A blog written by the Rev Dr Norman Shanks
For seven years, from 1995 to 2002, when I was working for the Iona Community, I had the joy and privilege of spending Holy Week on Iona, when guests and staff at the Community’s islands centres shared a week’s programme entitled Experiencing Easter. Through worship, workshops, discussion and reflection we sought to interpret and understand Jesus’s journey towards the cross and beyond, culminating in a Saturday watchnight service and the joy of the Easter morning Communion service. Each year since then the Holy Week services, first when I was minister in Govan, since then jointly among the West End churches, have been important to me.
But not this year! Kathy Galloway’s daily reflections this week have been very helpful, complementing the creative way the Wellington ministers and members more skilled than me in computers and social media have produced online Sunday services and Bible study meetings using Zoom. However valuable and appreciated these are no substitute for the immediacy of face-to-face personal interaction that we are having to miss at present because of ‘social distancing’ and other restrictions. Adjusting to the new rhythm of life is challenging – although there is considerable advantage in empty diaries and a less hectic and pressurised life! There is a danger the novelty may wear off with the uncertainty as to how long the current ‘lock-down’ will last. Inevitably there is fear and frustration around, and some are coping with isolation better than others.
Ruth and I have enjoyed exploring and discovering places we haven’t seen before in the area around our home on the short daily walks we are allowed, and we have found ourselves spending more time working in our garden, which has never been tidier in 30 years; but we are aware that the situation of people living in cramped conditions, required to ‘stay at home’ without a garden perhaps with demanding children and bored teenagers, is very much less fortunate.
Like so many others we have been immensely impressed by and grateful for the commitment and dedication of NHS staff and other ‘key workers’. We have appreciated the chance to renew and strengthen contact with friends by email and phone-calls and to keep in frequent touch with our children and their families through Skype. And we have been heartened and encouraged by all the signs of neighbourly concern, generosity and the upsurge of community spirit that have been evident – and by the paradoxes that social isolation has created greater spiritual togetherness, and that a right-wing government has recognised the need for much more public expenditure on essential services. It is much to be hoped that the insights gained through this experience will be carried forward into the post-Covid-19 situation
To be honest, I am not entirely sure what to say about it all from a faith perspective. I have heard that some extreme conservatives have attributed the pandemic to the wrath of God as a punishment for the accumulated sins of humanity: this is an utterly offensive travesty of the Gospel that assures us, especially at Easter, of the love of God and the promise of new life. There is no doubt that the experience of adversity and suffering can, in the mystery and miracle of God’s grace, strengthen and deepen faith; but in no sense is this to be taken as justification for suffering and pain. At this time I believe we are called simply to trust in the loving purpose and grace of God, sufficient for all our needs. And in doing so, I am helped, first, by one of my favourite Biblical verses (Joshua 1.9) – God’s words to Joshua as the people of Israel were about to cross the Jordan after their escape from Egypt Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go; and, secondly by a prayer sent recently by my good friend Peter Millar, formerly Warden of Iona Abbey:
In these unusual times,
where many of the familiar markers are shifting,
may the Spirit bless us not only with discomforts or easy answers or half-truths,
but with new insights so that we shall live more deeply into our hearts.
May we reach out to others in ways we never imagined even a month ago
and discover strengths within us which we never believed possible.
And be thankful for each precious new morning.
Keep well and cheerful! Every blessing