Rector’s Ramblings 5

I have a confession to make. When the late September evenings draw in although I hate the early darkness, nonetheless it also means it’s time to close the curtains and watch Strictly. Each series, whether I have a clue who the celebrities are or not, I found myself hooked and amazed at the hours of practice people manage to squeeze in alongside other jobs, struggling with routines until they perfect their steps.

When we were first married Michael and I went off to ballroom dance lessons. It was the time when formal dinners dances were still popular. Maybe we will take up dancing again in retirement to keep ourselves fit. We didn’t become very proficient the first time around!

But dancing has been an image on my mind as I have been around the villages last week. Several times people have made exaggerated movements to keep the recommended 2 metres apart and there have been movements of road crossing and side stepping and odd bowing and nodding as we learn a new dance around each other.

When I was at work in education there were definitely people you danced around. We have all met them. Those people you are never quite certain about – how will they react? What will they be expecting of you next? I had one boss years ago who always urged us to be dancing in step as a team.

But the dance on the streets right now, as we politely try to keep our social distance, reminds me of something out of the Jane Austen films (another confession coming up as I love them too). They usually have a ball, where the lovers who don’t yet acknowledge their love, are found dancing awkwardly together and engaged in stilted conversation.

As I said on my last Rambling, the spiritual preacher J John speaks of a new country he calls Covidia. I like the idea, but I find myself thinking of Covidia more as a dance. A new Samba or Rumba – as we dance around one another, very often full of good humour and quips about, ‘We’ll be in strictly next’, as we avoid too much contact one with another.

The image of the dance can be found quite regularly in the Bible. In both the Old and New Testaments there are references to dancing and music. David, when not fighting Goliath or seducing his friend’s wife, or fighting battles or writing Psalms, well he was known to dance before the Lord. Then of course the famous lines about our weeping and mourning will be turned into dance.

As we are continuing to learn to sing a new song in a strange land, it seems to me that we are also being led into a new dance. We might sidestep or box step, shimmy and chassis around, but as we learn new steps together, it matters little at the moment if we get them all right first time and it seems to me there is a much more forgiving spirit around if someone inadvertently steps on our toes. Long may that last.

As in all dances that become practised and polished, there will be the one who leads and the one who follows. Sometimes we will be asked to lead. Other times we simply need follow – like now following the instructions to stay at home safely and limit our socialising.

Listening again this week to the famous ‘Lord of the Dance’ hymn by Sydney Carter I am reminded that, as we practise and perfect our new moves, the dance I call The Covidia, God is not watching
from the perimeter of the dance floor; God is still leading; God joins in the dance. From this vantage point, from God’s-eye view, he leads in new ways and asks that we respond with love and share in his redemptive work.

Sydney Carter wrote this about his hymn.
‘I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.
Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did.’

I reckon that the Jesus who calls us to the dance would be quite pleased with the new steps we are learning; the new conversations in which we engage as we pass one another – no longer heads down and wishing to pass un-noticed, but glad of a warm greeting, smile or wave as we leave our isolation briefly and socially dance.
Jesus was many things and he certainly enjoyed socialising and partying – usually with the out- siders rather than in crowd.

One final thing Sidney Carter wrote about his hymn is this. ‘Sometimes, for a change I sing the whole song in the present tense. I dance in the morning when the world is begun…. It’s worth a try.’ As we learn new steps, new songs in our strange land, as they say on Strictly, ‘Keep dancing!’

A prayer for this day

Lord God,
As we learn new songs to sing,
as we walk in a strange land,
we ask that you guide our steps in a new dance,
the dance of community.
As you taught us that we are members
one of another,
that we can never live for ourselves alone,
we thank you for the communities of which we are a part.
Help us in these uncertain times to make our contribution,
to always be good neighbours,
that by love we may serve one another,
and in serving one another, serve you. Amen

Video song for today: Lord of the Dance

To watch this rambling ‘live’ please follow on Bassingham Church Facebook.

God bless. Stay safe.

Love and prayers to you all and those you love and care for.


Rector’s Ramblings 4

So many images seem to be buzzing round my brain right now. As I walked in the village yesterday and passed one of our churches with its ‘Closed’ notice firmly in place, I must admit I felt real sadness that somehow we could not keep these ancient buildings open for quiet prayer and a sense of safe space.

I have said several times in sermons, ‘If these stones could speak…’ they would tell of countless acts of worship; stories of faith journeys; times when people have met with joy in their hearts at baptisms and weddings; times when people have wept in grief as loved ones are commended to God’s great mercy or remembered at special services.

As I walked back to The Rectory a piece of music came into my head. ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ I sang this with a massed choir in the Royal Albert Hall when I was in my early 20’s. We even still have the vinyl recording of it!!! The version we sang came from Belshazzar’s Feast and the music at that point is both melancholic and poignant. Yet this need not be a question we leave hanging, rhetorically, not needing an answer. We really do need to find an answer at this time, when we are living in a strange way in what is increasingly becoming a strange land for many. The spiritual writer J.John has called this new land ‘Covidia’ – and his reflection on line compares ‘Covidia’ with the fictional Narnia. I have thought of ‘Covidia’ in a different way, but more of that in a later reflection.

‘Living in a strange land’, yes, it is the way we are living right now that is odd. It seems like exile; from family, from friends, from normal ways of social interaction, from our fellowship and our hospitality and of course, from our worship. However, this new land need not be a place of silence and a place where we cannot sing our songs to God. By the end of this time of exile and isolation I believe we will have found new ways of living in our land and these ways will be deeper and more meaningful. In the Support Group for Bassingham I am one of the five at the end of the 01522 404025 number and so get to read and hear a lot right now. I am sensing that ‘Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land’ is already very much happening.

So many are ‘singing out’ and having the courage to ask for that little bit of extra help. Even more are ‘singing out’ in response, as so many volunteers are up and running to deliver the groceries, fetch prescriptions, fix a light bulb, mow a lawn, put the bins out or whatever. The ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ phrase ‘phone a friend’ has become a real life-line for many. People across countless communities applauded the NHS and other support services at 8p.m last evening. Candles are lit in windows at 7p.m. We are, indeed, finding new ways ‘to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.’

And what is really good about all this? Well it doesn’t matter if you sing off key or out of beat with the rest of the choir, the united voice is singing out, and for me this voice speaks of the great commandment to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves.’

Exile, singing, choirs, finding new voices; all images I want to leave with you to think about as you reflect quietly, in your own worship time, in your own space. Exile was hard for all who experienced it in our Biblical times. We see exile carrying on even now as people undertake dangerous sea crossings to escape regimes that we can only barely imagine.

Perhaps at this time you would expect me to be delving into the hope of the New Testament to offer words of comfort. I find myself wandering even further back in history and turning to the prophets who spoke of God’s restoration. I find myself with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk to name a few. Now I guess most of us haven’t read Habakkuk for a while, indeed if at all. Much to ponder there so maybe it is somewhere to turn to in our reading over the next few days. The book offers these insights which speak into these times:
• Although God’s ways are not our ways, yet he can be trusted.
• Even when things seem chaotic God is still in control.
• God wants what’s best for us even when it’s hard.
• Understanding how God works is not our job; trusting him, however, is.

So I leave you today with another favourite Merton quote, a piece to listen to on youtube, a prayer to pray, hopefully at 7p.m.

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.’ Thomas Merton

Prayer for today

Lord Jesus Christ,

you taught us to love our neighbour,

and to care for those in need

as if we were caring for you.

In this time of anxiety, give us strength

to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick,

and to assure the isolated

of our love, and your love,

for your name’s sake. Amen

Music for today can be found here: