Category Archives: Faith

Second Letter from the Lockdown

Digital Thermometer

Hi

I hope you’re well at the start of a new week.

How am I?

I am doing well. My anxiety is being managed so I feel free to deal with other effects of the lockdown. So what happened since the first letter; how did I manage the anxiety? I hope this account might help you.

I’ve maintained the routines I spoke about last time. Daily exercise, twice weekly run, less news, meditation, prayer, faith, hope, writing and science. It’s not enough to know about routines; I must do them often enough for them to become routine.

Here are a few of the faith things.

  • Small shrines.
    I picked this up from Tom Wright’s article in Time Magazine where he was asked to write about the pandemic. Tom was Bishop of Durham and now a much read Christian writer and teacher.

It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope. New wisdom for our leaders? Now there’s a thought.

In my anxiety I become a small shrine where the healing love of God can dwell. When I feel anxious, I know that many others, maybe you, are suffering too. Others are suffering from the virus itself and sadly some grieve for loved ones who have fallen victim to the pandemic. In the small shrine of my heart I can pray and lament with them. It doesn’t necessarily ease my anxiety, but it gives it purpose.

  • Tell God how you feel.
    It’s tempting, in prayer, to say something like “Lord you know how I feel.” without describing those feelings. Jim is a friend of mine. We are in the same church small group. In a recent virtual meeting Jim suggested we look at the post Easter story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35) They talked to a stranger who joined them on their journey and assumed he knew all about the crucifixion the previous Friday. So they just referred to the things that had happened. The stranger, who turned out to be the risen Jesus asked, “What things?” Jim asked us why we thought Jesus, who knew all too well what had happened, had bothered to ask this question. I felt Jesus wanted them to tell him their story in their own words to find out how they felt and why they had become so disillusioned. I decided to try it when I talk to Jesus about my anxiety. Instead of just asking him to help me with my anxiety, I describe how I actually feel. My cry for help then has substance and I gain a better perspective on my feelings as I pray. It also makes sure God and I are dealing with the same issues.
  • Hope is a choice.
    Sunday morning, I’m watching Andy, our Associate Minister, on our YouTube service, encouraging us from the scriptures. “Hope is a choice,” he said. I’d never thought of hope like that, but it’s true. Our Christian hope is certain, but how that affects the way we live is a choice. This pandemic is not the end. There is a hope stored up in heaven for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ. Andy said “Look to others – love your neighbours – hope looks out, not in. We can’t afford to be naval gazing.” Anxiety has a habit of breeding self pity and introversion. Anxiety is caused by fearing what might be. Looking out in hope lets me focus on the certainty of what will be.

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
‘Til all my fears are gone

I think anxiety feeds on fear, so removing its food supply with a song that lifts my heart up to God in thankfulness, can be good. It’s easy to be glib and think, ‘how can a song help me with anxiety?’, but when it’s a song of worship, it can.

  • Meditation using Lectio365 continues to work for me. When meditation was the popular new age thing to do, I remember someone saying, “If you empty your mind, be careful what fills it when you meditate.” In the Psalms, the singer promotes meditating on the words of scripture. There are myriad things trying to own my mind. Meditation on scripture fills it with good things.
     “… whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” said Paul in his letter to the Christians in Philippi two thousand years ago – ancient wisdom.

  • Science
    I could point to the intense research to discover the best way to deal with this pandemic. It is both hopeful and significant and there are positive signs coming out of laboratories around the world. But I want to mention a mundane scientific instrument. The thermometer. In my most anxious moments at night, when my hay fever parades with the vital symptoms of coronavirus, I walk downstairs, pick up our electronic thermometer; switch it on; stuff it in my ear; press the button; wait for the beep; read the digital display. It’s 36.4˚C. Normal body temperature. No fever. Fear subsides. I am thankful for science and the technology that springs from it. It’s a gift from God.

Practicing these routines manages my anxiety. It’s a well-known idea, although I only learned it recently, that courage is not the absence of fear but the management of fear. I’ll go one further. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18) Allowing the love that comes from Jesus Christ to work in my life is what makes the difference. I could be a victim of my anxiety, or with His help start to overcome it. The things I’ve listed above are working for me in my anxiety if I persist in practicing them. I hope they help you too.

All the best and God bless you

Barrie

Letter from the Lockdown

April 20th 2020

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Lockdown stops the clock

Hi

How are you? These are difficult times aren’t they.

How am I?

I am under pressure. The virus gives me anxiety. The lockdown confines me. My voluntary work is all remote. My faith is getting more attention in the abstract, less exercise in the real world, and I am missing my family and the normal routine of life with which I was content.

Anxiety took me by surprise. I wasn’t aware of how much I suppress my anxiety until it burst out from under the threat of catching the virus. My throat dries up, my digestion rebels, my head fizzes, sleep is interrupted by distorted thoughts, until dawn restores my perspective.

Action is needed.  Less news. The radio, normally on all day, is off. I watch just one TV news broadcast at 6pm. Reading online news for too long makes me nauseous so I stop doing it.

I’m helped by meditation on the goodness of God, who shares my anxiety and feels my weakness. I have found a daily prayer app called Lectio365 that enables me to focus on good things, to pray out how I feel and to yield to the peace of God in my life.

Exercise. Running, walking and cycling. I take the full allowance of permitted daily exercise and sometimes more. Those endorphins certainly know how to restore well being.

There’s some singing too. Breathlessly to the tunes playing in my head whilst I run – a personal praise party or a good times song from one of my playlists. At other times when my memory is jogged by an earworm replaying something from the online service from church, I’ll whistle the tune or burst into song.

Its counterintuitive for me not to rush off to help someone, with something, somewhere. Any help I now offer is online or on the phone. When tempted to step out of the house in response to a simple request I remember #stayathome – home is the only place I feel truly safe from this virus.

This week I will have three video conference meetings – some may be fruitful; some frustrating and others possibly inconclusive. In this time of lockdown they feel like an intrusion into my home because they would normally be conducted somewhere else. There’s no excuse not to attend, no variety of location, concentration is, at times, difficult and the strain of no proper eye contact makes them less engaging. I have no way of measuring the response in the room to my contributions. It’s quite sterile.

Holidays are now located in Never Never Land, while refreshing and inspiring trips into the lovely surrounding Yorkshire dales and moors are denied.

Add all of this together with lockdown and it is like inhabiting another world; of being ‘away from home at home’, with a constant question, “When can I get back to normal?” A question that has no answer. Life is on hold, but it hasn’t stopped. My grandchildren continue to grow and develop without me. This is especially true of our youngest, Rowan, born just days before the restrictions. I have to be content with seeing his smiles on a screen.

On the positive side, I am at home with Joan and we enjoy each other’s company and generally work well together. Our frustrations with the lockdown are shared. There’s good cooking, some long delayed chores receive attention, the sun is shining and the buds of spring are bursting open in our small garden. Our house is pleasant and especially the garden room.

So I use my frustration to remember those who are confined in less pleasant places, alone and anxious. I use my anxiety to pray for those suffering, serving on the front line of health and social care and parents working from home alongside home schooling in cramped spaces. At times my prayers range wider to the refugee camps and warzones across the world where the pandemic adds more fear and death to those already frail and broken.

I could say ‘who am I to be anxious and concerned about my plight’ when so many suffer infinitely more than me. But it’s right to deal with anxiety and not to ignore it simply because others have greater needs. If I address my needs alongside theirs, I am better equipped to serve – even if action is confined to prayer and other things that can be done remotely. Left to run riot, anxiety will consume all my strength and distract me from ever caring about others.

This is a writing exercise but also a real letter. It’s part of my treatment. Writing allows me to leave the house and imagine better things. It’s a longer letter than I had anticipated, but writing it is helping me to rise above the circumstances. I’ll let you judge its value to you.

Let me know how you are coping in these strange days.

All the best

Barrie

 

Ten o’clock miracle

Deb Stephenson and Alice Newsholme

Deb Stephenson and Alice Newsholme

At ten o’clock they started to pray. Earlier in the evening the family had been called to the bedside of my father as he lay dying in hospital in Preston, Lancashire. They had been summoned by the doctor because he wasn’t expected to survive the night.

The illness had started a few days earlier as he rode his Panther 600 motorbike home to Ambleside from Coventry where his fiancée, later to be my mother, lived. As he battled against driving rain on the old A6 towards the Lake District he developed a headache which intensified as the miles passed. By the time he arrived home it was so bad he went straight to bed to ‘sleep it off’. Next morning the pain was worse and his mother persuaded him to see the doctor who admitted him to hospital.

“TB meningitis” the consultant told his family, “there’s not much we can do. Patients reach a crisis point; some get better, others don’t make it.”

This was before antibiotics were in general use to fight the infection revealed in the tests on his ‘lumber puncture’. I remember my dad describing the lumber puncture process with relish when he retold this story. A long curved needle was inserted between the discs in his back into his spinal fluid. A sample was drawn off for tests. His hands and fingers used to describe the arc and length of the needle whilst his face grimaced as he recalled the experience.

So they waited. The crisis came and passed with no improvement. He hadn’t eaten for days, he was thin and weak and had only slept through the intense pain with help from medication.

After the family returned to Ambleside there was little conversation. My mum’s family, the Newsholme’s, were strong in their faith. Grandad Newsholme was Pastor of a large Pentecostal Church in Coventry. They actively believed in miracles. On my father’s side the family was divided. Some were believers, some not. Grandma Stephenson had helped to start the Pentecostal Mission in Elterwater but her husband hadn’t been involved. All four of dad’s younger siblings were believers too. The four older one’s, I was told, weren’t.By ten o’clock only the believers were left in the room. Grandad Newsholme suggested they prayed for healing. So they did. Thirty five miles away, a dying man went to sleep naturally for the first time for two weeks.

The next morning my father sat up in bed – pain free – and startled the young duty nurse. “What’s for breakfast?” He asked. The nurse left the bedside without responding and called the ward sister. He asked her the same question. “What’s for breakfast, I’m starving?””I think you’d better get him something quick.” The sister said to the nurse. That morning he ate a full English breakfast and waited for the puzzled doctor to arrive. He ordered another lumber puncture and then another one.The doctor had reprimanded the lab staff for mixing up the samples because they reported that there was no trace of the infection in my father’s sample. Convinced there was a mistake he ordered the second procedure with the same result. No infection. He concluded in the light of my father’s surprise recovery that it must have been a miracle. The miracle explanation was confirmed when he was told about the impromptu prayer meeting in Ambleside the night before.Within days dad was discharged from hospital and steadily gained strength and weight to be restored to his family. It was 1947. A few months later, in March 1948, he and my mother, Alice, were married in her father’s church in Coventry. I arrived the following summer.

I often reflect on how my existence is due to a miracle of healing two years before I was born and thank God for answered prayer.

Minster Carols – honoured to have been there

I’m still glowing after last night’s Minster Carols – what a great team – so many people working together to create an event so moving and relevant. I can honestly say it ignited the spirit of Christmas in me for the first time this year. The sheer enormity of it all – God being born on earth to be our Saviour – is truly overwhelming. The impact of the Riding Lights theatre, the simplicity of Alyson’s preaching, the music from the choir and the slick work of the technical team all played out in that magnificent building – stunning. Not to mention all the stewards, welcomers, fetchers and carriers, pray-ers and all the rest of the people behind the scenes. Thanks St Mike’s for being a great church. Honoured to be part of it all.