What strange and unfamiliar days these are, in which we find ourselves. I can not remember a time when grocery store shelves were so bare, when simple things like onions, or facial tissue were hard to find, and so treasured. I have never had the experience of looking at every other person as a potential threat, or risk, as I do now. I’ve been thinking of my grandmothers a lot these days. Both lived through the Depression, and both wars. My father’s mother saw 6 of her 7 kids go off to war in 1939, having already seen her husband go off in 1914. I remember how resourceful they both were. Nothing was wasted. Nothing. Ever. Flour and sugar sacks made quilts, and tea towels, and maybe even clothing. Chickens were kept in the backyard, in town. Communication was by letter or telegraph. I remember hearing stories of how during the war, everyone was on edge when the telegraph person came down the street, fearing the news they might bring of loved ones. My gosh they were tough women, and in equal measure, every bit classic Edwardian ladies.
I’ve been thinking about how fortunate we are, these days, and thinking about how my grandmothers would have coped with this world-wide lock-down, and enforced social distancing, and quarantines. Somehow, I suspect they would have fared just fine. I wonder if a part of the struggle many are having these days with all these new, but temporary measures, is we’ve gotten so used to getting what we want, and doing what we want, when we want, NOW.
There are benefits to these days, it seems to me, so long as we are well. My furnace room/storeroom is now tidied up, and organized. I can’t remember when last it was - decades surely - that I had so many evenings at home. As staff at the church, we have increased both our learning and our activity on the internet, social media, and using technology to increase our accessibility and presence out beyond the walls of the church building. I have learned more about making videos, and audio tracks, and that sort of thing, in the last two weeks than I have in the last 5 years. Our parish is now divided into small groupings, and everyone on our list is being checked on. All probably things we should have done years ago, but let other priorities get in the way.
I wonder if its just me, or if you too can not help but approach these days with some reflection on our lives, and our priorities. As Pope Francis said the other day, “You (God) are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others....The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls.”
It is interesting to me, and troubling at the same time, to see governments around the world introduce programmes for income support, support for businesses, and so much else to address some of our societies’ challenges and issues. It is interesting that pollution levels have dropped so profoundly. Perhaps this is forcing us into new ways of envisioning both society and work and travel. I desperately hope that after this crisis our governments and our societies do not choose to just return ‘to normal’.
Yet, alongside the new initiatives and possibilities and changes, the anxiety level in our society is high. High for understandable reasons - not only concerns for our individual health and fear of ‘the virus’, but also incomes and jobs and the economic difficulties both current and yet to come. And we can’t even gather in church right now. No Palm Sunday, nor Easter, nor Mandy Thursday, nor Good Friday. I’m finding it all very dislocating, especially at this time in the Christian calendar.
(As an aside, this is the first time since 1214 that Anglicans - given our heritage in the Church of England - have not been allowed to celebrate Sunday services, or Easter, or funerals. On March 23, 1208 Pope Innocent III issued an Interdict against King John of England. This was because of a dispute about who the new Archbishop of Canterbury should be, and how much influence King John should have in the appointment. This lasted until 1214, the year before Magna Carta, when Stephen Langton was finally appointed. During this time no services of any kind, except infant baptism, were held. King John had little motivation to end the dispute since during it he collected and kept all church incomes.)
During difficult days like these, developing, or continuing in a practice of private and family prayer is particularly useful. I know its not the same as gathering together as Church, but we do the best we can with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. At the start of this crisis, I shared some of my favourite, old classic Anglican prayers. In the days ahead we will post a video of compline from the Book of Common Prayer; a service I find especially calming, and a great way to enfold what’s called an “examen of conscience” (ie: who did I intentionally/unintentionally help today/hurt today. Who intentionally/unintentionally helped/hurt me today). I also want to share with you a couple of other prayers from our tradition which I find helpful during these days. At our times of prayer, may I ask you continue to pray for our emergency services, and medical services, and those who are afraid, those who grieve, and all who ‘wait or watch or weep’. But don’t rush your prayers, and don’t rush the words. Hold each word, let the words float in the air like a feather in the gentle breeze.
We shall get through this difficulty. Hopefully, without cause for grieving locally. But always remember, regardless of how thick or intense the darkness might seem, the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never overcome it.
O God, whose grace is sufficient for all our need; Lift us, we pray thee, above our doubts and anxieties into the calm of thy presence; that guarded by thy peace we may serve thee without fear all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Set free, O God, our souls from all restlessness and anxiety; give us that peace which flows from thee; uphold us in all perplexities and distress, in all fears and faithlessness; that stayed on the rock of thy faithfulness, we may abide in thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:
keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen