I usually talk about Sundays or Feast Days, but this time I want to start with a Monday for a change. Monday 18th January is apparently the most depressing day of the year, known as Blue Monday! Better stick to Sundays and high days don’t you think? Truth be told, I have found these last few weeks difficult - bad news, more bad news and yet more bad news…
I give thanks that I had one service over Christmas, but lament all the others that were cancelled. I have heard of dear friends and many others who are seriously ill with non-Covid related conditions, others who have died. So many people losing their jobs, businesses closing. Everyone is fed up with yet another lockdown. Sometimes it all just gets too much.
Perhaps the slight relief of Christmas has made it worse. Apart from the services, my Christmas was not that different to usual, I did not suffer the pain of separation from family. January itself certainly doesn’t help! Despite the fact that the days are lengthening it makes little real difference at the moment and the cold, damp weather gets to my bones. Our hospitals are alas often at breaking point at this time of year, when ill health generally is more prevalent and serious. Not being able to go out and about freely, see people and have a chat means that there is more time to brood quietly on everything that is going on.
I am a naturally quiet person – believe it or not! I prefer to keep my thoughts to myself than share them with everyone else. We are all different, thank God. But there is a time for keeping quiet and there is a time for talking. For me, this is definitely a time for talking, especially when my head and my heart tell me to be quiet.
We are so fortunate to belong to a fraternity which is exactly that. We look out for one another and each other. We develop deep and meaningful relationships with some of the bretheren, so that we know instinctively when something is not ‘right’. With others, we don’t know them as well, but our care and concern for every one is the same, and we know that we can turn to any other brother whenever we need to.
It always strikes me as such a puzzling thing that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Why should it be so? And yet it is. Very little, if anything, changes in substance and yet the burden is lightened significantly. We know that our lodge almoner is always there to help us whenever we need to call, and what an excellent job do! Never an ‘easy’ office, but for almost a year now they have shone like stars in the night’s sky. The almoner is there to help and to get us more help if needed.
Sometimes however we just need an ear to listen, as I have done recently, and because of our bond of brotherhood there was no shortage of brothers to whom I felt able to turn and talk to. I’m sure that I am far from being alone in this, and I hope that each and every one of us know that we can always talk to a brother. We are never alone, it is never me, but always us, and I believe that we especially need to support each other at this time as this time of physical separation grinds on.
Since I began writing these reflections I have been encouraged to remain hopeful, knowing that this pandemic will of course come to an end. We all know that, but the sceptical lawyer in me says ‘but when?’ The availability of vaccines and the growing infection rate compounds the challenges we face at this time. We know that there is hope, and yet we are probably in the worst situation we have been. The vaccines appear of little use at this precise moment in time.
Have I given up on hope? No, because my friends and my faith enable me to adjust my perspective. To take a step back (or more) and look at the broader picture. The history of the Jews is one of struggle, in the Hebrew Bible they encounter one struggle after another, let alone since then. Even so they understand their suffering as a sign of God’s holiness to their persecutors and enemies.
In times of trial, hope and trust go hand in glove. When I am at my lowest ebb the verses which always comes to my mind are found in some of the closing words of the short book of Habakkuk
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
You can’t get a bleaker picture than that in verse 17, and yet there is still reason to rejoice and to be joyful. That takes some saying, and takes some working through, but these words help me to find my footing again.
I referred to this hymn back in May. That was a difficult time, and this is a more difficult time. Yet we hope in God and we trust in God, and that gives us the joy that we need when we just have to get through some of the challenges which life throws at us.
All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew,
me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
calls my heart to be his own.
Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God's power,
hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.
God's great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendor, light and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
from his store
new-born worlds rise and adore.
Daily doth the Almighty giver
bounteous gifts on us bestow;
his desire our soul delighteth,
pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand
at his hand;
joy doth wait on his command.
Still from man to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ, his Son.
Christ doth call
one and all:
ye who follow shall not fall.
Robert Bridges based on the German of J Neander
I offer this prayer:
Eternal God, our heavenly Father, who lovest us with an everlasting love, and canst turn the shadow of death into the morning: we bow before thee with reverent and submissive hearts; speak to us afresh thy gracious promises; that through patience and the comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope, and be lifted above our darkness and distress into the light and peace of thy presence. Amen.