I imagine that you, like me, have been watching the Sunday and other services from our church at home. By doing our bit to observe lockdown we hope and pray that the vital work of the National Health Service will be protected and that this will lead to the saving of many precious lives. As it happens, during the course of my ministry, I have been in several prisons, including one in this county. It was only to visit of course! But I did not expect to experience lockdown personally, let alone at home. Nor did I ever expect that our churches would be closed for public worship, although I think it once happened for a while in the early Middle Ages when we managed to fall out with the Pope at the time. So it’s about doing church and engaging in Christian worship rather differently: digitally and at a distance. It’s a case of church at home. This means we can even stay in our pyjamas if we liked; surely no one would ever know! Yet, joking apart, how Psalm 42 expresses some of our thoughts as we miss going to church when it says, ‘My heart breaks when I remember the past, when I went with the crowds to the house of God, and led them as they walked along, a happy crowd, singing and shouting praise to God’. Then the Psalm-writer adopts a more positive tone as he asks, ‘Why am I so sad? Why am I troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again praise him, my Saviour and my God’. As we know only too well, the corona-virus is an invisible, largely unknown and certainly a strong challenge. It is of course a danger not only to health but also to the national economy. So, extreme measures have been taken to combat it. However, I was amused to read that Dr. Tilly Blyth of the Science Museum said, ‘The second week into lockdown, my kids turned to me and said, ’’Mum, for once we’re actually living in a historic moment’’’. But let’s face it, living in unprecedented times does not suit everybody. I wonder how you feel about the lack of human contact. Not seeing loved ones and friends can leave us feeling isolated, alone and even friendless. Many have said how they simply miss a hug, that is, receiving or giving one or both. Yet, can we manage to think at all positively despite this unsettling situation? Can we imagine light at the end of the tunnel however long it turns out to be? Can we picture a time when things get back to normal? That should give us hope. But, what about just now? As we try to understand what effect this surrender of personal freedom is having on us do we perhaps realise that it has at least given us the gift of TIME - time to think, time to listen and time to pray? Maybe that’s a rather special blessing in our usually busy lives. For instance, we have the opportunity to listen to Nature: simply to enjoy the quiet and to appreciate the singing of birds on some of the lovely spring days we’ve had recently. And it’s funny how when humans retreat Nature begins to take over as the New Forest donkeys and Welsh goats invade the streets and wild boars come out to help themselves to crops in Italian fields and gardens. Furthermore, with less human activity comes less pollution of the atmosphere. Don’t the stars look brighter these evenings? So we have the chance to do things more slowly and thoughtfully and to consider what is important and what is less so. Maybe our houses have not ever been so clean and tidy and our gardens more manicured and weed free! Think, too, of the books we’ve meant to read or the crafts we could take up or that DIY that’s waiting to be done. And besides jigsaws, puzzles and board games, there is the joy to ringing someone up and making sure they are not lonely too. Yes we are living in a kind of limbo wondering how long it will last and whether we can avoid a second peak of the covid-19 onslaught. The Christian poet and thinker, Malcolm Guite, (known to some of us in Hartford) put it well when he wrote: ‘...our world is shrinking now, and we are held in a still space between ‘’before all this happened’’ and ‘’when this is all over’’: a space between memory and hope.’ Certainly there is hope. For if anyone is feeling particularly friendless at the moment, let me say that there is no social distancing with God! We are assured of this fact in the New Testament: ‘(God) has said, ‘’I will never leave you or forsake you’’’. Then it goes on: ‘So we can say with confidence, ‘’The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.’’’ A few sentences later we are greatly encouraged to read: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and for ever.’ Can we believe that whatever we are going through and however we feel, the Lord is close by? He is near us and accompanies us on life’s journey. He is the same unchanging, loving and merciful in the midst of life’s ups and downs. Very soon after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, two people were walking back to their home village about 7 miles from Jerusalem. All at once they became aware that Someone else was walking beside them. It was Jesus having risen from the dead although they didn’t recognise Him just then. As they reached their destination, Jesus made as if to go on but they begged Him to come and stay at their home. He was invited in and so that’s just what He did. Then the two travellers knew who He was. Staying at home? We do not need to be alone. Do we feel lonely and friendless? We can say with the authority of Holy Scripture that if we invite Jesus into our home He will come in with His gracious presence. It may of course mean doing a ‘spring clean’ for none of us is perfect. But then He comes to the humble, penitent believer bringing His unique peace and joy transforming our homes. Michael L. Diamond, April 2020 An Eastertide prayer Risen Christ, You filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: Strengthen us to proclaim your risen life And fill us with your peace, To the glory of God the Father Amen.
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1. Living with Lockdown
CONNECTING WITH COVID-19
Some personal reflections following the progress of the pandemic
2. Getting Back to Normal?
Probably very few of us have found living in lockdown to our liking. Being largely confined to home, denied of contact with family and friends, and worried about jobs, businesses and the economy have brought new pressures on us as we go through such strange times. With having to be indoors so much even the idea of ‘Home Sweet Home’ begins to lose its appeal. Understandably mental health issues are likely to arise for some people as they struggle to cope with enforced restrictions. Small wonder that some have experienced the temptation to rely on comfort food, alcohol, drugs and other compensations to cope with the stress of such deprivations! Those of us who have gardens have at least been able to get out and enjoy them during what has been the sunniest April on record. Surely then our sympathies lie with families with children who live in small upstairs flats without such amenities. Several possible reactions to lockdown have been reported. There are those who willingly or otherwise accept the necessity of staying home to protect the Health Service and so prevent deaths, as the mantra goes. But support for the current measures is not found easy by everybody. Sadly other groups of people are suffering. They may well appreciate that public support is necessary to combat corona virus but that doesn’t stop them becoming anxious and depressed. Then there are those individuals who simply resist being told what to do. As independent as they are, they much prefer the first part of the slogan ‘Enjoy freedom. Live responsibly’ and not bother too much about the last. Yet, whoever we are and however we are responding to the present situation, most of us can’t wait until things finally get back to normal and of course the question we are all asking is ‘when will that be?’ But wait a moment! The idea of returning to normality does not seem to be in the minds of government ministers. They are talking about the ‘new normal’ as if things won’t go back to exactly as they were. Perhaps so much will have changed, possibly including ourselves, that to think of the future will mean adjusting our ideas somewhat. It may not be the case of how things used to be so much as how things have become. And, so far as we are concerned, it may be important to consider what we have learnt through having to engage with a slower lifestyle, on one hand, and battling with a great sense of powerlessness on the other. For surely there will be personal gains as well as losses to reckon with. Balancing one with the other will be interesting. Isn’t it something like looking through a window, as many famous and talented artists have shown in their paintings, where from a dark or dull interior we look out through an open window to a bright and colourful world outside? The world we can glimpse outside now may be somewhat unknown but it is intriguing and we can’t wait to get to it. Perhaps who or what we are depending upon now to get us through will determine how we shall be later. Are we simply relying on government leadership, medical care and scientific advisers to steer us through the current difficulties? Or are other resources available to sustain us and give us hope? In the later forties when I was still at school, I found myself very ill in hospital. A Roman Catholic chaplain visiting the fever hospital brought considerable comfort by giving me a little card (which I have to this day). Printed in blue and red it said, ‘It matters to him about you’. The words ‘him’ and ‘you’ are coloured in red as if to emphasise the connection between the two which in this instance was between God and me. It is of course a verse from the New Testament 1Peter chapter 5, verse 7- expressing God’s personal care towards each one of us. The Good News Bible puts it very actively: ‘Throw all your worries on him, because he cares for you’. Similarly a more recent Bible version says: Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you’ If we matter to almighty God and He cares about us it means that we can bring to Him all the struggles and problems of our daily lives expecting to receive help, guidance, encouragement or whatever is our specific need at the time. Such is the wonderful ‘plus’ of the Christian faith. We have been warned that confinement, however long it lasts, is for the best. Certainly we want to avoid a second wave or peak of Covid-19 affecting our health, especially of the most vulnerable, or sapping our confidence or resolve or further damaging our already weakened economy. It may for example mean a literal ‘staycation’ instead of a proper holiday away from home and it certainly calls for the exercise of even more patience. A world religious leader has been reported as saying that the present global pandemic is ‘a wakeup call to the human race’. Is there any truth at all in this controversial suggestion? We could put it this way: are we going to learn anything from having endured lockdown and its associated deprivations? If our answer is in the affirmative it might be that we have come to appreciate more the valiant work of the NHS and especially of the ‘nation’s fallen heroes’, as those health workers who have themselves succumbed to the virus in the course of their duties, have been rightly called. We may also have come to recognise the value of peace and quiet giving us the opportunity to think and consider our priorities in life. Furthermore we may have become more sensitive to the appeal of Nature since enforced inactivity has allowed us to look and listen to the natural world in ways which we might have neglected in the past. We could also ask if we have become better or worse persons as a result of social distancing or self-isolation and whether our Christian beliefs, such as in the providence and compassion of God, have been sufficient to sustain us during testing times. Naturally we long for social and economic recovery and that industry, business, tourism and travel will pick up again. And we may particularly hope too that medical research to produce an effective vaccine which will both benefit us and be extended to the needy peoples of the developing world. Meanwhile the message of the good news of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins but now lives in the glory of heaven where He intercedes for us, is that we are not alone. Understandably we can’t wait to get back to ‘normal’ even if it turns out to be different in ways which we can’t imagine. But shall we be able to look back and say that through this unwelcome but necessary experience of lockdown we have come to trust God in deeper, practical and more personal ways? A Prayer: Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
3. A BRAVE NEW WORLD!
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of VE Day while still in lockdown after six whole weeks presented an unexpected challenge. After all, street parties and social distancing don’t exactly mix! And wanting to pay tribute to those who gave their lives in war to ensure our freedom we had to make do this year with a digital ‘Wall of Remembrance’. However, those with long enough memories will still be able recall the London blitz for example and some will remember hurrying into shelters as the air raid siren warned them of a possible attack. Then, when it was all over, came the moment everyone was waiting for. Prompted by the ‘All Clear’ siren, they emerged bleary-eyed from the comparative gloom of the shelter into the bright daylight again. And the two questions in peoples’ minds were: ‘Is it safe to go out?’ and ‘What shall we find outside when we do?’ Whereas wartime memories call forth a spirit of thanksgiving, whether or not we can express our gratitude for peace in the streets publically in the way we have in past years, these weeks of semi isolation are now as it happens raising similar questions for us as it did then. Having conscientiously stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives as we were constantly exhorted, we now face the possible easing of lockdown restrictions. And even if it were done gradually in stages, anticipating leaving the comparative safely of our home to venture out in the world as it has become since the safety measures were imposed, may well stir up anxious thoughts and quite serious worries. And once we have got over the fear of leaving lockdown, there is the question as to what life post-Covid-19 is going to be like. Having been kept indoors for so long, how are we going to make use of our new-found freedom? Knowing the future (or is it sometimes better not to know?) is a fascinating and yet frustrating issue. Of course it’s impossible to know for sure what lies ahead in the present circumstances. We may anticipate the gradual reopening of Britain for business once again but how will it leave us individually and personally? That’s what we should love to know. Like spending all night in a bomb shelter during the War, emerging from lockdown can also be uncertain and confusing. That’s a challenge we shall all have to face. However, there are those who claim to be able to see into the future. Probably better known for its title than its actual contents, Aldous Huxley’s book, ‘A Brave New World’ written in 1931, offers a disturbing vision of the future with people being controlled and manipulated by genetic engineering. Far from being the utopia which we might hope for, it is a warning against a dystopian world state. It’s not unlike George Orwell’s fearful prediction in ‘Animal Farm’ (it was written just after World War 2) that ‘some animals are more equal than others’. Of course in the allegory he used he intended to mean people. Today, newspaper journalists are already speculating what kind of future we face when lockdown is finally ended. So, one rather pessimistic outlook in the Daily Telegraph of 30/4/20 suggests that ‘it will be a grimmer, more cautious, less optimistic and poorer world’ with the prediction that we will be on a kind of ‘wartime’ alert by wearing masks and consciously avoiding risk. Not a very hopeful prospect! How then can we overcome the fear of stepping outdoors even if it is a fear partially stoked by the media let alone the Government’s successful ‘Stay Home’ campaign? One positive way of approaching the future more hopefully may be to think what we have learnt from recent experience and to hold on to what we have learnt. One of our sons who with his wife and young family live in Greater London has expressed appreciation at the current friendliness of people in their street. Not being away at work during the day they call out across the street or over the garden fence and enjoy being sociable at a safe distance. Will such neighbourliness continue? And will those whose job permits want to go on working at home so enjoying more time there and avoiding travelling in the rush hour? Surely many us too have benefitted from this extra friendliness and time at home would like it not to stop? War veteran Harry Billings M.B.E. has proposed that we go on doing what lockdown has already encouraged to do and that is: thinking of others more, being more considerate and wanting to be united in a common concern for the good of the community. Since, as they say, winning the war is one thing but winning the peace is quite another, is there anything even more effective than the practical things we can think of to confidently prepare for leaving lockdown? Surely inner confidence based on trust in a changeless, powerful God enables us to face the unknown future. This is what the Bible assures us of when it says, ‘The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’ Then the same passage goes on to promise: ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ So far, our lives have been shaped by lockdown in many ways. But when the sense of security that has given us is taken away and we find ourselves in a new experience of having to balance caution with risk and it’s hard to see where we are going, we can turn to Jesus Christ who said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. (John chapter 8, verse 12). Conquering quite understandable fears about leaving lockdown-or anything else for that matter-has an answer. It means trusting in a God who is far greater than any of our misgivings or worries. In fact because Jesus came into the world He knows from personal experience what human trouble of all kinds is like and can help us –even in what may soon lie ahead of us. A Prayer God our redeemer, you have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your Son: grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his continual presence he may raise us to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Michael L. Diamond, April 2020
I imagine that you, like me, have been watching the Sunday and other services from our church at home. By doing our bit to observe lockdown we hope and pray that the excellent work of the National Health Service will be protected and that this will lead to the saving of many precious lives. As it happens, during the course of my ministry, I have been in several prisons, including one in this county. It was only to visit of course! But I did not expect to experience lockdown personally, let alone at home. Nor did I ever expect that our churches would be closed for public worship, although I think it once happened for a while in the early Middle Ages when we managed to fall out with the Pope at the time. So it’s about doing church and engaging in Christian worship rather differently: digitally and at a distance. It’s a case of church at home. This means we can even stay in our pyjamas if we liked; surely no one would ever know! Yet, joking apart, how Psalm 42 expresses some of our thoughts as we miss going to church when it says, ‘My heart breaks when I remember the past, when I went with the crowds to the house of God, and led them as they walked along, a happy crowd, singing and shouting praise to God’. Then the Psalm-writer adopts a more positive tone as he asks, ‘Why am I so sad? Why am I troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again praise him, my Saviour and my God’. As we know only too well, the corona-virus is an invisible, largely unknown and certainly a strong challenge. It is of course a danger not only to health but also to the national economy. So, extreme measures have been taken to combat it. However, I was amused to read that Dr. Tilly Blyth of the Science Museum said, ‘The second week into lockdown, my kids turned to me and said, “Mum, for once we’re actually living in a historic moment”’. But let’s face it, living in unprecedented times does not suit everybody. I wonder how you feel about the lack of human contact. Not seeing loved ones and friends can leave us feeling isolated, alone and even friendless. Many have said how they simply miss a hug, that is, receiving or giving one or both. Yet, can we manage to think at all positively despite this unsettling situation? Can we imagine light at the end of the tunnel however long it turns out to be? Can we picture a time when things get back to normal? That should give us hope. But, what about just now? As we try to understand what effect this surrender of personal freedom is having on us do we perhaps realise that it has at least given us the gift of TIME - time to think, time to listen and time to pray? Maybe that’s a rather special blessing in our usually busy lives For instance, we have the opportunity to listen to Nature: simply to enjoy the quiet and to appreciate the singing of birds on some of the lovely spring days we’ve had recently. And it’s funny how when humans retreat Nature begins to take over as the New Forest donkeys and Welsh goats invade the streets and wild boars come out to help themselves to crops in Italian fields and gardens. So we have the chance to do things more slowly and thoughtfully and to consider what is important and what is less so. Maybe our houses have not ever been so clean and tidy and our gardens more manicured and weed free! Think, too, of the books we’ve meant to read or the crafts we could take up or that DIY that’s waiting to be done. And besides jigsaws, puzzles and board games, there is the joy to ringing someone up and making sure they are not lonely too. Yes we are living in a kind of limbo wondering how long it will last and whether we can avoid a second peak of the covid-19 onslaught. The Christian poet and thinker, Malcolm Guite, (known to some of us in Hartford) put it well when he wrote: ‘...our world is shrinking now, and we are held in a still space between ‘’before all this happened’’ and ‘’when this is all over’’: a space between memory and hope.’ Certainly there is hope. For if anyone is feeling particularly friendless at the moment, let me say that there is no social distancing with God! We are assured of this fact in the New Testament: ‘(God) has said, ‘’I will never leave you or forsake you’’’. Then it goes on: ‘So we can say with confidence, ‘’The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.’’’ A few sentences later we are greatly encouraged to read: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and for ever.’ Can we believe that whatever we are going through and however we feel, the Lord is close by? He is near us and accompanies us on life’s journey. He is the same unchanging, loving and merciful in the midst of life’s ups and downs. Very soon after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, two people were walking back to their home village about 13 miles from Jerusalem. All at once they became aware that Someone else was walking beside them. It was Jesus having risen from the dead although they didn’t recognise Him just then. As they reached their destination, Jesus made as if to go on but they begged Him to come and stay at their home. He was invited in and so that’s just what He did. Then the two travellers knew who He was. Staying at home? We do not need to be alone. Do we feel lonely and friendless? We can say with the authority of Holy Scripture that if we invite Jesus into our home He will come in with His gracious presence. It may of course mean doing a ‘spring clean’ for none of us is perfect. But then He comes to the humble, penitent believer bringing His unique peace and joy transforming our homes. An Eastertide prayer Risen Christ, You filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: Strengthen us to proclaim your risen life And fill us with your peace, To the glory of God the Father Amen.
Living with Lockdown
Michael L. Diamond, April 2020
CONNECTING WITH COVID-19
Some personal reflections following the progress of the pandemic