Fernhurst, Lynchmere and Camelsdale Churches
A note from the Vicarage...
I’ve got to be honest.
Engaging with the news at the moment is difficult. What with the pandemic, and all its threats, restrictions and difficulties; the worsening global environmental situation; the dreadful injustices faced by millions across the world because of war and oppression; and all the rest – it makes for a stressful daily intake. The media are very efficient at bringing us news of war, disaster, crises and suffering from anywhere and everywhere in the world.
It all gets a bit much at times. And rather overwhelming. Whether spoken or unspoken, the question rumbling away within me is always, “What can I do about it?”
In a real sense, of course, I can’t personally deal with the enormity of the world’s suffering; no human being has the personal resources to take it all on board. But I don’t think that I’m alone in feeling guilty that we might not be as passionate as we should be about the troubling issues all around us, or that we don’t personally do much more about them than donate money via a credit card from the comfort of our own homes.
What should our response be, as responsible human beings and as Christians who take our faith seriously? There’s a quotation from the Talmud that brings a good perspective to this:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
As with most things in life, we need to concentrate on what we can do, in the situations in which God has placed us, rather than what we can’t do.
And, thinking about that, here’s a story that I often reflect upon.
One day a man was walking along a beach after a storm when he noticed a boy ahead of him going to and fro across the beach to the water’s edge, repeatedly picking objects up and gently throwing them into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing these starfish that have been washed up back into the sea. The sun is hot and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds and hundreds of starfish? It’s a waste of time; you can’t possibly make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the sea. Then, smiling at the man, he said,
“I made a difference for that one.”
With every blessing,
Holiday? What holiday?
That’s how most of us feel, I should think, about the summer we’ve just had. Most people’s holiday plans have been wrecked in some way by the pandemic. So, inevitably, we find ourselves thinking about what we’d like to do next year. And, perhaps, reflecting on holidays we’ve had in the past…
Once upon a time, Anita, Erin and I were having a wonderful week in north Pembrokeshire, staying in a cottage not far from Strumble Head. The weather was for the most part sunny, the scenery was spectacular, and we met some really nice people. Highlights included horse riding on the beach, a visit to St. David’s Cathedral, and seeing some wonderful wildlife, including seals and a dolphin. One day, we visited Ramsey Island, and saw seals by the hundred.
At one point we were looking down from the cliffs on a beach that was a mixture of sand and rock, and I could see clearly a pup basking in the sun, with its mother in the water close by keeping an eye on it. I was delighted. It was the first pup we’d seen, and I pointed it out to Anita.
But she couldn’t make it out.
I was puzzled. To me it seemed as clear as day, and I said as much to Anita, who still couldn’t see the pup at all, and was getting increasingly exasperated by my insistence that it was really easy to see, it was right there by that big rock, it couldn’t be more obvious; what on earth was the problem?
But then I took off my sunglasses to see what difference it might make, and immediately realised what the problem was. We were both wearing sunglasses – but they were different kinds of sunglasses. Mine were polarising – and hers weren’t.
The great advantage of polarising sunglasses is that they filter out most of the reflections from shiny or wet surfaces, and enable you to see colour and detail without being dazzled. That’s why I could see the pup. Without those sunglasses, all I could see were shiny rocks. The pup vanished, as if by magic. That was the problem. Anita needed different sunglasses.
Reflecting on this (if you’ll pardon the pun!) it seems to me that it’s easy to get dazzled or distracted as we look at the world around us. We’ve got all sorts of things constantly coming at us, to do with the pandemic and what we can and can’t do; confusion over where we can and can’t go; the pressures of daily life and who we can and can’t meet up with; and so on. In the midst of all this, it’s easy to miss things that are significant. They get hidden by the ‘reflections’. Like the seal pup – alone, vulnerable and, well, invisible.
Unless – we make an effort to ‘filter out’ the other stuff. Then the true pattern of things can emerge and we and might see, perhaps, the small, delicate and vulnerable matters that are important and significant; the reality of things as God sees them.
With every blessing,