Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
We are well and truly in the midst of winter now. I always think it is interesting that we have such beautiful music that we play celebrating the frost, the snow scenes, the warmth of the hearth and such through Christmas, but when we really need music, and lights, and encouragement most - the long days of January and February these are all packed away in boxes. So I would suggest that you feel free to listen to any music that lifts your hearts right now, in or out of season! I find that singing about the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ loudly and no doubt somewhat out of tune around the house these days of winter is a pleasure I will not feel guilty about!
I ‘went’ to a training on trauma this week put on by the diocese and found it really interesting, and it helped to put my experiences and feelings into a bit of context. It was also reassuring to hear that the feelings I’ve been having in body, mind, and spirit are pretty typical of everyone, and of congregations as a whole. They talked of the initial ‘hero’ phase when the crisis first hits, when we were all trying to do all we could to do our jobs, to take care of our families, to help our community in the midst of this crisis. We are long out of that phase and are in the valley of coping, where it often feels dark, where we can’t see over the horizon and where we have little energy to begin the rebuilding process, and frankly don’t even know when that will be possible. If I were writing a 17th century allegorical novel, I’d put us right now in the valley of despair. Even the excitement over the vaccines has waned as we worry about the supply, the efficacy of the 1 jab now and 1 jab much later policy, and all the other unknowns.
As the American political writer Thomas Paine once wrote, these are the days that try our souls. Thinking about this, and about what was said in the trauma workshop, the most important thing I take away is the constant reminder from scripture, summed up in that well known line from Psalm 23: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’ This line has become almost so familiar that we often don’t stop and really reflect upon what this means. Its essential especially now that we do. It may help to look at other psalms because many say a very similar thing, for example Psalm 139 ‘when I awake, I am still with thee’. We sometimes forget God’s constant loving presence in our lives. The Holy Spirit surrounds us at all times, and through Jesus Christ, God lived and experienced the hardships of human lives and knows exactly how it feels to be lonely, helpless, angry, despairing, and afraid.
I was reminded at the training that God is ready and indeed encourages us to express these feelings. We even have a practical ‘how to’ manual that encourages us to say all the things we want to say to God, in the Psalms. Have a look at the Psalms. They show us that it is okay to express anger, to express fear, to express doubt and frustration in our prayers to God. Indeed, in some of the most beautiful psalms some very angry words are spoken to God, and then you know what always follows? Not rejection, not punishment, but love and comfort. God knows all our thoughts, all our ways, and chooses always to walk with us. So, don’t be afraid in your prayers to express the fullness of your feelings and your thoughts, using your own words or praying the words of scripture, and then rest in God’s presence and all-encompassing love. Use scripture to help you put into words feelings you can’t quite understand or know how to say. All our brothers and sisters who have come before us have left us beautiful prayers that can help us when we have no words.
The rebuilding will begin, the snowdrops that are peeping up in our gardens are promises that spring is coming. We have all grown in wisdom, and in our relationship with God, though right now we don’t quite know the extent of this growth. God blesses each and everyone of us, and God’s face smiles upon you when you awake to each new day.
The Blessing of our Lord upon all of you,
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas