N for new normal

It seems that ever since we went into lockdown back in March people have been talking about the future, ‘the new normal.’ But as I have been walking around the parish in the last week I have found myself wondering whether the ‘new normal’ for some is simply ‘back to normal.’ People are being able to return to work; for some people work has continued throughout lockdown anyway as they carry out essential duties for us all.

Usual, typical, expected, a regular pattern or rhythm of life. These are some of the definitions I have read about ‘normal’. The last few weeks have turned that sense of normal somewhat on its head and we have had to find new patterns or rhythms to our daily life and many people have told me, in passing as I walk around the parish, just how much they have enjoyed the ‘new normal of Covid’. Staying nearer to home, having time for the smaller things in life rather than rushing from activity to activity. ‘It’s been good to have some “me” or “us” time’ has been expressed on quite a few occasions. Yes, for many the sense of isolation has been bewildering and lonely, but we have genuinely been blessed in our villages with the community support on offer- from food deliveries, take-aways, prescription runs, phone a friend and check how they are… to name but a few.

So then, the new normal perhaps being ‘back to normal’ – I am wondering if that is quite what some people want and then wondering a bit more about whether this is a golden opportunity, an unexpected moment in time, for us to consider whether what we have up to now called ‘normal’ in our homes, our villages, our nation, our churches even, is actually everything that God would call us into.

Maybe this time of entering a ‘new normal’ is a chance to re-set the compass. Maybe some of the amazingly good things that have happened, especially community wise, are things to hold onto and take forward into the ‘new normal’. Last Sunday our readings led us to look at how the early church had the real sense of community in sharing what they had. In lockdown we have seen countless sharing of what we have, too; cakes have abounded, flowers have appeared for sharing, bikes have been repaired for free, skills have been shared, unwanted items have been given away, gardening tips have abounded as we have taken to growing vegetables and there have been countless acts of people carefully distancing themselves to go and sort out a pipe leak, an electrical fault or whatever.

If this has been a foretaste of the ‘new normal’ then I can only be thankful that this speaks of a new normal that promises to be more generous in spirit, peace filled, appreciative, resourceful, imaginative, considerate of others than we ever were before March. Covid-19, dreadful as it is, maybe has the positive of leading us to a new normal of new connectedness.

We are not the first, and we certainly won’t be the last people, to face coming to terms with a ‘new normal.’ As we entered our lockdown Easter was fast approaching and the strangeness of celebrating Easter beyond the walls of the church was odd to say the last. But what it led me to think about was just how important it was to remember Easter not as a past event but as perhaps a very significant ‘new normal’ for those followers, those first disciples, who in the space of three short years had struggled to fully comprehend their leader and his teaching and were now left alone to face their ‘new normal’ without him.

The ‘new normal’ was symbolized by a cross. As the great Tom Wright says in ‘The Day the Revolution Began’:

The cross itself, in short, stands at the centre of the Christian message, the Christian story, and the Christian life and mission. It has lost none of its revolutionary and transformative power down through the centuries…

The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was a one-off event, the one on behalf of the many, the one moment in history on behalf of all others through which sins would be forgiven, the powers robbed of their power, and humans redeemed to take their place as worshippers and stewards, celebrating the powerful victory of God in his Messiah and so gaining the Spirits power to make his kingdom effective in the world.

That first Easter was the start of a ‘new normal’ that meant that nothing would ever quite be the same again. Not simply a death that offered sins forgiven, thanks very much, but now let’s get on with life as we know it. The revolution that Tom Wright referred to, began. A ‘new normal’ for the early church meant working together in a new connectedness and sharing not only what they had, but sharing the good news of God’s extravagant love for mankind, with everyone and anyone who would listen.

The new normal of Easter offered this:

To be made right in God’s eyes.
To have peace with God 
To live with undeserved freedom
To have the promise of a future with hope
The promise and the challenge of Easter is that we were given a ‘new normal’ to live out. Other great Biblical characters were given their own ‘new normal’ too. Moses was given a new normal after killing an Egyptian task master, serving time looking after father in laws flocks and then leading people out of oppression into a new land.

Saul was given a new normal when he was blinded for a while and turned away from persecuting the earliest Christians and becoming the great missionary teacher and prolific letter writer, establishing churches and then urging them to continue to live appropriately and faithfully.s we approach whatever our ‘new normal’ might be, for many baby steps into entering society again after he safety and security of home, may we find a new normal that offers us strength in our weakness, hope where we might have felt despair, renewal when we have felt care-worn, more faithful where we have felt doubt, encouraged where we have felt anxious, rested and renewed where we have felt weary. May our new normal find us inspired to live in a way that truly believes nothing is impossible with God and nothing will ever separate us from God’s offer to love each one of us.

I’m not sure I want to go back to a normal that is limited by what I am used to or comfortable with. I’m not sure I want a normal defined by what my past tells me I’m worthy of or my present tells me I am capable of. I want to try and embrace a new normal where Jesus has the last word and where I really know that whatever the future holds, it is held by someone who offers more love, care, support, guidance…. than I could ever hope for or deserve.

I have just struggled with a jigsaw that was pretty impossible. The pieces could have fitted several different ways. If, like the jigsaw, all we see ahead are pieces of ‘what was’, the new normal of ‘what is yet to happen’, will not be there. Let’s create a new picture, with jigsaw pieces replaced in a new patterning, with love, prayer, faith, hope and let’s dare to be part of the new normal of the greatest story ever told.

Music to enjoy

Meeting God in the ordinary

On my alphabet ramblings I have come to O.

Oh no. All the words about God spring to mind. Omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. Then there’s ‘O’ for obey or obedience, but as the last few months have been constantly described as unprecedented times or extraordinary days, then my thoughts have wandered to ‘O’ for ordinary.

In the church year we have special times and seasons, high days and holidays if you like and there are signs about these in the colours used in church and in the colour you might notice a priest wears on his or her stole. A lot of the year is called ordinary time and for those who follow such things the colour for ordinary time is green.

These periods of liturgical Ordinary Time are actually just as important and any other. They serve to remind us that it is in and through our ordinary days that we live out our faith, the great mystery of God loving us so much that he gave everything for us.

Most of us live ordinary lives with ordinary days in which we know our best and our worst self and everything in-between. We have our days when things go really well; we are able to share joy, patience, and appreciation with others. But then there are the days when we need hope, trust, and a forgiving heart to get our heads out from under the duvet, let alone set one foot in front of another!

But I guess it is in the ordinary that God continues to work, faithfully, lovingly, challengingly even and in the ordinary he is still working out his purpose for all of creation, and he is working out his purpose in and through each of us.

If you still can bear to watch things like the evening news, you will hear things that seem to make very day ‘extraordinary’. We hear of wars and terrorism, natural disaster, earthquakes, raging fires, locusts rampaging and destroying thousands of acres, and then the sinister news of the people who seem to ‘disappear from our very eyes.’ I remember when working in Brazil hearing about the children who vanished from the streets overnight.

But amidst all this, and everything I read about a ‘new normal becoming our new ordinary way of life’, I am trying to focus on verses like these from Jeremiah in Lamentations:

‘Because of the loving devotion of the Lord we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

I have been reading something about Liturgy of the Ordinary in a book by Tish Harrison Warren. I read this earlier this week:

“A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.”
Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Those words really resonated with me and they are also quite challenging. I, too, long for things to be made new in big ways. This week we have had diocesan meetings where the future plans for our diocese have been outlined by our Bishops, building upon work from five separate report groups that have thought and prayed hard about ‘what next?’ When planning for any future I guess the exciting projects get the headlines, but there is something about the steadfastness of the ordinary, everyday, the routine, the faithful following simple practices of prayer, praise, study that underpins all the possible transformation for the future.

I am trying to keep remembering that each and every ordinary day is wrapped in God’s saving love. High days, holidays – all fine, but for the transformation of ourselves and of our world, we must live intentionally within and out from the magnificent gesture of God’s saving help. The wisdom of the liturgical year reminds us of this. Our ordinary lives are holy because it is here we experience who we are and who our God is for us.

Our God is the God of the ordinary.  He is always waiting to surprise us around every corner, but sometimes we’re so busy looking for him in the big stuff, we miss him in the little stuff.  God doesn’t always bless us in huge dynamic ways, sometimes his blessings come in quiet, ordinary situations. 

So let’s try and meet God in the ordinary as we enter our new normal. Let’s try and meet God openly and obediently in the ordinary too; that’s three ‘Os’ for the price of one this morning.

Let’s be prepared to meet God in the glory of our gardens, the wonderful sunset or sunrise. Let’s meet with God when washing the dishes or doing the ironing, when someone in our parish crosses our thought, just turn that thought into a quick prayer for them. Let’s actually ask God to meet us in the ordinary, invite him to be part of our ordinary. I don’t think he wants to be in a cupboard until Sunday and then dusted down just for an hour.

Whatever you set out to do today, just think of two or three things that are ordinary and then offer them to God. I will be going to Norton Disney this afternoon to help clear a churchyard. So, as I work, I will consciously pause and offer to God the people of that community.

Wherever you are today, whatever an ordinary day might offer for you, blessings on you and those whom you love – oh and have a nice day!

Music for this week; different styles again to explore.

Who am I? (Link below)
Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me?
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me
Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In today’s culture, we are told daily that we aren’t enough. We aren’t good enough, skinny enough, talented enough, smart enough, etc. However, Jesus says that we are children of God (1 John 3:1) and that’s what matters. Our identity in Jesus Christ is so much more important and worthy than anything this world tells us. Whoever we are, whatever our past, God says, everyday, in the ordinariness of life, perhaps even more profoundly than the L’Oréal advert, ‘you are worth it!’

An old favourite; Be thou my vision