Lift up Your Hearts: A quiet time with the convalescent

by
09 April 2020

Jane Williams continues our series

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The Convalescent (1918-19) by Gwen John (1876-1939)

The Convalescent (1918-19) by Gwen John (1876-1939)

Download the free PDF to print at home: Lift Up Your Hearts: No. 3 | 9 April 2020

 

EASTER celebrations may feel a bit muted this year. But there is no rush: Jesus is alive, and will be for ever. The couple on the road to Emmaus are still mourning while others re­­joice, and the good news will come, in its own time.

Our ordinands at St Mellitus College are doing wonderfully cre­ative things with their church com­munities over Easter, as are so many churches in the country. Technology has its blessings. We have moved our teaching, tutorials, seminars, and so on online; so I am having to grapple with mysterious things like the Big Blue Button (don’t ask).

It works quite well for a lot of interactions, but I miss the kind of nuances of body language which tell you when teaching is getting through and when it isn’t. Easter vigils and meditations seem to work better.

 

IT IS a pleasure to retreat from the computer to the still, slightly weary, atmosphere of Gwen John’s painting, The Convalescent. The atmosphere here is calm, but sickness endured hovers in the background. This is perhaps the introvert’s Easter celeb­ra­tion? It is a salutary reminder that many who can’t be Christians openly have regularly hugged the news of the resurrection to them­selves in quiet.

As for music, Handel’s Water Music has long been a favourite. I’d like to sit with the Convalescent and listen to the different moods of the music: stately, sombre, serene, spark­l­ing. Cambridge, where I live, is quieter than I’ve ever seen it; a daily walk along the river is now a peace­ful pastime rather than the effortful avoidance of camera-snapping tour­ists. I never thought I’d miss them.

There won’t be baptisms at Easter this year, but there is still the prom­ise of renewal as the water runs on.

 

CONTINUING the water theme, as we all anxiously check our­selves and our friends and family for symp­toms, the book that I’m enjoying again is Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. It may be hard, at the moment, to sympathise with the young hypo­chondriacs in the book’s opening, but that doesn’t stop it from being funny.

“We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extra­ordin­ary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that he had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what he was doing.

”With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, be­­cause I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.”

Since we can’t be out and about much at the moment, this seems the perfect time to take what the author describes as “a travelogue of the heart”. J. K. A. Smith’s On the Road with Saint Augustine: A real world spirituality for restless hearts (Brazos, 2019) is a particular gift for us at a time of enforced introspection. Although we learn a lot about Aug­ustine of Hippo, we learn even more about ourselves: what makes our hearts so restless, and where we might find rest.

 

MY GO-TO comfort film is still The Railway Children, though the re­­union scene at the end now has a particular poignancy, as we look forward to the day when we can be together again with wider family and friends. For this Easter, I’m par­ticu­­­larly noticing the re-encounter theme in the resurrection nar­rat­ives, especially in the meeting be­­tween Jesus and Peter.

 

I’VE always been glad of the sad and angry Psalms, as an indication that we don’t have to be on our best be­­haviour with God. Psalm 77 is one of the Psalms of Lament. It isn’t exactly Easter reading, but it asks what a lot of people are asking now, “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (verse 9).

The Psalmist responds to the question by telling again the stories of what God has done in the past, and so of who God is still in the present. Verse 19 says: “Your way was through the sea. . . your foot­­steps were unseen.” Not seen — but not absent. The miracle of Jesus’s resurrection is still invisible to many, but that does not make it inactive.

 

THIS prayer of Dag Hammarskjöld is one that I am trying to be brave enough to pray wholeheartedly. It is very much an Easter prayer, a yes to the one who has conquered death and hell:

“For all that has been, thanks; to all that will be, yes.”

 

Jane Williams is Assistant Dean and Tutor in Theology at St Mellitus College.

Next week: Rachel Mann

 

Cured of all our defects

public domainpublic domainIT IS hard to believe that we have got this far into a crisis without draw­­­ing on that most healthful of clergy­­men, the Revd Sydney Smith.

This Regency cleric, a near con­tem­porary of Jane Austen (they were once in Bath together — not as scan­dal­ous as it sounds, for it is not re­­corded that they met), is famous not only for his wit, but for his hu­­­man­ity, most notably in his famous cure for low spirits, sent to Georgi­ana, Viscountess Morpeth.

These in­­cluded: “Don’t expect too much from human life — a sorry business at best”; “Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely”; “Be firm and con­­stant in the exercise of rational religion”; and “Short views of hu­­man life — not further than dinner or tea.” He also advised against too much sleep.

When he had entered what is now termed vulnerable adulthood, he wrote to a correspondent, Lady Holland:

“It is a bore, I admit, to be past seventy, for you are left for execu­tion, and are daily expecting the death-warrant; but, as you say, it is not anything very capital we quit.

“We are, at the close of life, only hurried away from stomach-aches, pains in the joints, from sleepless nights and unamusing days, from weak­­ness, ugliness, and nervous tremors.

“But we shall all meet again in another planet, cured of all our de­­fects. Rogers will be less irritable; Macaulay more silent; Hallam will assent; Jeffrey will speak slower; Bobus [his beloved brother] will be just as he is; I shall be more respect­ful to the upper clergy. . .”

 

Returning the applause

LAST week, Alice Gerth, a doctor who works in the east of England, responded to the accolades that med­­ical staff have been receiving. Read the full article here.

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No. 9 | 22 May 2020

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