News from the Pews

Lay Minister’s reflection: August 2021

As we approach the celebration of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, I have cause to think back on our own journey of change which has had an impact on all our lives during the past 18 months.

The resilience of human spirit never ceases to amaze, and we have all been forced to address and deal with large aspects of our lives quite differently from what we are so used to.  It has been said we are creatures of habit but when needed we can transfigure and change, when circumstances demand this of us and often this change continues even when “life gets back to normal”.

Many businesses have not yet seen a big return to face-to-face shopping, hospitality has seen an increase but nothing like the numbers prior to lockdown and now festivals and theatres all peer into the future not really knowing how society will respond to the new landscape and the inevitable thoughts of the virus that still haunt many.  Online retailers are still busy as many experience that same concern and feel safer in shopping “in a different way”.  This is natural.  We have experienced lengthy periods when weddings, baptisms and funerals have been, if not fully curtailed, certainly delayed or heavily restricted.

One of the main challenges the human spirit faces is change.  Change and the uncertainty and even fear that often accompanies it, are daunting to most.  So, what has occurred in the last 18 months that has allowed us to embrace a change, to modify the way we normally do things?  Is it the fact that we have a view of a final end, to be able to return to how things were?  Or is it a challenge we are unable to reject, a situation that we are unable to change, one that we are forced to live with, to wait and to hope.  I believe it is a bit of both.

There have been comparisons made between Covid-19 and Old Testament plagues, often brought about to bring Judah back into the covenant of God.  I do not find it particularly helpful to focus on creation and God’s involvement in episodes that defy explanation, or are so disastrous as to cost many lives, as the mysteries of creation are far greater than our day-to-day understanding.  We do better to see these events as part of a transformation of our world, in the same way that an earthquake, volcanic eruption or a tsunami would be.  Our own lives are transformed by events, why should the world we live in be any different?  Of course, our part in creation and the covenant we have is to look after our world, so perhaps these events should prompt not only reflection on how we have contributed but also as a call to action, to prevent future events and to nurture creation as something very special and like us, fragile.

What change within the last 18 months has brought about a new personal challenge, or something we now do differently?  Throughout Christian history there have been many different elements of Christian faith that have addressed adversity in unique and varying ways.  In the 3rd and 4th centuries, in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, there was a significant movement of Christians led by Anthony of Egypt withdrawing from “the world” and seeking God in a life of radical renunciation,

simplicity and prayer. This was the birth of monasticism.  Then a short while later Benedict of Nursia set up his monastery at Monte Cassino, and as we know the Benedictines were directed in a slightly different way than the earlier deserts monks, combining a real and hard work ethic into their prayer life and being a part of a community not only with themselves but with others also.

For me without any doubt at all, the change has been prayer.  All the time we were unable to be together as the body of Christ and to celebrate our faith in love and friendship, I went deeper into prayer, at times during the day just talking to God asking him for wisdom, advice, or comfort.  I expect there have been many who have seen me, especially when I am actually talking rather than being silent in prayer and what they have thought I can only guess.  These times became and still are regular events in my day, no longer strained or difficult, conversations flow as if I was physically with who I am talking to.  I now greatly enjoy these times, often quiet, like the desert Fathers I find solitude good, it helps with setting aside other thoughts and aids concentration but also when I am busy, I can flip between thinking of a practical home task and asking our Father what I should do with a particular aspect of my life.

We have all journeyed through the pandemic in our own way, differently, but also very much the same.  We have all lost loved ones that we miss and this part of our immediate past is still within our consciousness.  The prophet Jeremiah outlines in chapter 33 the healing that God brings to the Israelites.  There are also two very important points that recur in the rhetoric.  The first is that we must always engage in relentless, uncompromising hope for the future.  This is not some wild stab in the dark.  This is seeing that God will not quit, no matter what the situation is, until he arrives at his good intention.

Our faith needs to be strong to see that God is at work in any situation and if the God of the Old Testament can deliver Israel from its sins in great love and compassion then our faith in this God is the foundation of a great building, a Temple in his honour and that Temple may be in our own hearts but it is nevertheless real for that.

In verse 11 Jeremiah says, “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”.  So, has the dancing stopped?  I think it never stopped it just transfigured into something else, a hope based on faith and belief that God will see us all through this time of strife.

So, in the words of Brueggemann “Is the Virus a Summons to Faith?”.  I believe that life itself is the summons to faith.  I think the virus should be a call to a deeper, more meaningful and ultimately a better and more satisfying prayer life.

Psalm 77 is a devotional or liturgical statement of faith, but I see it as a clear prayer pilgrimage on how we can move away from a preoccupation with ourselves and our own lives and be more submissive and reliant on God.

The apostle Paul said in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Peace and Christ’s blessing to you all.

Clive Taylor

Licensed Lay Minister