Friday 31 July
Last evening I was walking towards the moon. I didn’t get very far, of course. It was rising in the sky and was before me on my path. It must be nearly at the full. When it is like this it always reminds me of a poached egg from one of those steamers, not from the experts’ swirls into boiling water that for me always makes a total mess. As I looked up into the darkening sky, it made me think of Dvorak’s ‘Song to the Moon’ sung by [insert your soprano a choice]. I’ve never heard the opera Rusalka in full, only this one song that seems so popular. Seeing the large moon (I guess it is always the same size, but you’ll know what I mean) reminded me of another song, not to the moon but with the moon. Once more it is a cause for pangs of nostalgia and of times flown by all too quickly. You’ll remember me mentioning my angst a few weeks back over buried JCB’s in New York City foundations and the association I have with watching Bob the Builder with someone dear to me. Well the song with the moon brought to my memory a large friendly bear singing with his friend Luna the moon (no surprise at the name) at the end of each episode of ‘Bear in the big blue house’. Luna and Bear would sing together with the line ‘Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye, cause now it's time to go.’
And so it feels a bit like that now, in writing my final letter to you. Actually I know we’ve written about various friends throughout these weeks and months in lockdown, and thinking about friendship I must admit it is often underrated. We both heard, and I think agree with, John Bell when he said how wonderful it is to experience the ‘sheer delight of human company’. It seems other relationships are often to the fore while in comparison the fathomless depths of true friendship seem to be forgotten. What a blessing it is to have friends who know us so well they can comfort and correct in equal measure and with glad acceptance of both.
Returning to my walk towards the moon, although I have previously written about the change in the air where the heavy, sweet raspberry scent of buddleia was combined with combustion engine exhaust, sadly now only the fumes remain. It seems like the ‘new normal’ is just the ‘old normal’. In thinking about the volume of traffic on our roads, it is interesting to consider that possibly for the first time ever, we will be causing a potential traffic jam in the orbit around the red planet, Mars. You can picture the Martians looking up into their night sky (assuming they have a night sky and can indeed look up) and saying, ‘Typical, you stand waiting for a spacecraft from earth and then three come along at the same time!’ It is remarkable that within eleven days the United Arab Emirates, China and NASA send three separate rockets hurtling towards Mars on a seven month journey of nearly 500,000,000 kilometres! I wonder if some thought should have been given to the equivalent of a car pool or car share option. Maybe next time. It’s amazing to think Mars will be nearly as bunged with our own rockets as a south coast beach is with people. I trust we won’t leave as much litter on Mars as we seem prone to do on planet earth.
Turning to your letter, I too heard ‘Oceans’ on Songs of Praise last Sunday. Quite a God-incidence again, and it was actually mentioned today on one of these email circulars from the Methodist Church’s South West Regional Training Network.
Your mention of the dancer’s experience of being danced as a parallel to our lives ‘being lived’, in the sense of being guided by God, made me recall the distinction between the destructive working until we are worn out, to that of living a life that is fully used up in God’s service. Nothing is wasted. Of course, it is not the length of a life that is always the most important thing, but what we do with each day of our lives. We seem to have a need to quantify things – how old, how heavy, how expensive, how long, when in fact quality can be a more significant measure. Perhaps this speaks to the danger you highlight of targets driving judgements and decisions.
I had thought I might have written a little more concerning regulations and guidance, but to be honest before I could comment the guidance would probably have changed as the next version pops up on website or inbox. I do understand it’s a very fluid situation and as rapidly rising and falling as the tide immersing Gormley’s stoic sculptures on Crosby Beach. I suppose if the only consequence of this coronavirus pandemic is that we show a little corrosion, akin to the action of salt water on metal figures looking out to sea, we will be considered fortunate.
I was listening to an interview with Baroness Warsi today in the context of the newly imposed restrictions in the Greater Manchester area. I may not have this word for word, but I understood the implication was that to get through this pandemic we cannot police our way out, rather we need voluntary compliance. The months of lockdown have shown that in general we can do this, with some notable exceptions, in spite of the cost to our economy and the major effects this has had on relationships. And I don’t mean solely the dreadful loss of life, but the awful way people have sometimes treated each other when to be home alone would be a release.
In being intentional and aspirational we would be able to demonstrate voluntary compliance to the will of God and the word of God which would then transform our lives, relationships and society as a whole. To be able to take seriously, not just the love for God and neighbour, but the justice and holiness that God requires. We see the template and pattern for this in Jesus’ life. There have been countless acts and examples of such sacrifice over these past months to inspire and motivate us to respond, even if it’s only been to reach for our percussion of saucepans and wooden spoons.
You may have heard the setting to Peter Warlock’s ‘Capriol Suite’ entitled ‘Come to Bethlehem’ by Dom Gregory Murray which admittedly has an Advent or Christmas theme, but is one I sang with Newchurch Male Voice Choir on the Isle of Wight (so as you know was not last year or the year before!). I always think of this carol when I hear the ‘Capriol Suite’. Murray’s words deftly capture the extremes of who Jesus is and in His voluntary compliance to the Father’s will, what He became for us: ‘Born of God the Father in the bliss above, born a Baby in a stable for our love. Lord of all creation ere our race began. Loves to be and call himself “the Son of Man”’. I cherish that statement by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: ‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ What a pattern to follow as Jesus invites us to come too and walk with and serve Him.
In closing (for now?) and perhaps echoing some of your final comments, I too want to express my grateful thanks to you for sharing with me during all these weeks in lockdown. It is possible we may come back to such a situation again, but we trust and pray not. The birds may sing of the ‘blessed Hope’ which we may be unaware of in our bad days, but on our good days we can join in their chorus of praise and thanksgiving, even if we are not as tuneful. It has been a joy and a blessing to share with you, and if in re-reading our letters you do meet yourself coming back, try not to quarrel. This line of Scripture has been in my mind so much of late: ‘I give thanks to my God always for you.’ The entire verse from the start of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth reads: ‘I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.’ And the preceding verse puts it well: ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
Thank you so much Gwen, with love in Christ,