CLOSE readers of the Church Times Diary may have noticed that, in my last column, I wrote about being diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer (Diary, 20 March). In March, I went for an appointment with my urologist, at which I was told of the extent to which the cancer had become “involved” with my bones and lymph nodes. But, as I sat listening to the diagnosis, it seemed the very least of my problems. I had, for several days previously, been enduring a large and painful boil on my backside. I tried to take the urologist’s news seriously, but all I could think of was the agony in what prudish Victorian writers used to refer to as the “BTM”.
That same evening, one of the smaller churches in our rural benefice was holding a Lenten compline. We had been asked to arrive quietly; so we sat in silence with our friends and neighbours, but I couldn’t stop squirming in my seat, desperate to get comfortable. Steve the Vicar and Debbie the Curate led us in prayer, but my mind was elsewhere.
I prayed, as loudly as silence would allow: “Lord, I can take the cancer, with your help. I’m 62. It’s a thing that happens. I get it. Oh, but please, why do I have to have a boil on my bum?” And, at that exact moment, I felt my boil burst, and a great sense of well-being came over me. When they make the film of my life, at this point in the soundtrack you will hear an angelic choir singing. I felt not just the grace of God, but His great good humour.
MY WIFE is a member of staff at Presteigne Library, and she’s been going once a week to check on the burglar and fire alarms. I go with her, in case anyone comes to the door to ask what’s going on. So I’ve had the opportunity to browse uninterrupted.
“You’ve got loads of stuff on your mumbo-jumbo shelf,” I opined. “Crystal Healing. Mindful Breath Work. Astrology for Pets.”
“Yes,” she said, “and — oh, look — your book on hippie culture.”
The Dewey Decimal System can be hard on a writer, especially one with pretensions.
A FEW weeks into lockdown, I got the call that all middle-aged children of elderly parents dread. My mother had had a fall, and was being admitted to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, in Brighton. Like thousands of others, she wasn’t allowed any visitors. It was hard even to get to talk to her by phone — registered as blind, she can’t use a mobile. When I did get through, she was frantic with misery.
I called the excellent chaplaincy team at the hospital, who made sure that they visited every day for most of her ten-day stay, fixed up a radio, arranged a hairdo (lucky thing!), and then called me to let me know how she was doing.
This week, she has been readmitted, having tested positive for Covid-19. Once again, the chaplaincy team have gone beyond. They are on the Covid wards. They are in ICU. Two members of the team have gone down with the virus, and yet nobody is alone. They are the best of us.
THE house teenager is in her first year of A levels. Her favourite subject is philosophy and ethics, one part of which is a module about Christian theology. Home schooling consists mostly of my listening as she natters away cheerfully about the Triune relationship and the Euthyphro dilemma. Armed only with a book called Let’s Do Theology!, I’m struggling to keep up.
I miss her sister, Victoria Mason, who would have more useful things to say than I have, as she is part of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Reconciliation Ministry. They have been running the “Difference Webinar”, offering resources for Christians to “Be Curious, Be Present, and Re-imagine”, and it is entirely timely. I’ve been following on my laptop, mouthing “Victoria, what’s Monophysitism?” — forgetting that participants, other than the facilitators, have their cameras off.
Signs of the times
MY FAVOURITE local reaction to the lockdown has been by the artist-blacksmith Peter Smith. In 1638, an outbreak of the plague meant that Presteigne was quarantined from the surrounding villages, whose inhabitants paid a poll tax to buy food for the unfortunate town-dwellers. The villagers left the food for safe collection at two locations on the town’s outskirts.
Pete has made two simple white crosses, which he has set up at the same two locations. One is hidden up a back lane — a delight to find, on your permitted exercise walk — and the other is on the roundabout at the entrance to the town. They say, I think, “We have been here before. We looked after one another then, and we will now.” There is hope.
Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.