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God is (June 2020)

Dear Friends

I am writing this letter in April, as I have found a poem entitled ‘April’ which I think is appropriate for the time in which we are all living at the moment.  You can read it at the end of this letter, and I hope you will see why I am writing now. We are in the fifth week of Lockdown amidst the frightening daily news of the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus.  This unseen enemy is making its way through the world with alarming speed and invisibility, so that we cannot turn on the radio or television without seeing or hearing a news bulletin or governmental instruction.  ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’.  This is the mantra which is being repeated many times a day, reminding us that if we do not obey and keep to the rules of isolation and social distancing, the Lockdown will be much longer.

Already I am using new words and phrases which have come into our language so quickly and recently, and yet we are used to hearing them every day.  We must stay in our homes, wash our hands carefully many times a day, and if we do venture out for the four specific things which are permitted, we must be six feet from any other human being. 

Most people are trying hard to obey the rules, but there are those, mercifully few, who seem to think they are above the danger. It has even caused the Police to be given instructions to issue people with fines for ignoring distancing rules, and have their supermarket trolleys scrutinised to see if they have unnecessary items in them.

 When the virus reached our shores, following its journey from China, through Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and then the UK, the faces of the politicians became more strained, led by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the regular updates from the Downing Street lecterns became more alarming. The Prime Minister and his Health minister succumbed to the virus, along with Prince Charles and other prominent members of our society, showing us that it has no respect for status or breeding. It can make itself at home in any human being.

A doctor recently speaking about it said, ‘Just keep away from humans! There is no advantage in power washing roads and pavements, just wash your hands, and keep away from humans’. These are hard words to hear, as being human we need our fellow human beings especially now, when loved ones are ill and dying, and we cannot see them or say, ’Goodbye.’ 

A friend was told recently that her mother had died in her Care Home. She rang me very distressed and her greatest sadness was that she had not been able to hold her mother’s hand or be given a friendly hug herself.  We need each other.  However, if the deadly virus has to be part of our lives at the moment, how fortunate we are to be living in the time of technology.  We can chat on the telephone, send and receive emails, watch various videos online and share jokes and laughter, and see beautiful reminders of Spring bursting out around us.

Several people, including a friend of mine, have been asking, ‘Where is God in all this?’  I cannot answer her except to say that God is.  As Christian people we know this, and must now believe, if we are to draw strength from that knowledge.  There is nothing to be gained, I think, from trying to lay blame on any person or country or indeed God. 

Those two words - God is - were spoken to me many years ago by a dear friend whose life had then become impossible to face in human strength alone.  Now he is very close to the end of his life on earth, and I hope that he is feeling the truth of them as he faces death. 

Captain Tom Moore, the amazing veteran from WW2 has now raised £23 million and is still walking, aged 99, to raise what he had hoped might be £1000 for the NHS.  Still he walks, grateful for his new knee, and reminding us that the sun will come out again, and the present situation will pass.  That is surely faith in action.  God is.

We have all watched and listened as the story of Boris Johnson as his journey through the Covid-19 virus unfolded. I was moved by the genuine thanks and admiration he expressed when he left hospital, to the medical staff who had given him first class treatment, especially the two nurses who ‘watched over’ him for two nights. He probably could not communicate with them, but was aware of their presence.  I was impressed when the new Leader of the Labour party pledged his party and himself to work with Boris Johnson and to leave party politics aside for now.  I like the idea of being watched over.  We have probably all experienced that, but perhaps do not remember as it was a long time ago! 

We have also been the ones to watch, perhaps over our children or a loved one nearing the end of life.  There is something sacred, I think, about these privileged situations.  We are alone with one person, but God is there too, sharing the time.  God is.  For many years of my young life, I said every night, this little prayer which I learned from my mother.
Lord, keep us safe this night,
Secure from all our fears.
May angels guard us while we sleep,
Till morning light appears.

I have experienced that in a different way for over forty years now, since the day when our family was depleted on the death of a much loved husband and father.  Friends here and far away have never ceased to watch over us.  Angels have guarded us while we slept and moved through the world without him.  God is.

Many good things have come out of the present situation.  Friends are helping each other, new friends are being made - especially on Thursday evenings when we make a noise and clap for the NHS.  People are offering their help whilst others are pleased to accept it.  On the whole, despite the few who ignore the rules of isolation and distancing, the majority are behaving with understanding, kindness and consideration.  We cannot see the end of the present situation, but when it comes, we can try to continue the friendships and neighbourliness which we have discovered through the difficult time.  Let us pray that this does happen.  God is.

So here is the poem which was written at the time of WW1 by Studdert Kennedy - Woodbine Willie.

I have found it in a little book, published in 1918, and now in my bookcase. 

We cannot hear the guns, but we do fear for what may be ahead.

Breath of Spring,
Not come, but coming,
In the air.
Life of earth, not lived
But living,
Primroses, not made,
Nor broken,
But the token
Of promises that will be made.
Sunshine seeking shade,
Red earth, that smiles
And asks for seed,
And mossy woodland paths, that lead
To where the yellow primrose grows.
And so for many coloured miles
Of open smiling France,
While noisy little streamlets dance,
In diamond mirrored suns,
To meet the stately Mother stream that flows
With shining dignity,
To greet her Lord, the sea.
And far away, beyond the hills, one hears,
Poor village Mother, hence thy tears,
The muffled thunder of the guns.

Rose Pope