A note from the Vicarage...

The old saying goes that before you pass judgement on someone else, you should walk a mile in their shoes (to which a comedian recently pointed out that then, at least, you’d be a mile away from them and possess a new pair of shoes).   In other words, try to put yourself in their position and see how it feels.    As we think about the immensely complicated process of coming out of coronavirus lockdown, it’s never been more relevant.  At least from where I’m standing.  

Let me tell you a story.

One day soon after we were married (months ago now, obviously) Anita and I went for a great day out in the Yorkshire Dales.   And we were driving back home over the moors near Catterick, the big Army base, when events took a bizarre turn.  Night had fallen, and the surrounding moorland was pitch black – no moon, no stars.  Rounding a bend on to a long straight stretch of the road, I noticed a red light in the distance up ahead.  Getting closer, it became clear that it was one of the rear lights of a stationary vehicle, positioned at right angles to the road and facing away from it. So, like any responsible driver, I kept an eye on it but, since it didn’t move as we approached, I thought that we’d pass by without any problems.  Just in case, I slowed slightly and kept an eye on it.  And dipped my headlights.  To be kind to the other driver.

You won’t believe the next bit.  I didn’t, at the time.  When quite close to the other vehicle, I became conscious of something vague in the road ahead at the limit of my headlights’ range.  I couldn’t make out what it was at first.  It was very indistinct.   Then, with an almighty shock, I realised that it looked like a person standing in the middle of the road right ahead.  I stood – almost literally – on the brakes, and managed to come to a stop just a couple of feet from the obstruction.

The obstruction.  The obstruction was indeed a person.  He turned out to be a soldier on a military exercise, who proceeded to swear at me for not stopping sooner.   Well…  He was dressed in full camouflage gear.  His face was blackened with camouflage paint.  He had been standing in the road with one arm extended, palm out, toward me – with black gloves on – in order to get me to stop so that his mate could reverse the Bedford 3-tonner (whose light I had seen) into the road.  

And since my humble Mk 1 Golf was strangely lacking in any military-grade tactical radar or night vision equipment, I stood no chance whatsoever of seeing him sooner than I did.  Camouflage clothing, and all the rest, is clearly wonderful if you want to be inconspicuous in the landscape.  It’s less than ideal, to put it mildly, if you want to direct traffic.  In complete darkness.  And no other traffic.  Mine was the only car on the road at the time.

The thing was, he could see me, and so he thought that I could see him.  My car was blindingly obvious to him – two great big headlights on the front.  But he couldn’t, it seems, imagine what it was like for me, looking in his direction. .  I wonder what his commanding officer would have said?

None of us would make that sort of mistake, I suppose.  But it’s worth reflecting that sometimes we, too, fail to see things from another’s point of view.  We, too, sometimes think that what’s blindingly obvious to us is also blindingly obvious to others.  We, all of us, need to be prepared to see things from the other’s point of view and be prepared to change the way we act if necessary.  We need, in other words, to be gracious – to share the grace that we ourselves have been given.

It’s all common sense, really – something that seemed rather lacking one dark night in Yorkshire.

With every blessing,

Nick (June 2020)

There’s a pretty little market town in the north of England called Yarm, near where I used to live.  Once a year, in the Autumn, it has a fair.  The wide high street with its little town hall in the middle gets filled with stalls and booths and lots of fairground rides and masses of people.  And, of course, I used to go with my friends and have fun, and ride on the rides.

Some of the rides, back then, were rather dodgy.  I rode once (once!) on a machine called ‘The Eggs’.  It consisted of a big vertical wheel on which was mounted about six oval shaped metal pods in which two people could sit.  They were mounted with just one pivot on one side, in such a way that they swung and tumbled unpredictably as the big wheel went round.   

Well, the ride was unbelievably violent.  And the all-important pivot attaching my pod to the wheel was, it turned out, well past its sell-by date.  The only thing that was stopping the pod, with me in it, hurtling off into oblivion was in fact completely worn out.  I could see – I could feel – the pod slopping and clonking around it as we swung and whirled this way and that.  Would it hold? I focussed all my attention on that pivot, which – thank God – seemed to stay more or less where it should be, and held on for grim death until the brutal experience was over.  That pivot was my one still point in a madly turning and very frightening world for those few minutes.

A still point in a turning world.

That’s actually one of my favourite descriptions of God (who isn’t, by the way, worn out or past his sell-by date).  And the world seems to be turning madly and frighteningly as I write this, as we face the pandemic and the resultant sweeping changes being forced upon society and the ways in which we all live.   There’s a real sense of fear, and of hanging on grimly until this particular experience is over.  And of hoping that we and all our friends and loved ones come through in one piece.

For me (and I’m human like everyone else), the only way through is to focus on God, who doesn’t change and who has promised to be with us in all of life’s challenges.  Yes, faith is very important to me at all times, but particularly so in this current crisis.  At the heart of that faith is the promise that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate us from God’s love even though we may feel tossed about and battered by circumstances.

So I pray.  And I encourage you to do so, too, with whatever words seem good to you to use.  But here’s an old prayer I find particularly useful.  It’s from the Hebrides, from folk who were used to life being tough and unpredictable.  I hope it’s useful to you.

As the rain hides the stars, as the autumn mist hides the hills, as the clouds veil the blue of the sky, so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of Thy face from me. Yet, if I may hold Thy hand in the darkness, it is enough. Since I know that, though I may stumble in my going, Thou dost not fall.

Alistair Maclean, Hebridean Altars, 1937

With every blessing, and my continued prayers,

Nick (April 2020)


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