Tuesday 31 March 2020

Can these dry bones live?

The legend near the very beginning of the Bible is that we are made up of earth into which God breaths life.  It is a perspective which has pursued me since Lent began.  Mud, animated by God.

I felt it using the words “remember you are dust and to dust you will return” as I marked people with a cross of ash.  Going into Lent not in my own strength (“here is what I am going to achieve  giving things up and taking things on”) but in a heightened awareness of a dependence on God (“here is where my nature cannot but fail and needs to be laid open to you”).  Dust alone, unless breathed on by God.

I then reflected with people on the first Sunday in Lent how even modest acts of fasting may be intended to alert me not to how spiritually fit I can become by such a spiritual workout but to how earthly limited I am by my own appetites and habits.  Human weakness, in need of the action of God’s spirit. 

So what stood out for me the following Sunday was how the phrase sometimes a little mistranslated as “born again” actually sits in John 3.6 as “what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the spirit is spirit, so do not be incredulous that I say ‘you must be born from above’”.  The resources of flesh alone, unless renewed by the original creativity of God.

Then Lent suddenly changed gear - all of us instantly re-aware of how vulnerable we are (as individuals who can get sick and as a society which can collapse) when a new virus gets loose.  Fraility exposed, and hardly daring to expect anything from God.  

So this Sunday what we are given is Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of desiccated skeletons, a place where some plague or slaughter must have passed by (Ezekiel  37.1-12).  I half remembered it as a nightmare from which Ezekiel awoke crying “can these dry bones live?”.  But, re-reading it, I see that it is God who asks Ezekiel that question.  Ezekiel replies “God knows”.

“Play your part”, God says, “discern and tell this lifeless place to respond to the possibilities that I can make them live”.  It takes more than one go.  The first hints are a clanking sound as discarded bits of people began to come together.  Ezekiel is urged to discern and tell again “God says ‘come breath and make these slain live’”.

Discern and tell our mud, our dust, our human weakness, our flesh, our frailty that it is ready for God’s animation, God’ breath, God’s spirit, the renewal of God’s creativity, God’s unknown future.

Discern and tell.  First, the awful and almost necessary shock of human loss brought by the next crisis or disaster.  Then, the distant noise which isn’t the storm swirling  the detritus around but is human reconnecting already beginning to happen.  Until, the God-breathed possibilities of new human flourishing comes.

The words are the reflection on Sunday’s Old Testament reading published on the Bronte Virtual Church blog.  The Epistle included:  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8.6).

The picture is the box of Palm Crosses which it is just dawning on me current restrictions mean cannot be delivered house to house as I had begun to plan.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Acting love

Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury in 2001.  He was in New York on 9/11 when the World Trade Centre were attacked and collapsed.  He said profound things about the experience then and since.

He noticed one simple thing.  Most of the mobile phone calls made from the hijacked planes and from the twin towers were from people calling family and friends to say ‘I love you’.  Nobody seemed bothered to settle old scores.  There aren’t records of people using the time to transfer money from one account to another.  Few even raged against the terrorists. 

News and rumours about coronavirus quarantine began to circulate a fortnight ago.  It made me think about his remarks again.  It is true there were some negative stories.  First, tales of people emptying supermarket shelves to hoard toilet roll and pasta.  Also, I realise, lots of selfishness, profiteering and political point scoring. 

But most reactions were creative and positive.  Cross Roads village’s Facebook pages were immediately full of people offering to shop for others.  People restricted to their flats in Italy were singing to each other on their balconies.  Most reactions were simply about noticing and loving our neighbours.

When times of crisis come and test me, I realise I don’t always show up as well as I’d like.  And many in isolation today don’t get noticed or loved as they should.  I have a prayer for me and for them.  It is based on one written 471 years ago by the man who was Archbishop of Canterbury then.

Lord, you teach us that without love all we do is worth nothing: send your Holy Spirit to pour into our hearts the supreme gift of love, the one thing which binds peace and virtue around us.  Otherwise our lives might as well be lost.

The words are the Thought for the Week column (which I'm only asked to contribute about once a year) in last week's Keighley News.

The tulips were at a magnificent final stage which we enjoyed as much as when we were given them perfect and new.

The monumental mason part of whose names appears in the previous post was James Greaves of Halifax.

Thursday 19 March 2020

Things change every day

Updating the statement we put out on social media only a few days ago

At the parish churches in Cross Roads, Haworth and Stanbury:

We will all continue to pray for the sick and for carers.    Yes, and for the stir crazy at home and those placed in really difficult financial positions by all this.

We will minimize possibilities of infection at services.    No, we have had to cancel all services altogether, although we are in touch with those exploring whether anything is possible beyond keeping St Michael’s open through the day as usual.

We will seek to be aware of those who usually attend worship and begin to build a system to be in touch by phone.    Working at this: we’ve identified 135 households and a number of people who will keep the contacts, but an initial problem on which we are working is that we have fewer phone numbers than we realised.

Will try to make some prayer and reflection resources available.    Yes, we’ve set up brontevirtualchurch.blogspot.com website, and some YouTube possibilities are now being explored.

We would welcome any information about church members or neighbours who find themselves stuck on their own or upset so that we can try to offer the right practical or spiritual support to anybody.    Yes, and we are grateful to know just how much of this is going on in the three villages already.

We will continue to organise regular and special events.   No, we have had to cancel all events, although we are in touch with those planning possible safe walking possibilities.

Meanwhile, the photo is of the bottom corner of the Bronte Memorial in St Michael’s, and the way the monumental mason’s name is cut indicates the memorial was resized when re-erected in its present position.

I’d not noticed this before – and did so this week only because those of us saying daily Matins together in the Bronte Memorial Chapel were observing ‘physical distancing’ (our Bishop correctly points out that ‘social distancing’ is actually something quite different and more worrying) which meant I sat in a position in which I have not sat before.  

Saturday 14 March 2020

Our local Coronavirus stance

At the parish churches in Cross Roads, Haworth and Stanbury:
we will all continue to pray for the sick and for carers, and will do so whether we are among those happy to be together in church, among those more cautious at home, or among those self isolating;
we will heed national advice to minimize possibilities of infection at services (cleaning surfaces, having paper towels by our basins, washing our hands, not sharing a handshake at the Peace, not passing the collection plate from person to person, not sharing wine at Communion, not sharing refreshments after services);
we will seek to be aware of those who usually attend worship but are not with us, and begin to build a system to be in touch by phone and to try to make some prayer and reflection resources available to them;
we would welcome any information about church members or neighbours who find themselves stuck on their own or upset so that we can try to offer the right practical or spiritual support to anybody;
and, unless national advice changes or people stay away, we will continue to organise regular and special events (from weekly Friday Church to special Holy Week drama), although at the moment we have stopped going into Care Homes.
The photo is from the east window in St James', Cross Roads (and we've used it to accompany a Lent focus on Rembrandt's 'Return of the Prodigal Son'); we see that the village's Facebook page is full of offers to shop for neighbours if needed.