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Rev. Baden Stanley

Rev. Baden Stanley

Each week we hope to post a blog on a Monday or Tuesday. These blogs will hopefully stimulate thought, discussion and even debate around key topic that are affecting our society at this time of great change and challenge.

‘Behold, I make all things new’

‘I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’. And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way. (Minnie Louise Haskins from the poem ‘God knows’, written in 1908).

I love the comedian Michael McIntyre; we as a family often end up rolling around in belly-aching laughter as he captures some everyday activity in such a hilarious way. My personal favourite skit is ‘The man -drawer’ where he ingeniously describes the male human’s tendency to store up all sorts of useless rubbish with the expectation that somehow, one night, the fates will align to cause us to need every single collected item to achieve a bizarre task. It’s brilliant! At a time when we so badly need emotional relief I would encourage you to give yourself ten minutes out of your busy day, find it on You Tube,  and allow your chuckles to grow into loud laughter.

Michael, (I call him Michael!), has a new skit out which again is both incredibly clever and funny. He visits, in June 2019, a fortune teller, to find out what 2020 has in store for him. Obviously it is vastly different to what he expects: Instead of being a comedian, he will be a substitute teacher and a hairdresser. He will begin his meetings by constantly asking ‘Can you hear me?’ Sheer genius, all the more so because he captures the absurd and makes it sublime.

None of us could have even begun to imagine how the year 2020 would work out as we celebrated the dawn of a new decade only six months ago. Even as word reached us of a ‘problem’ virus in China, it never dawned on us that microscopic molecules could literally change the world. But they have, irrevocably. As Yeats would have put it, ‘All is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born’.

The simple reality is that we have absolutely no way of knowing what is coming ‘just around the corner.’ Some of us find that terrifying – others find it liberating. If we cannot predict it, we cannot control it, therefore there is no point worrying about it. Such stoical fatalism may help us adapt to our ‘new normal’ as we work out what that new normal actually is. We are living through such extraordinary times where the only constant is that everything is changing. It is natural and even necessary to feel fear. Our brains and our hearts are almost certainly connected by much more than sinews, soft tissue and blood vessels, but I have often suspected that they process and adapt at vastly different speeds. With nano-scopic electrons firing off messages to every part of our body through our incredibly designed central nervous system, our brains seem to adapt at extraordinary speeds. On a head level we seem to know and accept harsh realities quite quickly, but the part of us we associate with our hearts – our emotions – takes much longer to process and adapt. This disconnect between what we know and what we feel may well seem like a design fault – after all, if we could just deal with life logically and dispassionately it would be so much more bearable. However our being sensate beings is actually a blessing not a curse. The fact that we can feel pain emotionally as well as physically opens us up to two gifts – empathy and faith. If we cannot know what this day will bring, and what impact it will have on us, we have no real control. This lack of control opens us to the possibility that while we lack it, A.N. Other has it. Our fears effectively drive us to our knees. Now the atheist or even agnostic will use this insight to claim that faith is merely a prop, a crutch that comforts us but has no real relevance to real life. But faith isn’t just an emotional response to fear; it is so much more than that, it is a reasoned and considered working out of what’s in front of us, around us and within us, combined with a sensate awareness of our own limitations. In other words, the head and the heart align in faith. If belief is purely emotional then we end up with the bizarre and terrifying spectre of life being purely determined by what we feel (we’re not quite there yet). Similarly if thought is purely logical then we become sterile automans like Spock in Star Trek, who struggle to understand what it means to be human. It is when our heads and our hearts align that the magic happens. We process both logically and emotionally, but we also accept and come to terms with our limitations and frailties.

If we had known what was ahead of us in 2020, what would we have done about it? Some would have been so terrified they would have broken down mentally or even ended their lives rather than face such and uncertain future. We have a resilience and surviveability that is both inherent and inspirational. Watching people of all ages emerging from hospitals after literally months in intensive care after contracting Covid-19 proves this. If we had known what was coming we would have lost an opportunity to learn to trust in One who is beyond our comprehension. As people of Faith, we don’t just believe as part of some vague hope that this God will magically protect us from trouble and danger: No, we believe in One who will walk with us, holding our hand, helping us adapt and cope.

It is well worth reading the rest of Minnie Louise Haskin’s (1875-1957) poem.

‘So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,

If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.’

Shalom

Baden

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