We are pleased that we have a guest blogger today, Canon Andy Bryant. Norwich Cathedral's Canon Pastor.
It is the silence that is the most poignant sign of these most unusual of times. The great Cathedral Church of Norwich stands locked, still and silent. I open my front door and gone are the noises of the busy city. Traffic sounds are rare and the voices of people rarer. Looking out the window nobody passes by. There is just silence.
Some people get nervous in the silence. They find comfort in leaving the radio on during the day to have the background of human voices. Or they full their house with music, keeping the silence at bay.
But I find this silence deeply re-assuring. For me this silence says: we are taking this virus seriously. We are following the rules because we want to help. And the silence – the absence of activity – is not just our ways of keeping ourselves safe, it is our way of supporting our wonderful NHS and its dedicated staff. The silence of church and city is our act of solidarity to protect the NHS, to minimise the pressure that it will inevitably come under. Our silence is our standing alongside all who have and will get the virus, and especially those mourning and the many more who will mourn before we see this through.
I do of course miss the music and liturgies of the Cathedral. I miss my colleagues’ voices as we join together in prayer, I miss their voices bringing alive the reading of Scripture. I miss the singing of the choir, their harmonies balm to the soul and the sudden surprise of a chord that breaks open the heart. I miss the sound of the organ filling the space and echoing in the depths of my being. I miss the Cathedral Community, their conversations and the sharing of their lives.
But though I miss these things I nevertheless value the silence for God is in the silence. Some long to hear God speak directly to them. They want a God who acts, gets involved, does stuff. Others mistakenly presume that the silence from God is the final proof of the absence of God.
But if we allow it the silence can nurture us and renew us. When life is in free fall and all the familiar landmarks have disappeared what I need to know is that I am held…and in the silence I feel held. Amidst the jumble of thoughts chasing through my mind the last thing I need is more words, either human or divine. Amidst the endless commentary on the events of this present time I do not need more words. Rather I need to be held, held by the One who even amidst my free fall I know will not let me go. A true friend is one in whose presence you can both be comfortably silent. A trusted lover is one who will quietly hold you, whose holding is healing, an anointing for a troubled body, mind and soul.
Silence provides the necessary space for letting go and for discovering what I most need to hold onto. Silence strips us and re-clothes us. It empties us and fills us anew. It bathes our wounds and binds them. It reminds us what we are not, and what we are, whose we are not, and whose we are.
It is captured for me in this quote (whose origin I have sadly lost):
Silence is the assurance of God’s presence, not absence.
Silence is the dark faithfulness of God’s promise…
When above all, we need to recover
A sense of the presence of God who is within,
And by whom we are enfolded.
It is in St John’s Gospel, Chapter 17:
You in me…I in you…they in us…I in them…you in me.
Embrace the silence that is around us at this most unusual of times. Allow yourself to be held in the silence by the One from whose love we cannot be separated. Allow the silence to nurture you and uphold you. Counterintuitively remember that the silence does not mean you are alone, but rather in the company of One who is beyond all words, all imaginings, and who holds you safe in the palm of the Divine hand.
Last Thursday, like so many of us I stood in my doorway and clapped the NHS workers. We know the risks they are taking on our behalf and frankly I am humbled by it. Perhaps like me you want to do something, there are 750'000 people who have volunteered to help the NHS. Almost every call I make ends with the other person offering to help in some way. We are living through an emergency and we want to do something. Yet almost everything we want to do, from picking up shopping or collecting prescriptions or taking food to the homeless, involves risk and not just to ourselves. We risk those we share a home with, the people who will need an NHS bed and the NHS staff themselves. Recognise that our well intentioned desire to help is something we have to contain. In an emergency the brain does strange things, we often talk about the fight or flight reaction, the same adrenalin can lead to a desire to rescue and nurture. All very sensible at the right time. We have to acknowledge those feelings but not give into them. We clapped the NHS staff now we have to give them the thank you they have asked for and stay home.
This is a photo of my Dad, it sits on my desk and while is not in great focus or taken with the kind of camera that would give brilliant detail, it captures the feel of him, or at least how I remember him.
He died on Christmas day, several years ago, I was in my parish and he was with the rest of my Mum's family. I can remember the feeling I had when I got the call, walking through the parish swearing loudly and then realising I was still wearing my Priests collar so trying to moderate my language. I had family, friends and a Church to help me through my grief. Those who are being bereaved now or living with a recent loss maybe unable to attend funeral's or the funeral will be limited to a few people. Those who would want to give you a hug and let you know they are there for you, are left wondering how to support you. Others of us will be reconnecting to previous bereavements because death is on the news so much and we are at home with a lot of time to think.
The words that helped me are ancient wisdom "those we love but see no more are no longer where they once were, they are now everywhere that we are". If you are bereaved or reconnecting with a previous loss you might like to light a candle, write those words and spend some time thinking about what the person you love has given you, what you shared with them, and how they remain part of you, perhaps you love something they introduced you to, perhaps there are values they held you try to live by. When you are ready thank God for them, and entrust them to the love that hold's our universe together and in which no one is lost and nothing is wasted.
Just in case we were confused, being forced to stay in our homes is not some helpful folk have told us "a holiday". Those of us worried about parents we can not get to, friends who may struggle, or children who need to be taught as well as entertained probably knew that already. But for some the need to remind us that at no point should we enjoy ourselves whilst being cooped up was to strong to ignore.
They might well approve of the Preacher who was asked to talk about joy and came up with "when you think of all God has done for us miserable sinners, is it not a wee bit small minded not to be joyful!" Personaly I prefer Leonard Cohen's quote on the subject “It’s been a long time,” Cohen said on playing Vancouver. “Maybe 15 years. I was 60 years old then: just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then, I’ve taken a lot of Prozac, Effexor, Ritalin, Wellbutrin … I also plunged into a rigorous study of religion and philosophy … but cheerfulness kept breaking through.”
There will be moments in the weeks to come of happiness and laughter which will help us get through, and when they come, enjoy them. The people who tell us we are not on holiday are not wrong (unless stating the obvious is a sin) but the Christian tradition allows for a different way of making sense of this time. Christians and many others have gone on retreat, a time of stepping away from the world in order to return to it with greater resources and wisdom.
For those looking after small children you may well wonder if I'm taking the mickey, but there will be moments of silence and stillness, a chance to pray and reflect which have some of the characteristics of a retreat. In the Christian tradition, retreats hark back to the desert Fathers and mothers, the mystics who went into the desert to fight their demons. Those of us who have to fight to hold onto our mental health and well being may relate to that sense of conflict.
I am looking at these next few weeks as a time in which I need to look out for the needs of others, when there will be moments of happiness and laughter as well as silence and prayer. We will have demons of anxiety and perhaps grief to contend with, none of them have to be faced alone. God accompanies us into the silence.
My guitar is staring at me. I have owned several over the years, and each one has failed to overcome my own inherent lack of musicality, and yet it is staring at me, accusingly asking when I will ever finally learn to play it.
I have no excuse now, we are socially isolating, have lots of time on our hands and surely now is the time to finally study those things we are putting off. Some of us are not so lucky, the crisis means childcare without distraction, or playdates, or many of the things that make being a parent fun. Hang in there, you are in my prayers. But for those who are stuck at home this is a great time to study. Our website has links to bible study, prayer, spirituality and poetry, chosen not because it is correct or safe, but because it is interesting and stimulating, have a look by pressing the button.
I hope some of this passes the time, we will look at creating or curating resources for children next. Good luck, God bless and stay safe.
One of the things that is of great concern to Christian thinkers and writers about our lives today is the denial of death. This is borne out everywhere we look in the media: we are constantly being assaulted with the need to keep young, to keep looking good, to keep fit, to be happy and healthy. Nowhere are we reminded that we do not live forever, no matter how hard we may try to disguise or deny the inevitable passage of time.
This is really all about fear; and fear is something we are experiencing in greater measure in these troubled times as we are told to expect the worst, to lose loved ones, to lock down and isolate ourselves. Fear is something that hits us harder when we lack faith and trust, and when we forget the fact that, however hard we may try to deny it, life is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death and death is never really far from us.
God assures us, though, that death is not the end; that He is with us, and above all, that He holds us securely in His infinite and perfect love.
And, as St John tells us, perfect love casts out fear. We need only put our trust in God to put our lives in His hands, to have our doubt and fear lifted, to be strengthened and refreshed, to be blessed with love, joy and peace.
As we journey on through the daunting days ahead, let us put our trust in that perfect love and be confident that we will be empowered to journey through all adversity together.
Rev Tracy Williams (Curate)
You maybe someone who is used to praying every day, it maybe an activity you have not given much thought to, but in the weeks ahead I do suggest you give it a try. When I was at school we were told to put our hands together and close our eyes, largely in order to ensure we were not distracted, though I found holding my hands in a funny way and being surrounded by people while we all kept our eyes shut distracting as well!
There are lots of ways of praying, you can try just talking to God, saying what's on your mind. I find it helpful to remember all the people I care about especially at the moment when I can not be physically with them.
You can use words that have been used by many people over hundreds of years, you may know the Lord's prayer:
Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
forever and ever Amen.
I like arrow prayers, short and succinct, someone's situation comes to mind and you just pray God, keep them safe. You can read bits of the bible, the Church of England includes short readings in its prayer during the day webpage, or you may want to use their whole prayer service that incorporates the psalms and other poems called canticles. There is something reassuring about praying with others, using prayers that are ancient (even if they are written in modern English), finally you can try being quiet and still and just listening. Which takes me back to where we started, hands together and eyes shut.
When I was a young man the miner's strike was on the news every evening. I had not come from a working class background, no one in my family had been in a union and I had the most limited understanding of what went on in a strike. It became clear to me that this strike was about a whole community engaged in trying to save the jobs they relied on. Years later I watched Billy Elliot the musical with the amazing song solidarity forever.
Now I understand what it feels like for a whole community to struggle together, to share fears and anxieties, to try and support one another and make sure we all know that we have each others backs. We do not know how long this period of self isolation and social distancing will last. We do know that to get through it we need to care for each other and support each other, in the words of Billy Elliot, Solidarity forever!
The suspension of public worship means we wont have the joy of children sharing bunches of daffodils on Sunday as we celebrate Mothering Sunday or Mother's day as it is less formally known. A handful of Daffs may seem a small way to say thank you to those who love and nurture us, but it is an important one none the less. I will miss it.
So Firstly, thanks Mum, my mum obviously but also yours too. Thank you to all the Mums who we wanted to give Daffs to on Sunday. Thank you those who struggle, those who are exhausted, those who love us.
Church is a great place to say thank you, its also a lovely place to come into and feel you belong, it can be a community that supports and encourages you, and one that helps you lift up your eyes to the God who loves you. This Sunday it was going to be a place that said thank you, but sadly we can not this year. So please know that we pray for you, love you, and most of all want to say thank you.