our old Volkswagen Polo, it would be a classic car now, if oxidation hadn’t overwhelmed it!
You spoke of those in peril on the sea and you’re right to feel afraid amid such powerful forces. You mentioned the Solomon Browne. I still recall that Saturday afternoon playing, or attempting to play football for Mousehole down at Porthcurno against the Cable and Wireless team. Back then they would sometimes have international players over on a work placement. We would often get well beaten, but it was a delight to see their footballing skills. The pitch was well above the Minack Theatre car park, yet during the game balls of sea foam were being hurled up from the crashing waves below and landing on the grass around the players. Such was the force of the sea swell and winds even at that time of the day. There were Mousehole players on the crew of the lifeboat, but I believe it was the coxswain who insisted only one member of a family should put out to sea that night. Such was his wisdom, experience, knowledge and grace.
I’m back again to the words of John Henry Newman:
‘So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.’
And I’m not melancholy, I’m thankful. One step enough for me.
With love in Christ,