Saturday 18 July 2020
Thanks once more for your latest letter. I sometimes feel that I’m just splashing around in the shallows, whilst you’re moving out into the deep with your thoughts and reflections. As an example, your letter closes with comments on buddleia and butterflies; mine begins with dead bats and no butterflies! Isn’t this the weekend we are meant to note the number of butterflies we see? In spite of our buddleia bushes being a hive of activity, pun intended, as honey bees and bumble bees abound, together with hover flies, unfortunately there are no butterflies. Sadly, however, I found a dead bat on the path. It is definitely a brown long-eared bat. Not sure where it would have been living, whether in the trees nearby or elsewhere. I feel a ‘Google search’ coming on. It’s amazing to think how completely unaware we can be of all that is around us. I wonder what the birds, bats and bees think when they see another lumbering human trudging by. Do they exclaim ‘Goodness, look out! See the size of that one, make sure they don’t stand or sit on you!’ As for the blackbird, it may be an assumption on my part that it was the same one. I would need advice from Bill Oddie or someone to say what the likelihood of a blackbird having a recognised territory would be and so whether it could indeed be the same bird. I had used no Tipp-Ex to mark the blackbird, the snails are easier to catch for this. However this blackbird’s feathers did look the same – honest!
I don’t know if such thoughts are upbeat in tone or whether you think that some professional help is required. However, as you say, it’s hard not to have an increased beats per minute when we get to read, hear or see some of the things that are going on. I suppose there is a need to take a few deep breaths and consider what calms us down, perhaps prayer best of all. Though, even in saying this, I am not sure that deep breaths are allowed, at least not without a face mask on.
There have been more changes to guidance this week for all parts of society, churches included. With face masks having to be worn in shops from Friday 24 July, I’m trying to find out if this will apply to churches as well. We are looking into the social distancing and what that means for numbers meeting for worship. Yet today I heard, I think it was in the context of professional performances, that for singers in choirs they would only be allowed to sing side by side at three metre spacing. I suppose this is on account of singing engaging fuller, deeper and larger volume lung function. If this spacing is required in a church or chapel setting, then for some of our smaller buildings any choir would also be known as a duet or even a soloist!
I realise the changing guidance is a necessary part of responding to a fast moving, globally influenced set of factors, but it sometimes feels like we’re trying to lift water with a fork. So you see it would be with more than compassion that I would consider and reflect on anything you feel led to write. Sympathy is replaced by empathy. All I would say is that if the steam escaping from your ears is causing too much condensation indoors or indeed adding to the high level noctilucent clouds above your home, have a listen to some of the wonderful music you mention.
I think it may have been noctilucent clouds that I saw last week. As for the angel delight, I am with you there! I was, yet again, being foolish for it is ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ that I know too. I love it that this is referred to in Scripture by the Good Shepherd in conversation with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Not the sweet powdered desert of course, but interpreting the skies and the weather: ‘Jesus answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’ (Matthew 16:2-3).
How to interpret the signs of the times? There’s a question. I keep going over in my mind, with all the myriad of things we are facing; the thought of what is the Spirit saying to me, us, the churches? This is so powerfully stated in the Revelation Jesus gave to John. A global pandemic, upheaval in society, cultural change and pressure, the climate and environment, war and famine, and we worry about holidays and haircuts! I’d better put my face mask on and take a few more deep breaths! Or perhaps I should step outside again to see the bees, being as busy as they are always fondly referred to, yet they’re not frantic. Their lives move at a different pace to ours, but there is planning and method in all that they do.
It’s interesting you mentioned the survival strategy of sheep. I suppose it’s the mesmerising movement of the many bodies that make it difficult for the predator to pounce. A bit like shoals of little fish evading the bigger fish higher up the food chain. Goats apparently take a different tack, and I don’t mean because they’re not great swimmers, I mean in comparison with sheep not fish! Rather than flocking together, goats scatter on the arrival of a predator. Actually, I’m not sure if it would be classed as a philosophy, but I imagine the goat thinking (assuming I can get down or up to their level) is along the lines of ‘I don’t have to be able to run faster than the wolf, I just have to be able to run faster than you!’
Maybe our thinking combines both approaches at times, not that I want to paint goats (read on!) in a bad light compared to sheep, though as you make reference to a certain parable Jesus goes on to give an account of the judgment where it seems goats are viewed less highly than sheep. I expect Jesus was providing a simple illustration of how the shepherd separates two sorts of livestock and so in the end we too will be separated. It is worth noting, when considering our own behaviours and actions, that Jesus as Judge doesn’t appear to be separating us on the grounds of our church attendance or of singing beautifully, whether with or without a face mask, but on the basis of how we love and care for one another.
I do take your point concerning the means used to ensure an effective lockdown now proving to be a huge barrier to remove. It is a difficult line to steer, no doubt, for those in authority with economic concerns being balanced against scientific or medical evidence. It does feel however like a mixed message or rather a radically changed message from staying at home and alert, with shops, streets, buses and trains empty; to now being encouraged to go out and spend, to journey back to the office or workplace. ‘Back to normal’ has been a phrase used. Yet I wonder is this the direction we should be going in and indeed for many of us, what was so great about ‘normal’ anyway? I am sure Cornwall will prove an even more popular location in the UK, not solely for holidays and weekend breaks, but for people to relocate to, work from and make their homes. Strangely, whilst such a change could increase house prices still further, equally we could find some places have the potential blessing and benefit of year-round populations, rather than the peak of congested summers and the trough of closed and empty winters.
It is to be hoped, as in eternal optimism rather than mere wishful thinking, that the virulence of Covid-19 will rapidly decline as you desire, and so becoming another form of ‘flu’, which I know you agree is quite serious enough. Talking about being naïve, I think it would be good if, in the face of a global pandemic, we could openly share all progress towards a vaccine rather than have espionage and international fallouts threatening us all. In the end this espionage affects and hurts Joe and Josephine Public rather than the vast political machinery doing all of the Sabre rattling. Constructive cooperation is required rather than destructive competition.
I believe there is a lot of merit in your thinking on a harvest from seemingly poor or difficult conditions. For a whole variety of reasons we may be where we are and because of this our yields may not even reach 30 times what was sown. Yet in such circumstances any harvest can still be viewed as being extraordinary on account of God’s grace and our faithful endurance. Again the soil conditions can be improved, or the care can be such as to allow a harvest from ‘dust and gravel’. A bit like your asparagus fern, who’d have thought such growth and recovery would have been possible. However as resurrection people, this should come as no surprise and for some things, the things that really matter, there is an eternal come back guaranteed!
I heard a comment on a news programme concerning the Coronavirus that this is a ‘moment in time’. I suppose for some this will have been a very long moment in time. Yet for others it will be a moment in time, in an all too quickly passing blink, which has robbed us of life’s experiences or the greatest loss of all, our loved ones. Thinking about issues that cause our hearts to race, I must admit throughout this moment in time the comments and actions made by two people in particular have been a great encouragement, reassurance and the epitome of calm and peace. Together they offer us 194 years of human life and experience meeting together as they did in Windsor Castle on Friday. It was very moving to see Captain Sir Tom Moore receiving his knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen and for them to spend a little time in conversation. People’s views will vary, but in spite of privilege, what wonderful examples of service in the public arena both the sovereign and the serviceman represent.
In our now ‘normal’ hour of prayer on a Friday evening, I reflected on these verses from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church. He was writing about a moment in time too: ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’(2 Corinthians 4:16-18) I’ll hold onto this and not lose heart.
With love in Christ,