I would prefer to write only words of hope during this period of world crisis in this time of the thought consuming covid-19 pandemic. Clearly, not one of us is left untouched by it, and for us there is worry and stress to deal with, for ourselves and for others. I feel, however, that I must honestly address the inconsistency of reactions from individuals, communities, governments, the financially comfortable, the poor and the wealthy. I think it is important that we confront the mercenary responses of those with the inordinate power that accompanies celebrity status and obscene wealth. Many bankers have already said they will need support when this is over, and have yet already only recently given over huge bonuses to their ‘top brass’, beyond the imaginings of the vast majority of the world’s population. Most of us do not understand the notion of bonuses, which now seem to be an automatic portion of some people’s income, upon which additional sums are heaped when executives simply do the work they are supposed to do. At the same time, ”the workers” have to depend on pay cuts, loss of work and benefits. The sick and the vulnerable are made to feel that they have no value. Furthermore, there is, I feel, great truth in the adage that those who are paid the least, do the most work and are regarded among the least of merit in our singularly economic growth driven world. I was moved, in this respect, at the recognition of tenacity and courage of the health workers at the hospital where our dear Eric Koster ministers in the chaplaincy there, repeated many times, the world over.
Football clubs fear the pinch, although many so called ‘top’ players and managers refuse to take pay cuts in favour of club workers taking the ‘hit’. I have great sympathy with what I read of Mr. Corbyn’s remark that it is strange that suddenly the UK Government can find huge tranches of money which only months ago did not exist, except on a ‘magic money tree’. There are reports in the newspapers about self-isolating stars of stage and screen giving trite health and wellness advice from their ivory towers. In the richest country in the world, the current narrative involves talk of trade-offs: to get the population back to work within weeks will, we all know, cost precious lives of equally sentient human beings, theirs wholly different from the trade offs made by billionaires and bankers. Most of us cannot self-isolate in luxury super yachts anchored safely in sheltered waters, while tweeting, “hope everyone is staying safe”. It seems unbelievable that a multimillionaire could feel his reproach undeserved for setting up a crowd funding to pay his laid-off restaurant employees. While people are struggling to breathe and others cannot say goodbye to their loved ones, there is a swathe of humanity that feigns concern and acts to the contrary. There is a myriad accounts, too, of vulnerable souls being scammed of their meager resources, and what a foul taste this leaves. There is, indeed, a huge hole in kindness in our world, so where might we find our hope?
Thank God for the other side of the coin where we also realise that care and kindness are living in the community every day, and often at great personal cost. Here is our hope where self sacrifice for a greater good is alive and well. This flame of hope is, perhaps, to be found, among other things, as an expression of gratitude, which we prepare to celebrate in our Easter worship. This Easter worship is, indeed, an expression of our gratitude to God in Jesus Christ, who shows us both the power and extent of his love. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’.
In this connection, you may be interested to know that the Hebrew word for gratitude, hoda’ah, is used as the same word for confession. To be grateful is to confess dependence, to acknowledge that “the other” has the power and goodwill to benefit us, to admit that our life is better as a result of that benefit. It must be an imperative, as I see it, to foster a disposition of being grateful for each good thing that we receive which is ours through our self-giving God and the sacrificial self-giving of others.
Gratitude is also an expression of love: when we know gratitude for another we begin to harmonize with that person and the bond within the relationship becomes stronger. This bond might be described in terms of faith: in a faithful God, and the best in human conscience. Thus, it can be said that faith is fostered by gratitude and, I suggest, faith fosters gratitude. A thankful mind is open to goodness and expects good things and this expectation is sure and complete so as to become faith. Strong gratitude increases strong faith and it is by complete faith we are able to engage in authentic prayer, following which we might discern satisfaction, expecting best outcomes, and recognizing when we have something good, even in what appears the worst of circumstances. How, it often seems, we tend to see more clearly our problems and forget to note our blessings! My father, when aged 95 years, several months before his death, took great care in telling me how much he was missing his wife, who had died 5 years previously after a 62 year marriage. He asked me, “Who would want to live forever, anyway?” As our conversation proceeded, he repeated his feeling and observation that life would be good with his dear wife, and they would both be content if they could have a different kind of body: one that didn’t ache and didn’t get cold. His gratitude for the life they had shared was sufficient to bring him present and profound contentment, and longing for his future.
So, here, in the midst of coronavirus worry, where so many fundamental questions of life are thrown into sharp focus, we do well to consider further our Easter confidence. I am convinced above anything else in all creation that we are promised in the Easter narrative an experiential future beyond this transitory existence. The Easter liturgy is centred on the sacred mystery of baptism in which we share our certainty of ‘being’ beyond the constructs of time and space. In this, I think it important that we do not become obsessed by specific ideas about resurrection of body or resurrection of soul. To refocus the paradigm is sufficient to allow ourselves to perceive the reality that embraces probability rather than improbability. Socialist philosopher, Corliss Lamont, argued the case for human mortality and the finality of death, believing this to be the way for human beings to develop greater positive possibilities for themselves and others during life. In making a very small paradigmatic shift – by removing specific reference both to body or soul - instead of tending towards the late twentieth century skeptical view expressed in the phrase “the illusion of immortality”, we might be more confident in realizing the propriety of the phrase, “the illusion of mortality”. (“The Illusion Of Immortality” is the title of Corliss Lamont’s 1965 book – New York, Frederick Unger). Resurrection of body with soul suggests firstly that there is no inherent inferiority of the body, which we know in ‘this’ life, that is, after all, the handiwork (Self-Expression) of God, the Creative Original. Secondly, that there is nothing strange in accepting the realization of a spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:44 & 2 Corinthians 5;1-6), that is, a body of another order than flesh and blood, yet essentially at one with the whole self, apprehended in ‘being’ and expressed in and through mind or soul. Expression of mind and body means existence of such that can be recognized or known as life of activity within our present dimension, or within the dimension of our continued being. Continued soul existence must mean existence, or being human, in the fullness of life actually expressed in spiritual ‘form’.
Let me remind you why this concept and truth is important. To recognize the probability of life beyond death underlines what lies at the basis of my reading of St Paul and the reasons why we are often confronted by contradictions, born of attempting to make “The Faith” a matter of strict creedal propositions. The Self-Expression in creation of God, reflects, and must reflect, his essential love, persuading all things toward the best possible outcome. Best possible outcomes cannot be ‘best’ if they are dashed in the end by death: best possible must transcend death in order to be best possible. (His love is offered in his giving us free will which, as we apprehend in the current crisis results in the possibility, of it’s very nature, of good choices and bad choices: the only possibility within the parameters of true freedom.)
In other words, as I perceive it, the spiritual body is perfectly suited to its environment. Just as mind exists with the body of flesh and blood, here and now, as it is part of the Self-Expression of God in creation, so with the mind. The mind, as separate from the brain is also subject to the persuasive creative action of God, and having been equally willed through the process of evolutionary progress, in which I believe (without denigrating the views of others). As we continue to evolve, not least in intellect and ability, we have become through this process able to discern true being in what was once thought of as within the realms only of superstition. I believe that science once taught us to be skeptical of our own innate intuition. Now science and religion are rediscovering the primal elements of our being: discerning of things intuitively known. Science and Religion are again bidding us look in old places for new answers and in new places for old answers. We can begin to recognize the true nature of what we see but cannot fully understand. The universe, the Self-Expression of God, is itself a great living organism continually and inherently moving, through his Divine Persuasion, towards more life and fuller expression. It is formed for the perpetual advancement of life and the increase of life, the nature of which exists within a dimension of being, which, at its inception, relies on the physical and mechanical in order to find expression and satisfaction. We can now, also, begin to reasonably conceive of the universe with an equally imperative element or dimension of pure soul-mind or, which might be understood, as immaterial vital capacity. My use of these words, “immaterial vital capacity” is a phrase I have coined simply to convey in the context of non-material existence the words ”power’ and “energy” as used in the physical sense.
May the certain Easter Hope in Jesus and the promise of life eternal, sustain you during these difficult times and inspire you throughout your lives.
God bless you and all whom you love and touch.
Much love, as always, Brian. Copyright © Brian G Rodford 2020
INFECTIOUS ILLNESS AND THE CHALICE (February 2020).
6 March 2020
To the Clergy of the Diocese
Dear Sisters and Brothers
We wrote to you at the beginning of February regarding good practice concerning coronavirus and control of infectious diseases in general. We want now to update our advice in the light of changing circumstances over the past month.
The Church of England publishes guidance to all clergy and congregations here:
We have decided to go somewhat beyond this advice in certain respects because of the mobile and international nature of our congregations and in the light of medical advice we have received. We preface this advice by re-iterating that coronavirus appears to present a particular risk to elderly people and those with reduced immunity or a pre-existing health condition. Our advice is given out of a mutual concern for the wellbeing of all members of our chaplaincies.
Infectious diseases seem to cause higher levels of public anxiety than other threats, perhaps because we can’t see them or sense them. And although social media can satisfy our desire for information they have the capacity to fuel anxiety. Avoiding panic is a key part of responding to coronavirus for all of us in positions of leadership.
This guidance is intended as a prudent response to an unusual challenge. It represents a set of sensible precautions to promote health and wellbeing in the conditions of our diocese.
We will keep in touch with you as the situation develops and plan to write again in the next couple of weeks. If you have any questions do contact us or your Archdeacon or our Chief Operating Officer. We will continue to monitor the situation and guidance closely. At the same time, our Diocesan website will continue to carry the latest updates from official sources – national governments, WHO and EU – so please keep an eye on this also.
Meanwhile, we pray that our chaplaincies and congregations can be oases of peace, loving fellowship and hope in times of anxiety. We continue to pray for those infected by the coronavirus, for those who care for them, and for health specialists and authorities who are combatting the spread of infection.
Yours in Christ
Was signed Robert and David