Thought for the month

On weekday mornings, those who switch between radio programmes benefit from two different “Thoughts for the Day”, on Radio Scotland at about 7:23, and on Radio 4 at about 7:48. These reflections are very varied and their faith perspective makes a welcome change from the news!

Unusually, this morning’s thoughts had the same starting point, the 75th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a satirical take on Stalin’s Russia.

Fr Jamie McMorrin from St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh, used Orwell’s own classification of books to describe Animal Farm as one of those books that alters one’s whole attitude to life. The fact that we’re still reading it proves the writer’s pen to be mightier than the dictator’s sword, though, compared to the Bible, Animal Farm’s 75 years is like the blink of an eye, its symbolic allegory is nothing compared to the Book of Revelation, and “if it’s empire-shaking radicalism that you’re after, look no further than St Paul.”

Fr McMorrin also noted the start last weekend of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (this year on-line), and its celebration of the continued importance of books. Reading a good book helps us “try to understand our world, to understand ourselves and to make a small start at changing them both for the better.”

Dr Anna Rowlands of Durham University talked about the group of mid-century writers to which Orwell belonged. Orwell, Camus, and Auden tackled a common set of troubling questions: “How do we get as deeply into the world as possible? look at it without illusion? understand the suffering we create? but also find the courage to resist and to hope?”

For Auden, Christ’s command to love ones neighbour was the teaching that could enable resistance to power gone awry. Being able to see the infinite worth of an imperfect other was for him an insight that comes from outside ourselves. It’s “the kind of insight you have to choose to really own for yourself again and again. For it means being willing to revolt in the face of every system that decides some human beings are worth more than others.

“The great miracle for Auden is the moment when you choose to ‘love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart’. When we do, we image God, who Auden says, ‘numbers each particle … by its Proper Name’. God is the very opposite of indifference. God is not like an algorithm. Great poetry and literature, Auden wrote, ‘makes nothing happen’, but it does extend our knowledge of both suffering and love, and by doing so makes all the more urgent the choice that lies before us, to actively choose to inhabit a more genuinely human world.”

The portrait of Boxer, the steadfast and loyal horse, is Ralph Steadman’s illustration for the 50th anniversary edition of Animal Farm.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Dylan Thomas)

Rage seems an apposite response
to pandemic
It’s palpable in the air
Seething not so gently
just under the surface

If only we could harness
the energy of rage
allowing it to carry us onward
into that “new normal”

Harnessing the energy
to raise up “the least of these”

Harnessing the energy
to continue to honour
our “unskilled workers”
who became our heroes.

Harnessing the energy
to properly fund our NHS
and our social care

Harnessing the energy
to keep our streets
free of  the homeless
by providing adequate resources

Harnessing the energy 
to care for refugees and migrants
by treating them as brothers and sisters
who merit compassion

Harnessing the energy
to refuse to be governed
by out of touch
beyond reach politicians

Harnessing the energy
to put our faith into practice
by shaking up our ancient creeds
infusing them
with transformative covenants
of justice and love
that spill out of closed buildings
and flow like lava 
through our neighbourhoods
gathering the energy of rage
to usher in
the radical kingdom of God.

Do not go quietly
into the new normal.

Rage, rage
against all that diminishes
the breath
of the Spirit of God

And may our rage 
be pregnant with potential
for the healing of all Creation.

Thanks to Liz Crumlish for permission to use her blog, which was originally published under the title “Harnessing the rage”.

BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship last Sunday included a moving reflection from Susan McKay on the passage she had just read, which included the verse: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40.31)

Susan talked of the way these promises had sustained her at times when she wondered where she would get the strength to keep going. But, as she put it: “The promises he makes cannot go unfufilled … because he is GOD. So when it says – they will soar like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint – what seems to be impossible actually becomes possible.

“I love the order in which the promises come. ‘They will soar; they will run; they will walk’. I can’t help seeing this a little like a poem. You might expect the ‘walking’ to come first, and then the ‘running’, and then a build to the ‘soaring’ finale.

“But, no, it’s the opposite. There may be occasions when we ‘soar’ and feel strong and able to take on the day. There may be days when we can ‘run’ and manage well with his help But the promise ends with the walking – the simplest of the verbs: ‘they will walk and not grow faint’.

“And yet this is not an anticlimax. Because most of my days simply entail ‘walking’ … with God’s help … and when we trust in Him … we will not faint.

“That tender, attentive care from an all-powerful, loving God is available to us. In the joys and in the sorrows …  through Jesus who offers us the sure and certain hope of heaven.”

Now that’s a message for these coronavirus-focused day! You can read the whole service, and listen to it again for the rest of the month, at this link.

Acts 2:1–4: The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

When the Spirit came on that first Pentecost,
the disciples were all together
On this Pentecost, scattered as we are,
and hoping
for we know not what
still the Spirit comes
Merrily waltzing into our living rooms
Powerfully crashing into our chaotic spaces
Humbly sitting at our kitchen table
Joyfully taking a seat beside us on the sofa
Quietly embracing us in our grief and confusion
in our yearning and loss.
The Spirit gets in among us anyway and every way
She sits until we are ready to pay attention
And then she takes us on a tour that reminds us
that in every place
and every time
God is present
And the Spirit of God
announces that presence
In a song
In a whisper
In a cacophony of praise
In a cry for help
In a deep breath
The Spirit of God weaves together the fabric of life itself
Until we know that nothing can ever separate us from Gods love
And so as we pray for the healing of Creation
and for healing for our neighbour
Our prayers are lifted
on the wings of the Spirit
and our sighs are caught up
and presented to God
And our faith
and hope
and love
are reborn
in the life of the church
in the life of the world
The eternal gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Spirit of God, may it be so.

A blog from Liz Crumlish.

The image comes from Sharon Tate Soberon’s Art4TheGlryOfGod photostream where it has the title “Come Holy Spirit”.

Already this month we have been celebrating (though in a more muted fashion than originally planned) the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe: today (12 May) we celebrate International Nurses Day, the day of the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, in whose honour 2020 has been designated the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

As it says on the Florence Nightingale Museum website, it’s a time when the “nursing, washing your hands and evidence-based healthcare pioneered by Florence Nightingale have become more important than ever before”.

If last Thursday, after clapping for the NHS, you watched BBC4’s repeat of the 2008 drama about her life, based largely on her own words, you’ll know that Florence was driven by a sense of God’s calling, and that calling made a real difference to what she did and what she achieved. [The film is currently available on iPlayer at this link]

Florence featured again on Radio 4’s Sunday Worship service which was led by the Bishop of London, one-time Chief Nursing Officer, Dame Sarah Mullally. Dame Sarah spoke about the significance of Florence Nightingale for NHS workers today:

“VE commemorates victory on the battlefield after uncountable suffering and loss, but 1945 also marked the beginning of a social transformation, in health, education and housing. Recently we have seen another herculean national effort invoking the name of the nation’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, who also forged her reputation and skills in a time of national crisis.

“So as we commemorate VE day, and reflect on the life and legacy of Florence Nightingale, in today’s service we ask ‘What are we building today? What does the moment require of us, not just in solidarity now but in the years to come, in shaping a more compassionate world?’”

Sarah went on to talk about Florence’s life: “A talented mathematician, she was also drawn to caring for the sick and made no secret of an explicit calling from God – a call to service. She believed that God wanted to change the world … we should not only pray for deliverance, but we should work to bring deliverance.”

Having described some of Florence’s contributions to nursing and statistics, Sarah ended: “In an address to nurses in 1873 in which Florence describes the vocation of a nurse she said ‘Feeling God has made her what she is, she may seek to carry on her work in the hospital as a fellow worker with God. Remembering that Christ died for her, she may be ready to lay down her life for her patients’. The faith which underpinned her lifelong commitment to nursing could not be made clearer than that.”

The whole service is worth listening to, and is available at this link – you even get a sermon by Dr Rowan Williams thrown in!

Coming up …
  • 20 May 2021 7:30 pm St Andrews West Area Council (Zoom)
  • 23 May 2021 9:30 am Said Eucharist
  • 23 May 2021 9:45 am Methodist Zoom Worship
  • 24 May 2021 7:00 pm Ecumenical Study Group (Zoom)

More details at this link


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