Ministers Blog by the Rev Dr Norman Shanks

God gives his best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone regardless: the good and the bad, the nice and the nasty…. Live out your God-given identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. 

Matthew 5.45, 48 (The Message)

Today – the 15th July – is a big day!  Many of the lockdown restrictions are being eased and lifted.  Pubs and restaurants can open again, museums, galleries and cinemas too; and last week’s government announcement opened the way, earlier than expected, for churches also to open for public worship, subject to restrictions – keeping a safe distance from each other, and no singing!   We can now meet together too in bigger groups with family and friends.  The ‘air-bridge’ to Greece opens today for those wanting a holiday in the sunshine there.  I  won’t quite be beating a trail to the nearest watering-hole, but we’ve been looking forward to visiting our favourite coffee-shop again, to returning to the GFT when it re-opens at the end of next month, and of course to hearing when we can gather again at Wellington on Sundays.  And – praise be! – I’ve managed to make an appointment for tomorrow with the barber: the length of my hair has become an inconvenience and embarrassment, an object of amusement to the family and comment by others!  

15th July also provides the focus and structure for the very successful and enjoyable novel One Day by David Nicholls, published in 2009, and in 2011 turned into a film that had a generally negative reception from the disappointed critics.  It tells the story of the unfolding relationship between a young couple who meet on the day of their graduation from Edinburgh University on 15 July 1988, and each chapter is set on the same day in succeeding years; it is not ‘high literature’ but is well written and a thoroughly recommended read.

Statue of Saint Swithun
in Stavanger Cathedral, Norway

Within the UN’s calendar 15th July is recognised as World Youth Skills Day; and is apparently marked also (so Google tells me – and presumably primarily in the US!) as   National Give Something Away Day, National I Love Horses Day and National Tapioca Pudding Day – among others!  And of course it is St Swithin’s Day. St Swithin was a fairly obscure ninth century bishop of Winchester.  He was canonised for his reputation for working miracles, most of them posthumous; and, according to traditional folklore, the weather on St Swithin’s Day – whether rain or sunshine – will continue for the next 40 days and 40 nights.

St Swithin’s Day, with its ambivalent ‘take’ on the weather, always reminds me of this little poem (with its interesting perspective on the Scottish psyche) by Alastair Reid, a Scottish poet (1926-2014) who spent much of his life abroad, latterly in the United States

It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
when larks rose on long strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body.  The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. ‘What a day it is!’
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew black, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!’

Alastair Reid (1926-2014)

And, although it feels less and less significant as my ninth decade comes soberingly ever-closer, 15th July is my birthday!

Every blessing

Norman Shanks

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