It’s the time of year when our minds often turn to ‘Summer Holidays’, perhaps the ones of our childhood or the ones we’d planned for 2020 that got cancelled. Some of us will have managed to get away but others will be ‘holidaying at home’ for a whole variety of reasons.
I have heard of many people who used some of the endless lock-down time to find the old photo albums and take a journey down memory lane of life events and holidays from long ago.
I’m chuckling as I write this, because as I sit here reminiscing about my childhood holidays, a crack of thunder has just pierced the quiet, stuffy calm of the morning. My parents liked to take our annual holiday in a caravan in the middle of no-where and I have many vivid memories of eating soggy sandwiches in the torrential rain on yet another epic hike across Dartmoor or the Yorkshire Dales!
They were the days when pies in a tin and Smash were a holiday staple and Devon ice creams the ultimate treat… happy memories of playing games, laughter and a change from all the usual routines.
Many of us are fortunate to be able to punctuate our lives with all sorts of holidays now- from camping to cruises, every country in the world, alone or in huge family gatherings- until the pandemic halted and continues to disrupt our plans. Cancelled, postponed, uncertain quarantines… travel is no longer a convenient, simple luxury, with many choosing to stay in the UK or at home.
But there is still a deep need within us to rest, to step aside from our usual routines and activities and ‘take a holiday’ or re-discover the power of a ‘holy-day’.
At the heart of the Creation Story in Genesis is the notion of ‘rest’- built deep into the rhythms of humankind and divinity… So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
Throughout the Scriptures we see the repeated theme of a time or space for resting, often following a time of struggle or difficulty: David declares in 2 Samuel: He brought me out into a spacious place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
Jesus consistently took himself away from the crowds to spend time alone in prayer- up mountains, across lakes, in the desert… perhaps not the kind of holiday we might choose, but a deep sense of a need to retreat and be made new, to gain strength for the journey ahead. As opposition to his ministry increased so did his need to step away and re-group.
I wonder if a question for all of us at this time is not about whether we’ve had a holiday in the traditional sense, but when we last set aside time from everything that fills our time and takes our energy and allowed space for God to renew and remake us.
Wherever we are in our faith journey, this could look like a lot of sleep, reading for inspiration, talking to trusted friends or a counsellor, writing a journal or meditating.
We may feel battered and bruised from the experience of lock down, we may be grieving for lost loved ones, screaming with loneliness or broken by relentless work.
We might struggle to find child care or a companion for the journey- but the rewards will far out weigh the effort required.
I love the ‘out of office’ setting on the computer- it presses ‘pause’ on the relentless stream of good ideas, wild possibilities, requests, complaints and things to do. It tells others and reminds us, that we are not indispensable, that life can continue without us, that we can put everything down.
Living life from a place of rest and renewal invites others to join us, allows our ‘yes’ to be more powerful and our responses to the frustrations of life to be more compassionate and patience filled.
Saint Benedict wrote his Rule of life for monastic living 1500 years ago. In light of Beverley Minster’s developing understanding of Sanctuary it struck me as significant that Saint Benedict sets down a basic principle for starting to find a personal Sanctuary- a ‘place of refuge’ or sacred space- the place of renewal that challenges not only our busy-ness but also our deepest sense of being:
‘Let us ask the Lord: Who will dwell in your tent, O Lord; who will find rest upon your holy mountain?
One who walks with-out blemish and is just in all his dealings, who speaks the truth from his heart and has not practised deceit with his tongue’
Benedict suggests that there is no peace without sacrifice, no rest without justice… to take a true holiday, we need to begin with finding peace within our selves and our relationships, to move beyond the deckchairs and ice creams and walk with Jesus into the desert, trusting him to lead us to sanctuary, renewal and a fresh vision for life…
For those who will be holidaying at home or want an inspirational holiday read, Finding Sanctuary by Abbot Christopher Jamison (www.findingsanctuary.org) is a simple but profound read on the subject.
If you would like an inspiring holiday at home, Greenbelt festival is offering an online experience this year for just £10…..details here: https://www.greenbelt.org.uk
Please do contact Wendy if you’d like to know more – Tom and I go every year and would be happy to host a Minster campsite in future.
Tomorrow morning’s online Communion Service (found on Beverley Minster’s You Tube or website) will begin with the Parry’s anthem I was Glad, with words from Psalm 122, sung by the Girls’ Choir. It opens with the words:
I was glad when they said unto me: we will go into the house of the Lord.
The piece was suggested by a member of congregation to celebrate the fact we were finally able to open the doors of the Minster on Tuesday for the first time since March, to allow people in to light candles and pray.
Tuesday was a beautiful and emotional time – seeing people queuing to get in, unloading heavy burdens and drinking deeply of the centuries of prayer and worship that makes Beverley Minster a ‘thin space’ for so many.
A space where it somehow feels easier to experience God. A place of pilgrimage, knowing countless others have gone before – entering the ‘house of the Lord’ for an encounter beyond the daily grind. A place of sanctuary, where grief, loss, fears and anxieties can be laid down and left to divine care. It was a delight and privilege to see old friends to be ‘back home’ in many respects.
But, here’s the thing. Our wardens wrote 9 different risk assessments to ensure legal compliance and the safest experience possible for people. Libby (our Virger) cleaned everything, and then cleaned it again, and again, after people left. In Molescroft, people have to book a slot to ensure social distancing is maintained in a much smaller space.
It is absolutely worth it – but important to remember when you come across articles and arguments suggesting the ‘church has failed’ because it hasn’t simply remained open throughout the whole pandemic. Pastor Geyer from France wrote a very public apology for the fact he remained open against advice, then held a week long conference – 2500 parishioners were infected and 17 died. Beverley hasn’t been a hot spot for Covid-19, but the decision to close was national and the hotspots unknown.
I should have learnt by now that Twitter generally just makes my blood pressure rise (although I have a condition that means my blood pressure is quite low, so perhaps not a bad thing!)- but this morning it linked me to a Spectator article by Douglas Murray suggesting that the church has missed a great opportunity by not remaining open throughout. He writes the following:
Over recent weeks our options for divine worship have grown. Until last month the only place available for worship outside the home was the supermarket or some other purveyor of essential goods. Then members of the public were allowed to offer up their prayers at the nation’s garden centres. As of this week, worship can occur in a greater variety of places. Travelling through the outskirts of London last week, I was struck by how many people were sinking pints at tables outside the pubs. Worshipping the Lord in their own way, I suppose.
What struck me about this comment was that for Murray (and he is by no means alone in his thinking) Christian worship can only properly take place in a church building.
IF this were true, then it would indeed be an absolute travesty that people were denied such a basic right over the past few months. However, the beauty of worship (for all faiths) is that it can take place wherever you are – it is an attitude of heart, mind, body and soul – a way of life.
Christians believe that God himself became incarnate in the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of his Holy Spirit so that His very presence is available to anyone, anywhere. Christians are called to be ‘God-carriers’ taking his presence and light wherever they go.
If we grasp this, Murray’s article has a whole new meaning. As followers of Jesus we ARE called to worship him in the supermarket – in the choices we make, ones that honour the providers of our food and goods – that pay a fair wage, ensure safe working conditions, develop communities.
We can absolutely worship in garden centres as we delight in creation, take seriously our role in caring for it and valuing the environment that has flourished during the past months when much that destroys it has been paused.
And yes, even in the pubs – Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine – community and relationships are being at the heart of worship. Taking our faith out beyond the walls of the church has always been part of the deal….
I know that for many who are shielding, worshipping God in the safety of their home or care home room is their only option and maybe for a long time to come. There is no reference to anything about medical advice or protecting the most vulnerable in Murray’s writing.
Whilst the doors of beautiful buildings have been closed; churches (and by this I mean the followers of Jesus, the body of faith – not just the leaders) have been fully open for business – seeking out those in need of practical help, running food banks, trying to provide spiritual food though ‘phone calls, letters, cards, Zoom meetings or filmed services.
Chaplains have often been able to visit the sick and dying when family weren’t able. Funerals have continued at gravesides or in empty crematoriums – filmed and streamed around the world. Clergy have been helping disappointed couples re-arrange weddings and seeking to comfort the confused, frustrated and lonely.
As ‘Church’ has continued, so has worship: in homes, supermarkets, on socially distanced walks, on hospital wards, in schools, care homes, transport facilities….the list is endless.
I am as excited as anyone to see the return of life to the Minster and daughter churches. I should have been taking 2 weddings today- with Baptism prep this morning and a Communion service with the glorious choir tomorrow. We’ve lost more than being in a beautiful building….
Instead we’ve filmed and edited and layered and said words we shouldn’t have and thrown technology out the window….and we will Zoom and call and seek to be available, and pray and hope and pray and worship…. until the medical experts tell us it’s safe to sing and hug and drink tea and gather around the bread and wine inside our familiar church buildings and continue to worship – wherever we are.
‘The Government are trying to do a jigsaw puzzle, without a picture to guide them.’ (BBC news 20 May 2020)
‘The start of June can’t come quick enough….we can’t wait for our kids to be allowed back to school.’ (Parents currently homeschooling)
‘Delivering a few weeks of schooling is no way worth risking loss of life.’ (Teacher)
I’ve been pondering Jonathan’s questions posted last week about who should be prioritised when medical resources are limited, how we measure the value of a human life and what are the implications if we prioritise the young over any other group?
That question has come into sharp focus this week with the government’s announcement that schools could begin to re-open from June 1 beginning with the youngest pupils. As someone with 15 years experience of teaching in primary schools, including some hilarious years trying to persuade 4 year olds to sit still. (I’ll give a medal to anyone who can successfully socially distance 15 of them!)…. I’ve been following the debate closely.
I perhaps foolishly invited people to share their opinions with me and I now have enough material to write a short thesis on the topic, and, unsurprisingly, am nowhere nearer to a conclusion.
Interestingly, the parents were sharply divided, whereas the teachers were unanimous that it was too soon; they couldn’t guarantee safety- and that was always their prime concern.
A friend who is both a teacher and a parent summed it up in relation to her 4 year old: ‘I won’t be sending Mary back to school. She decided to lick our bannister today, because she thought it might taste nice!’
The debate about a 4 year old going back to school touches every nerve that’s been exposed by this pandemic. It raises questions about fears and the future, finance and who we put our faith in. It shines a spotlight on issues of poverty and discrepancies in educational provision. It has necessitated parents turning into teachers overnight and try to maintain ‘normality’ in often crowded, inadequate spaces with multiple ages and needs, perhaps whilst trying to hold down a job. It has turned teachers into technicians, Google classroom-ers, child-care providers, meal deliverers, social workers, scapegoats and miracle workers.
Of course we long for ‘heroes’ who can confidently put the pieces back in the jigsaw, offering the answers and certainties that global scientists are racing to find. We struggle to see the ‘new normal’ that has not yet emerged from the shrouds of ventilators and face masks. We long for a cool drink in a pub garden and coffee after church that doesn’t involve Zoom. We all want children to return to school, confident that they will be safe and happy.
There is a passage at the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, where John sees a vision of the ultimate ‘new normal’- a vision of the world restored by God to its intended glory.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more: mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the first things have passed away…..See, I am making all things new.’ (Revelation 21:4-5)
That time has not yet come. We all have to live with the uncertainty, to accept that we can’t plan or control life and that there are questions that no-one can answer, risks that will always part of being alive, long after Covid-19 has calmed. Perhaps we can focus on placing our piece in the jigsaw puzzle that looks like the ‘new normal’, pieces of love, hope, joy, trust and a lot of patience.