God on the Fens (a reflection on Psalm 84)

Early one morning last week, I was out on the Fens near my home. Walking beside the River Great Ouse as it pulsed high against its banks with energy and life, my senses became suddenly alert. That is, I had the strangest sensation of experiencing my surroundings in some kind of ultra high definition – thus being able to truly attend to that present moment with utmost clarity.

Rushing wind, rustling reeds and wheat. The rat-a-tat of dragonfly wings startled me with its urgency. Birdsong in the trees above. Crickets in the grasses below. And my attention stolen by the hidden abundance of activity detectable only by coy cracklings in the undergrowth.

Sweet purple blackberries plump among climbing thorns glistened in the rising sunlight, seducing the day’s first wasps. Daisies and dandelions stretched upward, daring to reveal their faces that they might consume every beam of warming light. And, lining the path, nettles’ thin needles waited, poised.

Over and on the river were swans and signets, sparrows and swallows. A clattering of jackdaws, geese and gulls. One grey heron nestled through the reeds. Another, in flight, its pterodactyl-gait prompting me to wonder about the ancient times when water and marsh reigned and the Fenlands were rich with eagles, egrets and eels.

Then, turning towards home, the cathedral came in sight. Beautifully imposing itself on the landscape for some thousand years, or thereabouts: cruciform frame of grey stone, intricately decorated in worship, and visible for miles. Bold in its declaration of holy human achievement, for generations this place has called: “Come all! This is the house of God!”

And yet, on that morning, cathedral claims were diminished in the face of natural splendour. The mission of ages compelling worshippers to exchange the gloriously created rivers and roots for pews and pillars, appeared to me unjust. I thought, am I not, at this very blessed time, already in the house of the Lord?:

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84.10).

And it seemed to me that a place – any place, perhaps every place – becomes sacred through the presence of the divine. Cathedral nor Fenland has the greater claim as the whole earth is the Lord’s, the Spirit blows where it will, and Christ is all and in all.

Then, finally on that morning (and making my joy complete); one, then two roe deer leapt across my path, just metres away. I laughed out loud, my soul restored by the loving playfulness of divine presence and revelation, and went on my way praising God for the wonders I had shared.

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Following this remarkable experience, I have continued to reflect upon Psalm 84.

The Psalm seems to be about one’s anticipation and longing for divine presence:

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts. My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD.” (84.1-2)

While the focus is on the pilgrimage to the temple where God is said to dwell; my recent experience highlighted to me the universal nature of divine residency. I am as likely to meet God out on the Fens as I am in the cathedral or the bus station!

Just because the psalmist’s attention centres around divine presence within the temple (e.g. courts, altars, house, Zion), it is clear through the Bible that God is present and active everywhere. Indeed, “the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6.3). Presence at the earthly temple has no bearing on divine activity elsewhere on earth or in the heavens.

A meeting with the divine is thus possible anywhere. The key is surely my desire for such a meeting to take place. And indeed, recently emerging from an extended period in the driest of wildernesses, I realize just how starved of spiritual nourishment I had become.

So it is no exaggeration to echo the psalmist in saying, “my heart and flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps. 84.3). Inside and out, I crave connection with the restoring presence of my Lord. I want to receive my life again.

“Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (84.5)

I do not understand the season spent in the wilderness. However, I feel that such times are indeed a journey along “the highways to Zion”. Experiences of drought and God’s apparent hidden-ness, seem to be where certain necessary lessons about one’s own self are learned and strength is gained in readiness to encounter the Lord afresh.

I even wonder if there is something of great importance in being led to the point of my soul truly longing, even fainting in desperation for the courts of the LORD. I have not passed with ease through the Valley of Baca. Rather, I leave the valley significantly more damaged by life’s struggles, mercifully growing in strength just enough to approach Zion again.

But, remarkably, I approach as if for the first time.

The revelation out on the Fens was a profound and kindly act from a loving God. It was a timely reminder to seek the divine presence at all times, in all places. And as a new experience, it has also left me thirsty. But not for more of the same. Instead, I hope every future journey to Zion might be as if it were the very first, flowing from anticipation and desire for the new ways in which I may encounter the Lord.

Keeping a check on what comes out of us (Mark 7.1-23)

Mark 7.1-23 is a classic confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. I have heard many sermons and read many chapters about this text over the years. Quite often, a very easy link is made between those who were bound up in their laws and we who are free! Christians should avoid getting caught up in an attitude of law-following and instead, embrace our freedom in Christ. This is all fine and good…

Except that, a subtle (sometimes not so subtle) link is often made between the Pharisees to whom Jesus speaks in the Gospel and contemporary Jewish people in general. This is probably done without even realising it, but it remains very dangerous as the preacher is engaging in religious/cultural/racial stereotyping which, clearly is out of line with Christ’s good news, but also actually goes against the point of the text in question (Mark 7.1-23).

That is, when Jesus says:

“There is nothing outside a person that going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile” (Mk 7.15)

– it is clear that the negative assessment of a certain people group and their supposed practices by means of generalisation and stereotyping would be one of these defiling things that comes out of a person. It is perhaps worsened by the fact that often such assumptions are based on ignorance and laziness on the part of the Christian speaker/writer who has not fully investigated the Pharisees, nor the vast difference in Jewish practice (at the time of Jesus and beyond) before letting the words come out to a church congregation.

In his critique of the Pharisees on that occasion, Jesus cites Isaiah 29.13:

“The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;”

But reading on to verse 14 of this same Isaiah passage, there is an insightful message of divine action:


“so I will again do
    amazing things with this people,
    shocking and amazing.
The wisdom of their wise shall perish,
    and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.”

With regards to Mark 7.1-23 and the way it is often taught, it may be time to acknowledge God’s troubling the waters, causing the “wisdom” of teachers and preachers to be checked and questioned.

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At the start of Mark 7, the issue at hand is that of ritual washing. Instruction for such practice can be found in Exodus 30.17-21 where it concerns only the priests. This is an important point to note as it reveals something of the way in which Pharisees at the time may have interpreted scriptural texts, and also how they might have understood their role as those having ‘got it right’ following the line of God’s ordained workers recorded in scripture, in contrast to the Sadducees and other religious groups.*

Mark writes that “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands…” (7.3). Recalling that this is not referring to general cleanliness, but ritual washing, it is unlikely that “all the Jews” observed the “washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles” (7.4). For one thing, it seems that many of the population, existing under the power of Rome, lived a life of relative poverty so involvement with ritual washing of cutlery, etc., would surely be out of reach. But further, to generalise in this way is similar to saying all Christians kneel to say prayers, regularly cross themselves, or wave their arms when singing a worship song.

We always must read carefully, thinking about the words on the page. This is especially true of Mark’s Gospel as the writer enjoys hyperbole and sweeping statements: “And the whole city was gathered around the door” (1.33); “Everyone is searching for you” (1.37). So Mark’s “All the Jews” should be treated with great care and perhaps not used as a basis for making assumptions or a teaching point.

The Pharisees of Mark 7 question Jesus for allowing “some of his disciples” (7.2) – note, not Jesus himself – to eat with “defiled hands”. Jesus in turn, challenges them for abandoning the commandment of God and holding to human tradition (7.8-9). He critiques the way that Pharisees apparently hold to a tradition of Korban, which is an offering to God, as a means of shirking responsibility for one’s parents. The issue is not making offerings and vows necessarily: just as ancient gifts were committed to God via the Temple, many Christians today also offer financial gifts to God which are physically given to the church in the offering plate. The shared belief is that the work of the Temple/Church is the work of God.

The problem is the misuse of a promise, the use of the LORD’s name in unrighteous and unloving behaviour. In this instance, the accused Pharisees seem to have let themselves off the high standards required of those purporting to set an example to God’s people. Recall James 3.1 about teachers being held to a higher standard than others. It is important not to view the Pharisees as cartoon villains but as human beings erring. Finding little loopholes, the easier way, letting ourselves off this or that because of this reason or that reason, seems to something of a human trait.

I might consider the amount of times I have committed to significantly reducing the amount of single -use packaging I use for the good of God’s precious creation. But then… well, you know how it goes…

In any case, the Pharisees misuse Korban, Jesus says, “thus making void the word of God” (7.13) and he cites Mosaic teaching regarding the honouring and respect for parents. That is, Moses serves as the voice of the LORD, thus his teaching is of higher authority than religious tradition that teaches something different. The written word of love for parents is of greater value than the human tradition of committing a gift to God no-matter-what. The difficulty here is that Moses also said a lot about making vows to God, stressing the importance of not “swearing falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God,” (Leviticus 19.12; and Exodus 20.7).

So what is the faithful believer to do if they have earnestly promised to commit a certain amount to God, but then find their parents are in need of help? On the one hand they must honour their parents. On the other they should not break their vow to the LORD. Both are stressed as important by God through Moses. In fact, the rabbis discuss this very issue in Mishnah (a foundational Jewish document compiled around 200CE based upon material roughly contemporary to the time of Jesus and later). In Mishnah Nedarim 9.1, the rabbis concede that in particular circumstances a vow may be broken if one’s parents are to be dishonoured somehow by its being kept.

In this instance, the “tradition of the elders”, an easy target for Christian teaching about old vs new / bad vs good, actually is in general agreement with Jesus. This suggests firstly that a lot more research is necessary when dealing with these texts that display conflict with Jewish religious groups of Jesus’ day. And second, it should be remembered that any criticism of religious groups in the Gospels is directed to those people at that moment. What Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, etc., did that was good or bad at that time, may have had very little bearing on the development of Judaism after the first century CE.

The Gospel accounts should be the starting point from which teachers, preachers and writers can launch. But particularly in the case of these conflict texts where there is a temptation to draw long-lasting conclusions about religious communities still developing and thriving today, the Gospels simply cannot provide everything necessary for a sensitive interpretation.

As I write in 2021, there are a great number of resources available for Christians to gain wider understanding about two traditions that have developed alongside each other (Judaism and Christianity) without having to delve into ancient Hebrew and Aramaic documents!

These two books are an excellent introduction:

The Jewish Annotated New Testament edited by A. J. Levine and M. Z. Brettler

The Jewish Study Bible edited by A. Berlin and M. Z. Brettler

And a recent work, The Bible With And Without Jesus by Levine and Brettler gives a fascinating history of ways in which Jews and Christians have interpreted the same biblical texts.

On the understanding of Mark 7.15 that nothing going in can defile, it seems to me that Christians can engage with works such as these and, so doing, keep a necessary check on that which comes out. This is of vital importance in order that we may not tied to law of judgment and assumptions about others, but open to the ever widening embrace of freedom in Christ.

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*It is true that after the destruction of Temple in 70CE and disassembling of the priesthood, rabbinic tradition interpreted the priestly instruction from Ex. 30 for the Jewish household, but, as with much rabbinic teaching, it is unclear whether this is more of an ideal than actual everyday practice. That is, the rabbis believed themselves to be carrying the mantle of the priesthood, thus a great deal of biblical material relating to the Temple in scripture was reinterpreted in line with a vision of prayer and study in place of sacrifice, the synagogue and household in place of Temple.

Screaming Through The Long Haul of God’s Call (a personal reflection with Matthew 11.7-9)

In 2007 my wife and I began seriously considering adoption. We understood this to be divine prompting based on biblical verses such as “A father to the fatherless… God places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68.5-6). And we opened ourselves up to the possibility of one of these “fatherless” being placed into our family.

The story that we heard soon after praying the above, was of a baby girl who had suffered tremendous trauma in her early months of life. She was in need of significant care and attention. We were told that there was definitely some kind of supposed learning disability, but it was too early to tell exactly what was going on. Approaching one year of age, she had shut down from human interaction and the only sounds she made were her screams lasting well into each night.

That was our girl! And from the moment she first entered the family some months later, she belonged. She truly had been supernaturally placed in a family. Our family. There was honestly not a single sense that she was not our own biological child. To this day we claim it as a miracle and some kind of confirmation that we have been, in a sense, “called” to be her parents.

Now, on her very first day with us our little girl had been happy to receive cuddles and love, but quickly the immense change taking place in her life became all too much. She screamed if picked up by anyone at all. She screamed if put down in her bed. Eventually, I found one spot in the house where she was happy and I was stuck there for most of the second day.

Well, she got used to us after a while and soon enough was able to sit up, use a spoon to feed herself, and all of those usual baby things, just a little late. Time went on, the family grew in number, and everyone got older. But then in 2010, a significant change occurred resulting in the family being separated across different continents for four months. Although only three and severely developmentally delayed, our little girl could sense something was happening. And, on the very night that my wife and older daughter left the country, the screaming started again.

As a (temporary) single father with work and other children to worry about, there was little I was able to do. So, she screamed herself to sleep every night for four months while I paced around the darkened house, waking after just a few hours. I learned how much you can get done on no sleep!

Early in 2011, with the family reunited, in a new house, and things settled down nicely. Well, the screaming stopped anyway. Our little girl was diagnosed with autism. In 2012 a couple of tonic seizures had her briefly hospitalised and then treated for epilepsy which continues to this day. Later, in 2016 an MRI revealed brain damage on one side from trauma in her first weeks of life. The following year, when she had smashed windows, turned over multiple tables, and kicked the odd member of the public in the street, we received assistance from our local mental health team who prescribed medication for managing violent behaviour.

By this time she had developed a reputation as being the funniest, cheekiest, cuddliest kid in her school, and she remained at the very centre of our family, charming every visitor who dared to cross the threshold!

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I think back over those earlier times now as we are in another season of screaming. A volatile combination of increased absence seizures, anxieties, and some good old fashioned teenage hormones, has resulted in an almost constant cycle of repetitive behaviour, self-harming, and… screaming. Only now, the screams at six in the morning seem much louder. And the aggressive outbursts feel much harder to manage. And the 3 a.m. starts to the day are much more draining as we’re a little older than we once were.

Of course, the various lockdowns, and other stops and starts from the past year have made their contribution as well. While none of us in the family has actually experienced Covid firsthand, all of us have been somehow damaged by its presence. It means we are just that little less able to cope and bounce back and thank God in all circumstances than we once might have been.

Indeed, it must be said that life as a carer during the pandemic and its immediate aftermath, is an extremely, painfully lonely experience.

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But what did we go out into the wilderness to see? (Matthew 11.7-9) Did we imagine that the very act of adopting a vulnerable child would be some kind of fixer, an end unto itself? Surely not! If you go out to the wilderness you will have a wilderness experience. That is, you will not find a reed swayed by the wind or someone dressed in fine robes, but a prophet. You will be confronted with truth. You will be faced with injustice. You will be connected with the divine.

And our daughter, that little scrap we took in fourteen years ago, has played a prophetic role in this household.

The continual challenge of caring for her reveals the truth of our own limitations; our own dependence on sugar, caffeine and other comforts when the days are long and difficult; our own tendencies to wait until the lowest point before turning to the divine helper.

Further, I wonder whether her screams are some kind of crying out in the wilderness – an earthy, base cry to injustice: the trauma experienced as a baby; the numerous disabilities she has been left to wrestle with each day of her life; our inability as parents/carers to fully understand and sufficiently help. She screams and rages and shakes with anger voicing the unfairness of her own situation which somehow points to the larger picture of vulnerability and unfairness in the world.

And somewhere in the middle of it all we meet with the divine. In pure moments of joy. When she is blessing a stranger with a enthusiastic “hello!”. In the brokenness of her body. In being faced with our weakness and impatience. In being forced to recognise the crappy deal offered to so many vulnerable people. In all of it – if we pay attention – God is present in the most extreme and challenging way, yet so easily missed.

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There is an important prophetic word that John the Baptist says to the people from the wilderness of Judea:

“Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3.8)

This reminds me of another verse:

“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4.1)

In other words, responding to God’s call is not a one time event but an ongoing way of life that must not be entered into lightly. I, personally, cannot say that I responded to divine prompting and adopted a child with learning disabilities. I think rather, I should say that that I am responding to divine prompting, etc. The work of response requires constant revision, rethinking, repentance. It is the exhilarating-often-heartbreaking adventure that begins with “come, follow me” at the shore of Lake Galilee, and spills outward from Jerusalem, to Judea and to the ends of the earth. The apostles were continually changed, broken and built up again, as they lived their response to the Lord. So too are we… with screams to accompany us on the journey.

Grieving the Holy Spirit with Anger: thinking about spiritual issues in non-spiritual terms (Ephesians 4.30-32)

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4.30-32)

An ancient tradition dating back to St Augustine recognises the Holy Spirit as the bond of love between divine Father and Son. The Trinity thus exists as a relationship tied together with love. Each divine person intrinsically connected in love with the others.

The Holy Spirit’s activity as a connector within the Trinity, also brings humans together with the divine. In an excellent book called God For Us, Catherine Mowry LaCugna writes “the Holy Spirit is God’s outreach toward the world…the bridge between God and the world…God’s outreach to the creature, and also the way back to God”.* In events such as baptism, the Eucharist, and a million other instances, the Spirit connects the human person with the divine. God comes down to meet with us as we are lifted up to commune with the divine, the Spirit acting as a more-than-go-between.

But the Holy Spirit makes bonds between people as well. Consider the nature of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit and this connecting action becomes clear. Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 like wisdom, prophecy and healing obviously involve and benefit others; they have no purpose apart from in community. And the same can be said of fruits in Galatians 5.22-23. First, the letter was written to a community, not an individual; but even today when the words are mostly read personally, a single reader’s fullness of joy, peace, generosity, etc., is only meaningful in the ways that it affects others. The positive impact of the spiritual gifts and fruits on the community is the purpose; their manifestation is for “the common good” (1 Corinthians 12.7).

Of course, all of these connections made by the Holy Spirit are beautifully woven together:

It is the self-giving relationship of love between divine persons within the Trinity which drives the Spirit among human communities inspiring loving connections between people that mirror the heavenly. But it is more than a mirroring, as such spiritual communion among people exalts humanity to actually sharing in the divine relational experience.

And, turning now to Ephesians 4.30-32, it should be clear why the Holy Spirit is grieved by bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice. While the Spirit is all about building and nurturing community, these negative human emotions/actions serve to separate and destroy. Tragically, they are always just beneath the surface ready to bubble over. Hence, it is incredibly easy for us to grieve the Holy Spirit as each harsh word, each grudge held in bitterness, each half-truth told to damage another’s flourishing, steadily chips away at relationship and mutual dependency, fostering instead distance and self-sufficiency. Acting in such ways places us in direct opposition to the divine activity and purposes in this world.

I wonder why it is so much easier to show anger, bitterness, etc., than it is to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another…” (4.32). But it is the case that these latter feel such an effort. Nonetheless, it is the call placed upon Christians to seek first the kingdom – finding ways to love our neighbours, treating others as greater than ourselves. In Ephesians this is put in terms of putting away the old self and clothing ourselves with the new self (4.22-24). This “new self” is “created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4.24), linked of course with the more practical call to “be imitators of God…and live in love as Christ loved us” (5.1-2).

Struggling as I do with fully embracing the “new self”, I wonder if it is better to avoid over-spiritualising this kind of biblical teaching and rather, seek very normal, practical means of training myself out of anger, bitterness, etc. That is, it is fine for Ephesians to say “put away from you all bitterness…”, but without some practical how-to-guidance, the teaching seems depressingly unattainable. Another Christian ideal at which I will fail and feel guilty, aware that I am grieving the Holy Spirit present with me always.

I would like to take seriously the danger of grieving the Holy Spirit, and move toward participating in the divine activity of nurturing real and connected community. As such, I feel that seeking practical steps regarding how to deal with anger and stress, etc. is a vital responsibility for me individually. Because of the inter-connectedness of the Spirit’s work in building and binding relationships, actions such as taking a breath, stepping out of the stressful situation, counting to five before speaking, channeling pent-up stress into exercise, might just begin to positively impact both human and divine relations. That is, taking steps towards building human community is a divine activity.

Taking the point about personal responsibility however, I do also feel that there is a crucial role within the larger church, particularly among leaders, in addressing the practicalities of relationships, mental and physical health. This can be done in everyday, non-religious ways as well as using biblical language in order that Christians might be encouraged and enabled to appreciate more fully the combined divine-human nature of that which we are involved.

*C. M. LaCugna, God For Us: the Trinity and Christian Life, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), p. 297

Meeting The Needs Of Every Individual With Heavenly Bread (John 6 and Wisdom of Solomon 16)

“…You gave your people food of angels and without their toil you supplied them from heaven with bread ready to eat, providing every pleasure and suited to every taste… and the bread, ministering to the desire of the one who took it, was changed to suit everyone’s liking” (Wisdom of Solomon 16.20-21)

This passage from the apocryphal book Wisdom of Solomon forms part of an extended section in the text of contrasts between the ways in which God dealt with Israel, the covenant people, and the nations at the time of the exodus. When reading the verses cited above, I cannot help but think of Jesus’ discussion of heavenly bread in the Gospel of John chapter 6. In the chapter Jesus says a number of complicated things like this:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6.51)

I thought it would be interesting to consider the two passages together and even reflect upon ways in which the older book of Wisdom might contribute to understanding John 6.

In the Gospel first recall that, the day after feeding the five thousand, Jesus speaks to the crowds who have sought him out on the other side of the lake. The discussion of heavenly bread comes about after the crowds, asking for a miraculous sign, mention that “our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’ ” (6.31).

Here, the crowd cites Psalm 78 saying to Jesus, in effect, give us a sign like the manna given to our ancestors. Interestingly, neither the crowd nor the psalmist says anything about Moses and yet in 6.32, Jesus seems to interpret their words as a misunderstanding: you think that Moses provided the manna in the wilderness and you see me as presenting myself as some kind of new Moses. If this is the case, and Jesus has read the crowd correctly, I have some sympathy with them as, why would you assume anything else?

But I think that is perhaps at the centre of Jesus’ frustration with the people – in some sense he is like Moses, the man of God doing the work of God, but he is also the divinely-given gift of bread providing life itself.

In 6.35 he says, “I am the bread of life”, and then follows up with numerous repetitions and variations. One aspect of his message is to make a neat contrast between the manna which provided temporary nourishment for the Israelites and the eternal nourishment from eating of the living bread: “whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (6.51).

While this might appear an obvious comparison to make, I worry about the way in which it can be construed as what went before being old, irrelevant and worthless in light of Christ. The manna, being God’s miraculous gift, should certainly not be understood negatively. And Christ, as part of the Trinity and also the living, eternal bread, must be seen somehow as extending the gift of God rather than replacing it.

Here, I think the passage from Wisdom of Solomon 16 is helpful. In this tradition, the heavenly bread is lifted out of being ordinary, as it was “providing every pleasure and suited to every taste” (16.20). There is something extra-ordinary about this gift of heavenly bread. That is, because the manna was the gift of God it must have a supernatural quality above and beyond simply providing nourishment for each particular day.

Now, every person is uniquely made in the Image of God. Somehow the divine Image contains such diversity as to incorporate every aspect of humanity across cultures and genders and colours and all manner of other things throughout the world. Therefore, it seems clear that no two people will experience anything in exactly the same way because we are uniquely made. And I do think that goes for absolutely everything, even how each person experiences the divine presence in their life.

In John 6, Jesus speaks of “whoever comes to me…”, “anyone who comes to me…”, and “I should lose nothing of all that has been given me”. This suggests to me not only that all are welcome to come, but that all who come will find life. I wonder what the personal experience of life actually looks like for each of those “whoever” and “anyone” that have come to Jesus across the world throughout the last two thousand years. Their experiences of Jesus cannot all be the same, and I suggest that as each individual has eaten of the bread of life, they have found something pleasing to them in particular which has satisfied, not just their belly, but also their soul.

To employ the words of Wisdom then, I am suggesting that Jesus, as the heavenly bread, “…ministering to the desire of the one who took it, was changed to suit everyone’s liking” (Wis. 16.21). I am not reading “everyone’s liking” in a superficial like vs dislike manner, but rather as a deep sense in which each and every person can say their soul has been satisfied by the presence of the loving God in such a way that is perfect for them individually.

The experiences, the history, the hurt, the loves, the passions within each person as an individual can be ministered to, dealt with and made new. But when we are offered a generic Jesus who works only like this or like that, the opportunity to truly eat and find life might be hindered.

There is an invitation to eat of the living bread and be nourished. It is not a catch-all offer, but one that is bespoke and personally presented to each and every individual for us to accept or reject. Reflecting on this passage from Wisdom of Solomon has encouraged me to consider afresh the wonder of Jesus’ offer of life which, far from being given at a distance, comes uncomfortably close into our personal space and says, “taste and see that the LORD is good”.

With Jesus, the living bread, miraculously meeting our specific needs as he abides in us and us in him, we may also discover that his offer of life is not a one-time thing, but that nourishment is offered to us again and again. Remember the lesson of the five thousand earlier in John 6: “when they were satisfied, [Jesus] told his disciples, ‘gather up the fragments left over so nothing may be lost’ ” (6.12). We can be assured of the abundance of divine love and provision, truly believing that, “your word sustains those who trust in you” (Wis. 16.26). “Your word”, the Word, who was with God and was God since the very beginning. And who became flesh and dwelt among us bringing light and life to the world.

*this is a fully revised and updated post of mine from 2019*

The Challenge of Enacting Divine Abundant Provision (2 Kings 4.42-44, John 6)

Hidden away in 2 Kings 4.42-44, the short story of Elisha feeding one hundred people from twenty loaves and some ears of grain is rarely discussed. Whenever this tale is mentioned, it is usually as a means of demonstrating the greater feeding miracle of Jesus. Where Elisha fed one hundred, Jesus fed five thousand! Now, of course, Jesus does use “greater than” language about himself when discussing Jonah and Solomon (Matthew 12.41-42). So it is perhaps understandable why Christians might employ similar terms and refer to Jesus as the new Moses, new Elijah, and so on. However, the seemingly simple observation that Jesus is the new and greater Elisha can contribute to negative Christian attitude and action in the wider community.

Assuming that Jesus’ feeding miracle is “greater than” that of Elisha feeds into a common Christian attitude which, when left unchecked, supposes that Jesus’ greatness cancels out everything that went before. Not only Old Testament characters, but its stories and themes become simply shadows (or foreshadows) without substance or relevance on their own. The implications of such an attitude developing are potentially dangerous when the religion of Jesus Christ, Christianity, is deemed “greater than” the Jewish faith from which it grew. Historically, this has been devastating on occasions when the people of old religion have been deemed irrelevant to the point of being worthless, even less-than-human.

A much better way is to view both feeding miracles in the larger biblical story as demonstrations of the abundant provision of God. Immense divine provision is proclaimed boldly and mightily in the creation in Genesis 1-3, through the giving of the Land to Israel, as a universal kindness and compassion in the Psalms and Wisdom books, and yes, in the feeding miracles of Elisha and Jesus.

Of course, the great scriptural example of divine abundant provision is the giving of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16). Certainly John 6 makes a direct connection between this and Jesus with the five thousand, and I suggest the same link is to be made with Elisha and the one hundred. Particularly as the preceding tale is one of the prophet making good the “death in the pot” in a similar way to Moses at the bitter waters of Marah (Exodus 15.22-25), itself preceding the provision of manna in chapter 16.

Again, this is not to suggest that Elisha is “greater than” Moses and Jesus is “greater than” Elisha, but rather, the pattern of gracious and awesome divine giving keeps circling round and round through the generations for the benefit of the beloved creation.

Instead of viewing Jesus and Elisha in competition with each other, it might be more productive to see them biblically as representatives of the immense divine provision this world enjoys. Both play a part in demonstrating the care for creation that God intends. And it must be crucial to consider that Jesus and Elisha join a multitude of biblical witnesses in calling us out for not enacting this intended divine abundance.

It is estimated that world farmers produce more than enough food to feed the global population of seven billion people. And yet, almost 9%, that is around 600 million people go hungry.

Of course, as expected, it is mostly African nations that suffer the most. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK is plummeting into a hunger crisis. Around 8 million people are estimated to be going without sufficient food. And there is a very real challenge facing the Christian community to enact the divine abundance illustrated throughout the Bible. Locally, this is easily done as support can be given to food banks and charities. Each small act for the community impacts the bigger picture. But in any case, the practical call of these biblical stories seems so clear. That is, the challenge is not an intellectual one of the status of Jesus over prophets of the past, but a practical modelling of the ways in which God, and those God inspires, provide for those in need.

In reflecting upon this major scriptural theme of God’s abundant provision, and in particular the feeding miracles of Elisha and Jesus, I wonder if the the message for us is ultimately that of the Good Samaritan parable: “Go and do likewise”.

Is The Cosmic Christ Big Enough To Celebrate Diversity? (Ephesians 2.11-22)

In Acts 15 James sends a letter to Gentile believers telling them that in order to follow the way of Christ they do not need to become Jewish – circumcision and all – but rather, only “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” (15.29). In this letter there is an acknowledgement by the church authority that believers are different. And further, that the Christian faith can accommodate such difference. Yes, certain behaviours and practices may need to change, but it is not necessary for one’s traditions and identity to be lost in order for people to come together under the name of Christ. This might be illustrated by the famous image of One Body Many Parts.

With that in mind, I find it interesting to consider the passage on unity between Jewish and Gentile communities in Ephesians 2.11-22. Here, it seems the accommodation for diversity among believers has been lost, and in becoming One, they must also have one identity. This is evident in the diminishing of any distinct Jewish characteristics from the new unified humanity created by Christ.

“He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2.15)

Whereas Gentile believers in Acts 15 were able to largely retain their Gentile identity, the Jewish community in Ephesians 2 must wrestle with the notion that Torah, which has been the spiritual centre, wisdom and treasure of Jewish belief for generations, has been abolished. It would appear, after all, that Christ was unable/unwilling to incorporate characteristics of both groups into this new unity. Somehow it was necessary for distinctive features of one group to be lost in the creation of the new humanity.

However, it seems to me that Christ, who Ephesians has already claimed “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named…” (1.21), would be above such destructive action. Surely, the immensity of the cosmic Christ would allow him to transcend any perceived necessity of abolishing Torah, so central to God’s covenant people Israel, and instead desire to include, develop and fulfill it.

And of course Jesus does say that very thing in Matthew 5.17 (“I have not come to abolish but to fulfill…”) before going on to re-interpret several key passages of Torah. In the context of the Kingdom experience Jesus is proclaiming in the gospels, which seems to be all about opportunity, growth, and thinking-again; the way that he takes the central issues of Torah and Jewish belief in order to challenge, develop and expand fits well with the idea of fulfillment. The people are prompted to seek the divine, considering over and again what they thought they knew, in order that they might look ahead to the full coming of the Kingdom in the Age To Come. That is not a call to reject entirely one’s tradition and identity.

Although Ephesians speaks of an all powerful cosmic Christ, in the depiction of unity between Jewish and Gentile communities in 2.11-22, the immensity of Christ seems to shrink. A truly all-encompassing Christ would not seek to appropriate or diminish diverse characteristics but value, challenge and transcend them. And of course, we do actually have that awesome, cosmic Christ who is perhaps indescribable as he both sits as Glorious King and Slain Lamb. Indeed this vast difference within the person of Christ as victor and loser should suggest he is comfortable with the tension of diversity among believers and humanity in general.

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The vision of unity in Eph 2 is potentially beautiful: “So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2.17-18). This makes me feel welcome at the table whoever and wherever I am, but it must push me to acknowledge that others are welcome also. Obviously, this will bring difference and variety to the table: if I can come as I am, so must they.

Thus, efforts to comprehend the magnitude of that which Christ has brought together by his death and resurrection must surely be free from caveats and small print. Are Protestants welcome only if they drop sola scriptura? Catholics only if they forget the angels and the saints? Orthodox when they disregard icons? Jews when they lose the two Torahs. And on it goes… leading to the important point that beliefs and traditions I do not share or understand will be deeply held by others, and might in fact be something from which we can learn and move forward together.

When I personally consider the ways in which the divine presence has been with me, it is clear that developing a stronger sense of my own traditions and identity is intrinsic to a deeper communion with God. Only when I really begin to recognise who I am and where I have come from can I embrace the Spirit’s particular work within me. And knowing that I have been shaped by this or that genetic/cultural factor and welcomed by the Lord in that state, is a crucial step towards appreciating the similar welcome offered to others.

I believe the risen, heavenly, cosmic Christ is big enough to accommodate and celebrate diversity within unity; and as someone growing more into the divine Image, I hope that I can increasingly do so as well.

Giving Up Knowledge For A Kingdom Perspective Of Possibility (Mark 6.1-6)

It is common for people to “know” what others are like. This can be based upon the briefest of interactions, where prejudgments about skin colour, nationality, gender, status, and so on, purport to quickly inform about the person with whom we are faced. But this “knowledge” can also stem from years of living alongside those who are family and friends. Of course, to a large extent, those with whom we have shared many formative experiences do “know” us and we them. However, such “knowledge” can sometimes act as a hindrance to the possibility of development and reinvention taking place in an individual’s life.

This is apparent in Mark 6.1-6 when Jesus returns to his hometown. The people are shocked at his authoritative teaching in the synagogue, and question where he has gained his new power, given that they “know” him very well as carpenter, son of Mary, brother of James, Joses, Judas, and unnamed sisters. Mark observes, “they took offense at him” (6.3). It seems that they cannot allow for the possibility of reinvention having taken place at his baptism and time in the wilderness (1.9-13). He returns home doing something new but his community’s “knowledge” of who he was stands in the way of their experiencing who he is. “And he could do no deed of power there” (6.5). Both Jesus and his home community are thus limited by the people’s assumed knowledge.

This stands in direct opposition to the Kingdom experience in which Jesus is inviting the people to participate. Since his baptism, Jesus has been fully encompassed by the Kingdom perspective of flourishing and newness: the tiny seed hardly visible, transforms into a tree providing a home for birds, and so on. As such, to be faced with a static attitude relating to himself – to be told, we know who you are because we know who you were – seems to take him by surprise and he is “amazed at their unbelief” (6.6). Caught up in the all-embracing forward-motion of possibility in the divine Kingdom, I wonder if Jesus forgets that those he left behind physically have also been left behind intellectually and spiritually.

Thinking about this gospel story suggests there is a clear challenge for us to embrace the Kingdom perspective of possibility. As members of community we are always in danger of assuming we “know” those around us based upon what has been before. As siblings and grown-up children of parents, we are at risk of “knowing” our family members too well because we have shared so many formative experiences in their presence. And as parents of growing children we may hinder their flourishing because we have “known” their innermost parts since the very beginning.

As much as each person is, in a sense, know-able by certain character traits/personality type; it must be said that one’s life story is full of events and decisions both expected and surprising. It seems that the occurrences of someone starting again, or doing something “out of character”, are actually more frequent than we might care to acknowledge. The shocked response – Mark’s “they took offense at him” – to such change seems to stem from the fact that our carefully constructed categories of who-fits-where have been disrupted. Such categories are designed to give us control over our lives: by establishing a structure for everyone else, I feel as though I can better understand where I fit.

But…

To adopt a Kingdom perspective of possibility is to release people from the tyranny of our “knowledge” about their character by which we have held them hostage; hindering their flourishing, and halting their making something new from their life.

This, it must be said, comes at a significant cost: I must empty myself of all assumed knowledge about others. In order to welcome a person’s reinvention, I cannot have a lifetime’s store of judgments and opinions; but rather, should be open to the possibilities arising from their experiences. Such emptying however, will cause me to be changed profoundly. I will become a participant in the Kingdom which is no easy thing. Full of hope and expectation about the myriad possibilities people may create or respond to, I leave myself open to hurt and disappointment. Indeed, finding ways to rejoice in changes which I struggle to understand seems a harsh spiritual discipline. Actively joining people on their ever-changing journeys is to travel on a narrow road of self-denial.

There is in fact a wonderful example of such mature self-emptying of “knowledge” in the person of Mary mother of Jesus. Her presence is implied early in Mark’s gospel, as part of Jesus’ family who went out to silence and restrain him (3.19-21). As in chapter 6, this gives another picture of those who “knew” Jesus not allowing for the changes in his life. And certainly, no one could claim to “know” Jesus better than his mother who had birthed and raised him.

A little while later (3.31-35), his mother and brothers call for Jesus while he is teaching. While his own family wait outside, Jesus points to those with him and says: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”. This seems a key moment and a turning point. I like to imagine Mary pondering these words as she had done in a similar way much earlier, at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2.19); prompting her to repent, that is, re-think. Could she brave redefining the parent-child relationship to join him on his rapidly shifting journey, or risk being left “standing outside” (Mk 3.31)?

I believe she chose the former. Mark is largely silent about Mary until 15.41-42 when she is numbered among the women who had accompanied and supported the Lord all the way towards the cross. There is then a flurry of references to these women watching where the body had been laid, and bringing anointing spices after the sabbath had passed (15.47-16.1). Indeed, for Mark, they were the first to hear of the resurrection (16.1-8).*

It seems that Mary has exchanged her position of mother of Jesus to that of disciple of the Lord. What an emptying of self that must have been. Such a costly move involved losing her son in order to find the Son. But find him she did! Adopting the Kingdom perspective of possibility, for Mary and for us, is by no means an easy choice. Indeed, it may lead us towards the cross as we empty ourselves of “knowledge” in order to release others towards freedom. But ultimately, this challenging, narrow way takes us beyond the pain of the cross to a multitude of Easter mornings where we may be among the first to hear of the glorious newness now active in the life of those we love.

*Quick note: in Mark 15.41-16.8, Mary is not named as the mother of Jesus but as the mother of James and Joses. Looking back at Mk 6.3, these are the names given by the people of two of Jesus’ brothers. It seems that for some reason or another Mark chose to identify Mary in this way.

Fear, Faith and the Kingdom of God (Mark 4.35-5.43)

It is said that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4.18). Given that Jesus is understood to represent this divine perfect love on earth, it is interesting to note the amount of fear surrounding him in Mark 4.35-5.43. The passage includes familiar tales – the calming of the storm, “Legion”, Jairus’ daughter and the woman bleeding for twelve years – and in each story, issues of fear and faith are at the forefront.

It begins in Mk 4.35 after a day of teaching parables when Jesus says to his disciples, “let us go across to the other side”. The story that follows of Jesus calming the storm and asking the Twelve, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” is really well known (*as is the often employed, Jesus calms the storms in our lives, teaching point!*). Considering what is to come on the other side of the lake however, I wonder about the fear of the disciples.

The Twelve are mostly fishermen, or at least from lakeside communities, so presumably stormy waters are familiar to them. They would surely have experienced such a storm before and would have some knowledge of what to do upon being found out at sea. I am not convinced that their fear is solely related to the storm, but rather associated with the journey they are taking. What exactly lies on the other side of the lake? What is Jesus getting them into now?

Perhaps the tales of the mysterious man who lived out in the tombs, surrounded by death and demons, had been related by other fishermen returning from the far side. I can imagine some inventive and scary ghost stories being told about this character as his night-time howls resounded across the water. And as such, when the storm hit that night upon the waters, I think the Twelve might have already been in a heightened state because of what lay ahead.

It is interesting to read in 5.1-2 that “They came to the other side…and when he had stepped out of the boat…” Although a crowd had crossed the lake with Jesus, it appears to be only he who steps out of the boat. It makes me wonder what the rest were doing: did they remain in their boats waiting until Jesus had finished his business, eager to return home? Did they hang back, far enough away from the action so as to be forgotten as the event was told later?

In any case – luckily for the fearful disciples! – it seems as though there was only one task on the other side because as soon as the newly healed man has been sent out to tell his own people how much the Lord has done for him (5.18-20), Jesus crosses again back where he had come from.

However, the Kingdom of God is surely never that simple! The interaction with the man at the tombs and his healing must be seen as an opportunity, an invitation for the people (who come running to see what is going on in 5.14) to respond the divine presence suddenly among them. Just the previous day Jesus has been teaching parables about unseen and unpredictable seed-like growth in the KoG. The man at the tombs might have been the trigger for such Kingdom growth. Jesus might have remained “on the other side” for some time.

But the possibility of seeing the Kingdom-growth parables in action is denied the Twelve, as the people, like the disciples, are afraid and “beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood” (5.15-17). The seeds, we might say, fell on rocky ground (4.5).

Back on familiar territory, and with a large crowd following, Jesus responds to Jairus’ desperate and repeated plea for his dying daughter (5.21-24). In the crowd is a woman who had suffered twelve years of bleeding. She believes that touching Jesus’ clothes will heal her, which it does, but the action causes Jesus to stop, realising that power has been drawn from him. “Who touched my clothes”, he asks and the woman comes forward, “in fear and trembling, fell down before him” (5.24-33).

Whereas on the boat and on the other side of the lake, fear seems to be a potential hindrance to faith flourishing, and later where Jairus is told, “Do not fear, only believe” (5.36); here the fear follows faith. The woman believes enough to touch Jesus but then, having been called out, fears. Does she worry the Lord might reverse the healing as she had, in a sense, stolen it without asking? I wonder if perhaps she had heard about his anger in the synagogue sometime before (3.5). But in any case, she has no need to fear, as she is reassured and sent off in peace (5.34).

This leaves only Jairus, whose fear is understandable. He has found the inner strength to ask this travelling preacher for help, only to find his helper devoting valuable time helping someone else. Upon hearing the news that his daughter has now died, his concerns are validated: It really was too late after all. He should have gone to Jesus earlier. Jesus should have attended to his request more urgently. But then, “Do not fear, only believe”; and wonderfully and miraculously, Jairus’ belief needed only his feet to follow the Lord who leads him on the road to life: “Talitha Cum”! What a moment as the girl arises from her sleep (5.41-42).

When thinking about Jairus, I am struck again by the difference between faith and fear in terms of time. Recall the disciples’ fears about what would happen on the other side of the lake, and their absence from the entire episode involving the man at the tombs. I imagine them in the boats, perhaps pacing on the shore, checking their watches, eager to return home: has he done what he came here to do yet? And in a similar way, there is an urgency in Jairus’ request: he does not know how long his daughter has left to live. To me, his silence while Jesus attends to the bleeding woman, speaks volumes. What wrangling, what frustrations, what doubts were going on internally?

But to have faith and enter the Kingdom of God is to receive eternal life, or perhaps to step out of time and into eternity, where there is freedom, joy and opportunities

Such a Kingdom perspective means sleeping in the boat while a storm rages. It means stepping onto “the other side” with only possibility in mind. And it means attending to other needs along the way. The Twelve are equally as important as the man at the tombs who is no more or less vital as his community. These gentiles are of equal import to Jairus and his daughter, who are just as cared for in the Kingdom as a woman who had been suffering for twelve long years. Everything will be attended to! The scattered seeds will grow! The new life will come!

And all of this sounds amazing doesn’t it?! That is, until I am the one full of fear about my health, work, family, etc. Then, the eternity of the Kingdom is frustrating and disconcerting because there actually is a time in which things need to be achieved. The joy of the Kingdom looks to be a patronising disregard for what is troubling me. And it’s opportunity looks like meandering procrastination; avoiding the urgency of my needs by attending to others.

Fear chains my focus to myself and therefore, it cannot sit easily in the Kingdom which is, by nature outward facing. But, in times of real struggle and concern, how do I lift my gaze in a way that is not simply religious pretense?

Here, I keep coming back to the simple action of “only believe” that was offered to Jairus in simply going with Jesus to the house. The situation was absolutely hopeless and yet he walks with the Lord. And, in that simplicity, I think there must be something there for me too:

I may not have the right words or any words – I may not currently be able to attend church regularly – I may not speak with the Lord in prayer very much just now… but perhaps I can simply walk one step at a time with him at my side believing somehow that we are moving towards life.

Noah In and Out of the Ark: Traumatic Experiences, Deciding Carefully, and Having Hope!

This post concludes my short series on the story of Noah and the flood from Genesis 6-9…

Experiences of trauma have a long-lasting impact. An individual affected by abuse may be dealing with it for a much longer period than seems likely and/or understandable to those on the outside. Similarly, massive events such as 9/11 or the Holocaust continue to affect whole communities, even those who were not born at the time, as the collective experience of trauma is drawn into a community’s story. A recent example of the wide reaching impact of trauma, some of those observing (perhaps recording) the attack on George Floyd in 2020 are said to be experiencing forms of post-traumatic stress due to what they saw from a distance, and maybe what they did or did not do to intervene.

We are experiencing the collective trauma of pandemic. Even if personally unaffected by illness itself; we have shared in the experience of lockdown. This may have involved isolation and loneliness, intense (sometimes violent) family situations, children at home with no school, loss of income, even the realisation that purchasing a “lockdown puppy” was not such a great idea after all! Although, countries like the United Kingdom appear to be coming out the other side with vaccination efforts, it remains the case that we continue to be impacted by Covid as global observers. As I write, India has suffered with the virus for several weeks due to lack of oxygen and hospital beds; and a number of European countries have returned to lockdown.

We cannot escape this trauma. We are impacted both as victims and observers. Much is being said about a forthcoming mental health crisis particularly among the young people unable to attend school/interact with peers for a year, and older adults left lonely and isolated without visits from family and friends. And levels of fear should be carefully noted regarding the spread of the “Indian variant” in the UK. Largely, the effects of this past year remain to be seen, and how much time needed for recovery are an unknown, temporarily covered by an enthusiastic return to shops, pubs and sporting events.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the story of Noah, and I wonder if it might be helpful to approach the tale of the flood from a “trauma” perspective. Can anything be learned from such a reading of this classic Genesis text?

The biblical text, as ever, is not generous with details. Readers are told only that, in response to the corruption of the world, God wills to destroy all life by a flood, and instructs the righteous Noah to build an ark in which he should preserve a small number of living things. But once Noah, his household, the animals and provisions are sealed in the ark; the focus turns to the rising flood waters and destruction. The picture of the destructive flood is detailed and repetitive in Genesis 7.11-8.5.

I wonder what it would actually be like to experience and observe this event. Even though Noah had been prepared by divine word in 6.13-7.10, there is surely a big difference between information and experience.

Did those inside the ark look out and see all life being blotted out?

As the water rose, did people outside try to board the ark in desperation – did Noah listen to the knocking, scratching, screaming for help?

What emotions were felt observing countless animals swept away to their death?

How stressful was the experience within the ark during those 120 days when Noah’s household were locked-down together?

These seem valid questions to ask, and I do not find it far-fetched to consider that Noah and his household may have been significantly impacted by their experience, which must surely be described as traumatic.

A brief look at the events following the flood is revealing, and connects well with ideas about the long-lasting impact of trauma.

Genesis 9.18-28 records Noah’s planting a vineyard and becoming drunk to the point of passing out; his sons’ discovery of their father and Ham’s failure to cover his nakedness; and finally, the subsequent cursing of Canaan by Noah.

Read through the perspective of trauma, this rather unfortunate series of family events might suggest a kind of skewed decision-making as a result of trauma experienced by the family. Indeed, it is recognised that sufferers of post-traumatic stress can display impaired judgment/ability to make decisions until sufficient recovery has been made.

And here, I think there is an important pastoral point to consider:

If we acknowledge that we are all (in some form) experiencing the collective trauma of pandemic, we may also need to take care to notice our behaviour and decisions made as we begin emerging out of lockdown and into “normal” life again. If the righteous Noah ends up drunk, naked and cursing his descendants following the flood experience; it seems that we must tread carefully given the temptation to make big life changes that have been grown and nurtured within us during the long, lonely months of lockdown.

That being said, in both Noah’s and our own stories, life does continue! There is hope! Genesis 9.28 records that Noah lived another 350 years after the flood, which is a long time for recovery (and perhaps long enough to learn how to effectively manage his vineyard!). Further, in 11.10-31 we see that the line from Noah, through Shem, leads to Abraham; the father of the covenant people Israel, and the one through whom God promises all the families of the earth will be blessed (12.1-3)

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At this point in time it is crucial to recognise the collective trauma of pandemic that we have experienced. It is also vital that we acknowledge how this experience may continue to impact our mental health for some time. Reading the story of Noah can be useful in noting both a pastoral warning to carefully check the decisions we make in the immediate aftermath of Covid and lockdown; but also in looking ahead with hope to the future and believing that life will continue.