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Consider the sparrows …

Yesterday, was a momentous day in our household. Brandishing a pair of garden shears, as the evening sunshine dappled the back garden with light, I shaved my son’s curly locks off! 

Over the last few weeks of lockdown, my son’s hair has been growing at an alarming rate…not downwards but upwards and outwards in tight ringlets! It has been driving him potty! But with all the hairdressers closed, it seemed as if he had little choice but to put up with it. Latterly, he’s taken to wearing a ‘man bun’…quite the thing I’m told. 

The lack of hairdressers is just one of the lesser trials of lockdown…a much more significant one is the impact of the shutdown on our economy. Volunteering at the local Foodbank, I’m aware that demand for emergency food parcels has increased dramatically as those on zero hour contracts have been laid off and the furloughed workers, getting 80% of an already insufficient salary, struggle to manage to feed themselves and their families. Simultaneously, the foodbank has also seen a rapid decrease in stocks as many of their former food collection points have been closed. 

So it was that Joel had the bright idea of raising awareness of the challenges facing those on less than sufficient income and at the same time raising money for food bank….One night, over tea, he casually mentioned that he was going to raise money for foodbank by getting people to sponsor him for shaving all his hair off! I admit, initially I was sceptical….I wondered if people were beginning to experience compassion fatigue…so many good and worthy causes…so many needs. Where do you even begin to reach out to help your neighbour at a time of global challenge? 

But something has been happening to our global conscience…almost imperceptibly, many of our former values and measures of worth are being subtly challenged….As large sections of our community have to live on reduced means, we are becoming aware of a need for a basic income that isn’t about ensuring survival but enabling people to thrive….in a time when we are more aware than ever of those who service our society, those who ensure that many of our basic needs are met, we are now beginning to re-value and applaud their formerly unacknowledged efforts…to name just a few…residential care workers, refuse collectors, all those working in the food retail industry, health care workers… 

As Rowan Williams said recently, there is a fresh realisation that my happiness and security is intricately and inextricably linked to another person’s happiness and security. The South African word ‘ubuntu,’ summarises this beautifully…’I am because you are.’ 

Given these anxious times, I have been thinking of late about Jesus’s words on the Sermon on the Mount…in one section of his address, he counsels us not to worry…look at the birds of the air; they neither reap nor sow nor store in barns, he says, but their heavenly father feeds them.’ 

What is Jesus getting at here? Is he advocating that we just abrogate all personal and social responsibility and rely on heavenly handouts? Surely, he would have come across those in his society who fell through the net, if there were even such a thing as a safety net back then. 

Throughout the sermon on the mount, Jesus is pointing out the many subtle and obvious ways in which our lives are bound up in each other…a healthy community is one which realises that we are part of an intricate web of life in which each part is interdependent, and as we give and sow and reap so we receive a full and wholly sufficient measure in return, pressed down and running over.  

Many are hoping that the lessons we are learning in this time of global challenge will be received and applied as we emerge from life in lockdown. May we realise afresh each other’s true worth, may we wake up to the realisation that the natural world is not a treasure trove to be plundered at will but a living organism of which we are only a part and that it is incumbent on us to  ensure that our footprint is a light one, careful of the needs and requirements of the rest of the natural world.  

As I was sitting at my desk overlooking the garden at work this morning, I noticed the birds on the grass…they seemed to have their beaks full of a wool like substance…on closer inspection it transpired that they were busy collecting my son’s curly locks to line their nests…. 

‘Consider the sparrow…..’ 

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Think on these things

Think on these things! Practicing Spiritual Psychological first aid.

The other day I was out for my daily run with Frodo. It was yet another glorious sunny Spring day, and yet as I ran down the road to the river, the idyllic scene was spoilt by a load of rubbish dumped on the grass…I must admit…I had a moment…why would anyone just leave their rubbish here spoiling such a place of tranquil beauty…but then I looked up and around…the Sun was still shining, the blossom was still blooming and the birds were in full voice. And I recalled something Paul once wrote from his prison cell in Rome…

I must admit I had often wondered how Paul managed it…he was incarcerated in a cell, his liberty was taken away and I imagine his future prospects of getting out of there in one piece were less than positive but still he counsels …’Think on these things….’

Think on these things, whatever is honest, pure and lovely …

Philippians 4:8

So what was all this about? Rather than encouraging a naïve, idealistic, other worldy perspective on life, Paul was giving us, a hard learnt, 101 lesson in spiritual and psychological first aid….

Indulge me for a moment…think of all the things that really wind you up, get you down, put your teeth on edge…then notice, how are you feeling now….energised and positive or tense and downhearted? Now have a go at the opposite…think of the things that inspire and fill you with joy…it may be family and friends, a special place, a picture, book, piece of music…and allow your mind to really engage with that memory or experience…turn up the volume and picture it in full colour…now how do you feel? Less stressed and wound up? More relaxed and creative? Open to the possibilities that lie before you?

Living life and viewing life through an appreciative filter is good for our spiritual, mental, emotional health. Paul is inviting us to connect with and embrace all that makes life rich and full and of worth…and with a bit of ingenuity, discernment and creativity we can still access these things even in times of lock down…

As I ran home, I found myself smiling at the homemade rainbow decorations in the windows of the houses on my road…I thought back to the clap for carers that takes place each Thursday as folks in this community take the time to affirm and encourage all those working in the myriad of key-worker roles right now…all those who are caring for the sick, supporting the vulnerable, keeping basic amenities going that help our community to continue to function. Whether it be banging your pots and pans on your doorsteps, clapping your hands, or even driving up and down the road tooting your horn…we are all trying to say thank you and we appreciate all that you are doing.

When I got back, I opened Facebook and found people sewing scrubs for hospital staff, baking cakes, delivering food parcels and prescriptions to those at home shielding.

So my invitation to myself and to you is to consider what it might be like practising spiritual and psychological first aid in these times …

Open your eyes to the wonder and delight of this beautiful planet and allow your heart and spirit to give praise to God the creator.

Think of all those people you know who are compassionate, caring, and responsible and think of ways in which you can support and affirm them.

Give thanks daily for the opportunities that lie before you to do your part at this time of global need, whether that be sheltering at home or out in the community at work.

Thank you, Loving God, for creating a world of beauty and love. Let love be my goal. Let me look beyond the detritus, knowing that it exists, but also knowing that there is more to life than pandemic and irresponsibility. There is love, sacrifice, compassion, and commitment. Let me be among the helpers, blessing the earth, wherever I find myself. Amen.