Hello friends and welcome to this week’s video. I’m not sure where the time has gone but this is video no.100! I started recording these just after the first lockdown started and on March 23rd, 2020, the day I’m recording this, we are called to a national day of reflection on these tumultuous two years.
A few weeks ago, in London, I filmed the memorial wall, which runs alongside the embankment all the way from St. Thomas’s hospital to Lambeth Palace. Each heart represents a memorial to someone who has died from this dreadful disease. By the latest count that’s 165,000 devastated families with another 100-150 more dying every day, and many more debilitated by long COVID. This doesn’t count the economic hardship of businesses and jobs lost. Given the explosion in new cases over the past few days, it’s far too early to talk about the pandemic being over, even if the restrictions are largely behind us.
I’ve been repeatedly struck at Morning Prayer over the last two years how often the Psalms speak into this situation and even more to the current tragedy in Ukraine. This was the prayer book of ancient Israel. The Psalms do not display an anaemic positivity bordering on denial. There is no sense in which the authors feel certain emotions are inadmissible in a service of worship. Psalm 6: 6, “I am weary with my groaning; every night I drench my pillow and flood my bed with tears.” All human responses are here, from intense joy – Psalm 9: 2 I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will make music to your name, O Most High.” to the deepest pain of betrayal, Psalm 41: 9 “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me”; from despair at unanswered prayer to deep shame and regret. Each day through Lent we are reminded of David’s words in Psalm 51 as he deals with his shame at being caught in adultery and murder. They legitimise heartfelt pleading for a change in our circumstances. They recognised God was the one in whom they lived, and moved and had their being. To conceal the reality of feeling was foolish and futile.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking about the understanding of God that lies behind a Christian approach to suffering. We do believe Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion reveal God as someone who genuinely enters into our world and walks alongside us. We believe that the resurrection reveals God’s continual involvement in bringing change and the ascension affirms Christ’s authority over creation. But these convictions do not invite a passivity or stoicism in the face of human suffering. We are not invited to just suck it up and do the best we can, hopeful that one day we’ll get to heaven and everything will be fine.
The psalmists invite us into a spiritual dialogue in which the gloves come off. This comes more easily to cultures less reticent than ours. There is a deep-seated association between Britishness and emotional reserve. Classically this was expressed in Anglican worship in our respectability and aversion to extreme displays of emotion. If we were upset about anything we concealed our passive aggression behind a mask of being charming and polite. But we now know that repressing emotion is a very unhealthy thing. Much depression is an outworking of suppressed anger. Retaining bitterness against those who have wronged us has been associated with a number of physical disorders. We know we are beings in which body, mind, emotions, and spirit are strongly interconnected.
For much of human history disease, famine and war have been humanity’s lot. It would be extraordinary if a spirituality provided no outlet for the feelings associated with these experiences. The Psalms and the Old Testament book of Lamentations demonstrate that these things are OK and even provide us with a ready-made vehicle for their expression. So, as we reflect on the losses of COVID or the injustice and brutality of the Ukrainian invention let’s be unafraid of bringing these emotions to God. If he has provided the vehicle he is well able to take these feelings and weave even these into the great story of redemption he is telling.