Saturday 25 July
A mixture of mizzle and showers has moved swiftly through the day, driven on by powerful gusts of wind. I’ve still no clear idea of what the cloud formations are called, though one of the smaller ones looks a lot like a map of the United Kingdom, only with a break between England and Scotland. I wonder if the clouds are being prophetic and whether or not thoughts and talks of a United Kingdom or devolved governments with local control and responsibilities in decision-making have been helped or hindered by the recent visits north of the border, in relation to where I am writing from, by some significant political figures. Apparently a first birthday has been ‘celebrated’ by one this week. Not sure if this means that the ‘troublesome’ or is it ‘terrible twos’ will now follow?
I expect you have seen comment this week on the beginning of a countdown year to the commencement of the 2020 Olympics in 2021?! I can’t imagine what this may mean for all the elite world athletes in terms of their training and preparations or for the host nation in terms of financial investments in infrastructure. Then there’s the merchandising, will the last zero be stroked through and a No. 1 put beside it or perhaps the 2020 will be kept, but in inverted commas? I suppose there is a small army of people deciding such important world issues.
I was recently writing an article for a village magazine and quoted these verses from the Letter of James: ‘Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”’ (James 4:13-15) It is clear we have to make our plans using the best information we have at hand and God willing underpinned with prayer, but perhaps this pandemic will have made us realise and re-evaluate that there is so much in our life we can only hold onto very lightly at best. Just like the clouds above, we can try to jump up to reach them, but even if we reach them and despite our best efforts, our hands will have hold of nothing. ‘If the Lord wills’ is a good basis to start from, whether this is a rediscovery for us; our experience of a ‘new normal’; or the opportunity of a paradise found or regained.
I’ll come onto your letter in a moment, but this week, and not for the first time, I find myself puzzled amid the plethora of statements, announcements and guidelines. I think you are aware of one of the government’s so-called ‘life cycle events’ which I’ve been privileged to share in leading this week. To make the church buildings accessible safely and to enable socially distanced seating has meant a lot of work in preparations before, during and after this significant act of worship and thanksgiving. What seems strange to me is that with a relatively large space no singing of hymns was allowed. Yet if I were so inclined, I could have gone to my local gym (unlikely I know) huffed and puffed as I worked out (and this would have been the only respiratory outcome possible for me) and then left. Having burned off so many calories I could have gone along to the marvellous North and South (if still open) for a fish and chip supper. If I stood downstairs for 2 minutes to collect a take away I’d be sporting one of my new face masks. If I decided to go upstairs and sit for an hour in the restaurant and eat my meal and talk, no face masks would have been required.
As for my career in espionage, well that has been scuppered this week as now I have to declare on arrival in a country what I’ll be up to, assuming I get caught. I’m sure I’ve misinterpreted this story, but it would be lovely to think all sinister forces would register their spies with the appropriate government officials at ferry or airport terminals for a happier, safer world.
Perhaps this will be the highlight in the dramatic opening scene to the next Bond movie. Daniel Craig will abseil down into airport security in some exotic location and go up to the officials’ booth and say ‘It’s Bond, James Bond, 007 on Her Majesty’s Secret Service registering my arrival!’ The official looks up and says, ‘Just James? Not Jim or Jimmy? And when you say ‘007’, is that ‘double o’ as in ‘Moonraker’ or ‘double zero’ as in the amount of deadlifts Mark Liddicoat could do of his own body weight, whether in stones or kilogrammes?’ Craig replies, ‘Yes, just James and its 007 as in the latter.’ ‘That’s lovely Mr Bond, we hope you enjoy your stay wreaking havoc and destruction amid our beautiful countryside and cities.’ The cameras switch to the Daniel Craig silhouette striding on to the screen, the familiar theme music opens ‘ding-ding-ding-ding-ding’…‘ding-ding-ding …‘ding-ding-ding-ding-ding’…‘ding-ding-ding’… He turns swiftly and instead of a single gunshot declares ‘I spy with my little eye…’ What you think? Could it work? By the way, well done, you cracked the cunning code I used the other week in referring to ‘all hail the power of Jesu’s name!’
Having tried to put some humour into all the changes to regulations, I can turn to your letter. I loved your reference to the ultimate Life Guard. Here is One who is on duty all year round; in the deeps and in the shallows; at high tide and low tide; amid seal-packed throngs of people or in isolated solitary coves. As for the response time, well before a shout can be uttered the ultimate Life Guard is there, as always, if we could only see or rather believe.
I was sorry to hear your story of the bat, but fear is a powerful force and can unsettle us at least or petrify us at worst, making us unable to think or act. That would be me in the position of the goat out on the cliff ledge. I remember seeing a similar programme where on seemingly impossible slopes, more like sheer drops, these nimble-footed animals secured a meal or two. As for the message on the side of the vehicle you saw, my only caution would be in how we discern what ‘it’ is!
You’ll see reference in my message this week once more to both Psalm 139 and the verses from Romans 8 that you are attached to. And daring to look back to your comment in your previous paragraph, don’t worry such feelings of attachment to passages of Scripture are allowed!
I understand what you mean in regard to words being inadequate in our striving to find a description of God. It seems to me that as we cannot describe God then we focus on those aspects or attributes that we can comprehend and find comfort in. So our Father and Supreme Friends fit well in our minds along with ultimate Life Guard, Comforter, Guide and Good Shepherd. The perfect example of each can sum up for us what we feel and how we experience God in both word and deed. I liked the grandmother’s wisdom you mentioned about thinking and knowing. I recall a less kind comment along the lines of ‘if they would just stop talking their brains could start working’. It might have been in one of Douglas Adams’ books. Some of the unending debates we have seem to fall within this category, my own included, in case you think ‘I’m getting above myself’ as another saying goes.
These thoughts on God and our inadequate descriptions of Him remind me of the faith expressed in one of the more recent sacred songs. You may know it or can easily find it. It is on a CD someone near and dear to me has by Hillsong United, called ‘Oceans’. It speaks of the relationship of total trust we can have in God, regardless of our circumstances and however deep or shallow the water may be. So the lyrics go, ‘when oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace for I am Yours and You are mine.’
Thanks for sharing the reference to Mark 13: 11. What we bear for Jesus’ sake will be insignificant in the long term. In conversations I have had recently it has been a cause of sadness that the more painful opposition to views we hold can be from within the church, rather than those outside it who may simply dismiss our thinking as outdated or irrelevant to them. Being allowed or not allowed springs to mind again. It is a comfort to trust and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading. I was looking at my Bible yesterday before a time of prayer and came across the words David gave to his son Solomon: ‘know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off for ever.’ (1 Chronicles 28:9) It’s good advice, but I’m not certain of David’s final comment on God’s actions, but perhaps Solomon felt this was the case when he lost the wisdom he had been given by God. You may recall that saying, perhaps as another car sticker or on a church notice board: ‘Feeling distant from God? Well, who moved?’ As for your Bible, personally I think a Bible with ink blots is far better than one that has never been removed from its presentation sleeve or case.
The cloud and rain are back again. There’s a broken bracket holding the gutter that allows (a correct use of the word this time) water to drip down onto the flat roof below. It gives the impression of an erratic drummer or more generously one with a unique sense of rhythm. It takes me back to my first letter to you and the Lambeg drum impression that the sound of moving empty wheelie bins evoked in my memory. As we have spent these weeks together in lockdown writing, typing and emailing our letters, it has meant a lot to me to share and exchange thoughts and comments as we have put the world to rights, well at least as far as we are concerned, whilst at the same time accepting the things we cannot change. I pray that better days will lie ahead for everyone, but maybe for now we can bring this exchange of letters to a halt in this public domain. I’ll look forward to hearing from you as usual next week and then I think a final reply from me will be sufficient for the present. When we began our letters in Holy Week, I don’t expect either of us thought this ‘moment in time’, made up of each and every precious minute, would have gone on quite this long. I know neither of us will take this the wrong way, and we are united in the hope we won’t have to keep in touch through ‘letters under lockdown’.
With love in Christ,