A blog by the Rev Dr Norman Shanks
These past weeks Zoom has entered the lives of many of us in a big way! Of course not everyone is into computers and social media and Zoom meetings are no substitute for direct face-to-face interaction; but, for those concerned, it has proved a helpful way of maintaining contact – with family and friends, for work purposes, to continue with church activities or whatever. Within Wellington, among our regular Zoom meetings are the Bible studies each Tuesday afternoon, when about 20 of us spend an hour together. During the weeks since Pentecost we are discussing Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, which has been described as ‘an epistle of joy and encouragement’, sent to the young church at Philippi to give advice in the face of division and tension. So its thrust and themes are highly appropriate and relevant not only to our current ‘lockdown’ situation and experience and the world-wide response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but also to our continuing ‘vacancy’ within Wellington.
This week Ruth and I have also been thinking especially of a friend who has just died in Edinburgh and whose funeral unfortunately we cannot attend. Runa Mackay was one of my heroes – a remarkable person, whose life has been an inspiration and encouragement to many of us. She would have been 99 next month; she was a doctor, a paediatrician who spent most of her working life at the EMMS hospital in Nazareth and on ‘retirement’ worked in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
She was a founder of Scottish Medical Aid to Palestinians and a member of the Iona Community and until recently, when she was no longer able, was to be found at the east end of Edinburgh’s Princes Street every Saturday morning at the weekly vigil of Women in Black – truly a life of dedicated commitment, faithful and faith-filled.
On Sunday evening we remembered Runa during a very special Iona Community online service (which Wellington members were invited to join), ‘attended’ by over 600 people, when Ruth Harvey, the Community’s new Leader, and six new Community members were welcomed and blessed, and the outgoing co-Leaders, Kathy Galloway and Christian MacLean were warmly thanked. And each Tuesday evening since the start of the ‘lockdown’ we have had an Iona Community ‘alternative gathering’ (on Zoom) involving over 100 members and associate members (mostly from all over Britain but a few also from overseas). Last week we prayed and worshipped together, using the Community’s ‘Office’, and in the informal sharing and discussion afterwards we expressed our strong solidarity with the pain and distress being felt by those taking part from the US, concerning the volatile situation there – including Trump’s abysmal and reprehensible reaction and the continuing failure adequately to address the ‘Black Lives Matter’ issue, about which Liz Blythe blogged so powerfully last week. As part of our worship this prayer-poem, especially relevant in this season of Pentecost, was read: it is by Walter Brueggemann, one of the world’s leading Old Testament scholars, whom Ruth and I and the pleasure and privilege of getting to know when he welcomed us and ‘took us under his wing’ at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur in the ‘fall’ of 2007.
Blown by the Spirit – we know not where
We hear the story of the wind at Pentecost
Holy wind that dismantles what was,
Holy wind that evokes what is to be,
Holy wind that overrides barriers and causes communication,
Holy wind that signals your rule even among us.
We are dazzled, but then –reverting to type –
we wonder how to harness the wind,
how to manage the wind by our technology,
how to turn the wind to our usefulness,
how to make ourselves managers of the wind.
Partly we do not believe such an odd tale
because we are not religious freaks;
Partly we resist such a story
because it surges beyond our categories;
Partly we had imagined you to be more ordered
and reliable than that.
So we listen, depart, and return to our ordered existence;
we depart with only a little curiosity
but not yielding;
we return to how it was before,
unconvinced but wistful, slightly praying for wind,
craving for newness,
wishing to have it all available to us.
We pray toward the wind, unconvinced but wistful.
(Walter Brueggmann, Prayers for a Privileged People)