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A Doughnut Pan

Most you know I cook.  I’m not a great cook.  I don’t always use the most expensive ingredients, but I am a bit of snob about food.  If people are coming over, I want everything I serve to be homemade.  One time that meant making a cake three times—I’m terrible at cakes!

It is not surprising than that during this lockdown I am cooking.  The challenge is doing things that are interesting, not the same old, same old food, using food I have in the cupboard rather than popping out for an ingredient.  I made pearl barley risotto one night.  It was quite good.   We have lots of bananas now.  I can’t stand overripe bananas.  In my troll through the internet for recipes I came across a recipe for baked banana doughnuts.  But you need a doughnut pan.

So I confess, I made a non-essential purchase. I bought a doughnut pan on Ebay.  I am sorry.  I see the photos shaming people for buying non-essentials right now,  but I have bought this pan.   I checked that it is being sent from within the UK.  I hope I am helping some lonely Ebay seller keep afloat, but I know it wasn’t essential.

Still I need a bit of joy.  Joy does not come from the purchase.  Joy comes from doing something for myself, trying something new, making space for creativity.  Cooking, while a necessity, can be creative.  These banana doughnuts are going to make me and David, I hope, smile.  The birds in my garden, the paint on a canvas, the words on a page, the picture of a landscape, the laughter over FaceTime are a few things that bring joy in this time of essentials and simplicity.  They don’t cost a lot, but they do bring a bit of joy.  

Perhaps I have to confess, not that I bought something, but that I am still looking for joy.  Where is your joy today?  

I have another confession—I might need a pair of slippers.  My stay-at-home feet are freezing.  Warm feet are probably a necessity, but I’ll put on a pair of socks, for today.

A Rainbow

A few days ago a child’s rainbow drawing appeared in a window of a house across the road.  It was around the time Christians were encouraged to light a candle and put it in their window, praying together for our nations and the NHS.  I simply thought the rainbow was a nice touch.  None of my neighbours lit candles so I especially noticed the rainbow.

Then I read that the rainbow was a sign of support for our NHS staff.  On our daily walks we began to see more and more rainbows in the windows of houses along our routes,  all drawn or painted by children;  each colourful and heartwarming.

Interesting that at a time of national and international crisis this symbol of God’s promise is being used to symbolise hope, solidarity, and encouragement.  Of course, we remember the story. After the floods which wiped out large numbers of people (or all of humanity if you read the story literally, except Noah and his family) God sent a rainbow as a sign of God’s promise to care for humanity and creation—or never send such a flood again (another literal reading.)

Rainbows have a magical feel about them.  When the rain and sun happen together, I usually look around the sky, wondering if I will see a rainbow, hoping I will catch a glimpse of the prisms of colours in the sky.   I remember the first time I saw a double rainbow.  David and I were driving across the US and had been to Bryce National Park in Utah.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the arching colours dancing in the sky across a vast southwestern dessert landscape.  

Since then I have often found myself reminded of God’s promise by a rainbow arching through the sky, from a Wirral day to a Florida afternoon to a Northamptonshire morning.  When I see them, I pause and remember God’s guidance, God’s promise of hope to sustain me through troubling times.  

So the rainbow, a sign of hope and God’s presence following a tragic and challenging time, is again a reminder of connection, gratitude, and hope.  As we do our daily exercise or self-isolate,  the rainbows arch through our lives, connecting us—to the Holy and to each other, through this challenging time.

 

I had a dream

26/3/2020

Last night I had a dream.  I dreamt that I woke up and didn’t know where I was.  The room didn’t look familiar.  The door wasn’t in the right place.  The light from the window was wrong.  And I was alone.  Where was I?  I felt fear growing.  Then I woke up and I was in my bed, in my room, in my house.

 

When I rose this morning, I remembered the dream so I began reflecting on it.  What was it about?

It seems to me that this dream isn’t just my dream.  It is a corporate dream.  We have woken up and found we are in a different place.  We all find ourselves in an unfamiliar room, a strange landscape.  

Those of us who are working now find our work taking very different shapes.  There is a lot demanded of us in this new place, including new skills and, for some, risks.  Those of us who are retired find our routines disrupted.  We have to find different ways of filling time, connecting, being.  We may feel more isolated, or when our work is demanding, relieved at the end of the work day.  And occasionally, our minds may wander from the demands of the present.   We wonder, “what will life be like when this is over?”  We simply don’t know.  

This time may seem like the valley of deepest darkness— a time of fear and anxiety.  But in that place, as people of faith, we believe that God is with us.  When we walk through that valley, we are with God.  We are not alone.  Our fear for today and tomorrow does not need to overwhelm us.  God is with us now, and God will be with us when we come through.  

I have a dream, that when we are through the worst of this pandemic, we will have lots of parties, I will see my family, I will hug people, and some of the sense of care, community, and creativity will make our world a better place.

Today we continue to pray for those who continue to work, who live day to day with the fear of being infected in hospitals, for carers, for those keeping food coming to us, for other key workers providing care for the vulnerable, and for those whose mental health is more fragile at this time.

The bread of life

Last night I watched Jamie Oliver make bread.  I am so appreciative of his speed in creating a programme which responds to our panic buying.

It also reminded me of my situation 25 years ago.  I was a new mum with a toddler and a baby.  I was in effect self-isolating on my maternity leave.  I felt quite overwhelmed.  I sent David out to buy take away meals on a regular basis.  I did this out of habit because my mum did the same.  From her mid-thirties she had been a single, working mum.  Work and cooking and two children without family support were too much for her so cooking our meals went by the wayside.  When I became a mum, I started off doing the same.

During my maternity leave, however, I was started watching, “Ready, Steady, Cook.”  It  dawned on me that if the chefs there could create a meal in 20 minutes, I could too—even with two tiny people.  So I shifted, from buying so many takeaways to creating family meals—though not usually on a Sunday!

As I watched Jamie Oliver make bread, I remembered the therapeutic power of kneading bread, the slow and quiet power of the yeast making the dough rise, the beautiful smell filling the house while the bread cooks, the sound of the crusty bread being cut, and the wonderful taste of homemade bread.  It is also evocative of sharing time together, so the bread connects me to memories of sharing meals with friends, family, and the family of God.

This is a slower time, a different time.  So it is time for me to make bread.  I have the time to make the dough, to knead it, to set it aside, to let it grow, and to bake it.   

Perhaps making the bread is also a spiritual practice.  What is it for you that connects you to God and others, that uses the time you have, that you never have time for otherwise?  What touches all your senses the way making bread does?  In the face of this crisis, what reminds us that life is good and full and joyful?  Today it will be my loaf of homemade bread, shared with David, in the garden.

 

The Master of Time

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in years—or rather I didn’t do something.  I didn’t put on my watch. I have worn a watch for over 40 years.  Once I am dressed in the morning, the next thing I do is put on my watch, every single day.  A watch is my guide for the day.  In my head I know where I need to be and where I need to go.  My watch is the reminder when I need to do those things.  In a sense the watch/time has been my master.  And today I chose not to put it on.  Not putting on my watch is an acknowledgement that time is different now.

 

Yesterday we also took our last trip of “unnecessary travel.”  I knew that we shouldn’t do it, but we did.  It was Sunday. Our day was not framed by church duties in the ways our Sundays have been framed for over 30 years of ministry. It was a beautiful day so we went to a place that was reputed to have few tourists.  (We wanted to keep true to the social distancing principle at least.)  

 

This simple drive, sitting in the sunshine, discovering something about Wales, was in itself an acknowledgement that, like taking off my watch, our time is different now.  We wouldn’t have done that on another Sunday.  We would have either been too tired or had some other event planned.  Time is different now.  

 

I don’t know how our days will evolve over the next 12 weeks.  I don’t know exactly how I will fill my time now.  I’m sure there will be phone calls, Skype meetings, texts.  There will be some work—preparing things to be shared online, but there will be no evening meetings, no rushing from event to event, always feeling I am behind. After we develop a pattern of how to respond to this pandemic, time will be used differently.

 

Taking off my watch is a sign that I am moving into this new way of being. I do find this uncomfortable and, to be honest, a bit frightening. I have spoken to others who feel the same. This isn’t a sabbatical filled with exciting opportunities, but it is a space in which time can be a friend rather than a master.  Instead of rushing about, and worrying that I haven’t completed the tasks that indicate I am of value, I have time, to connect, though virtually, to listen, to think, to imagine.  

 

In the coming days, I am sure I will sometimes wonder what to do with myself though there are plenty of books here that haven’t been read and a garden that could use attention.  I will ask myself whether I am using my time in the best way possible.  I greatest hope, however, is that time, this new way of being in this time, will end up being a friend.

 

Time is different now, but even as we move into this phase, God is still present.  At the end of this period, I hope I can look back and see how God has been my master.  I also hope I can see God with me/us in new ways.

Something New

"Please don't say that."  I do not want to hear anyone say COVID-19 is the end of the world.  Yes, I know we have had locust swarms of "biblical proportions" in Africa.  There are droughts across the world and floods close to home.  There was even an earthquake in Utah.  In response some are tempted to say this virus is the final act and is the sign of end of the world.  

 

I have heard this before. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, after Hurricane Katrina, preachers dared to say the same thing.  After the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we thought it was the end.  Preachers said it was God's punishment.  Today whispers of these kinds of prophecies of doom again creep onto the edges of my Facebook feed and in the press.   But it was not the end of the world then.  So do not even say that now.  

 

I understand some want to understand “why” this has happening.  I understand we are anxious and frightened.   We are doing our best to figure out how to care for those who are vulnerable, to care for ourselves and our families.  Life is changing, but do not tell me it is the end of the world.  

 

In contrast to those proclamations filled with fear and worry Jesus said, "But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable."  (Mark 13.33)  Only God knows that timing, not anyone on earth, even the most respected, or "devoted" preacher.

 

Jesus said, "Don't look for the signs.  Instead be prepared."  He wants us to live as if the end is near all the time.  Why would he say that?  I think he said it because he wanted to create a community in which people valued life.  The kind of community that values life will care for people instinctively.  You and I have spent our lives trying to follow the teachings of Jesus;  now we choose to continue living in a way that values people—even if we have to do this at a distance.  

 

We may feel the need to make sense of COVID-19 and the dramatic changes it has brought to our world.  But probably the best we can do at the moment is to do what needs to be done today.  We can rise, trust God for today, and care for each other.  Let God take care of tomorrow.  And may, instead of the end, something new will be born.

 

 

Living in a storm

Have you ever lived through a hurricane? I haven’t, but I moved to Florida not long after a series of devastating hurricanes. When the next one was predicted, people panicked. They hurried to the shops. They queued at petrol stations to fill up their vehicles. They bought water and toilet paper and canned goods and pasta and rice. They were prepared for weeks without shops, electricity and petrol.

The last few days have felt eerily similar to hurricane preparations. People are buying up food and toilet paper as if a hurricane is forecast. The big difference is that when a hurricane is forecast, we start with a general sense of its direction. There are several paths predicted. And if you live in one of those paths you hope it will veer in another direction. As the storm draws closer the predictions of its path get clearer. People then rush to the shops and prepare for the aftermath. Or they evacuate and long queues of traffic develop out of the area!

It feels as if a storm is on its ways. So we have run to the shops. We have filled up our vehicles with fuel. There are all kind of plans in place for support. People are being very creative in finding ways of working and supporting people. Still we wait. We do not know where or when Covid-19 is going to strike in our community, in our family, in our church. We know it is coming, but we can’t see it. The unknown generates a sense of fear in some of us. Others of us carry on as normal, not thinking about it at all, except for the fact we can’t see friends and family in the same way. Some of us still go out as if nothing is changing.

But things are changing. We need to think about our safety and the safety of others. This isn’t a hurricane. It isn’t going to blow through in a few hours, leaving us to pick up the pieces. We have to learn how to live in new ways, relate using the gift of technology. We have to take the orders to isolate seriously. We have to protect ourselves, and we have to protect others. 

And we have to remember that whether we gather together in a church building, which we can’t do for the time being, or whether we speak on the phone or over Skype or text, we are connected by the One who is love. We may feel vulnerable in this time of uncertainty, but we are never alone. Our connection remains to each other and to God.

Though we are scattered, Lord, you keep us connected.  
Though we feel alone, Lord, you united us.
Though we are afraid, Lord, you promise us peace.
On this day and in the days ahead, help us find ways to connect, to love, and to grow in our relationships with those we meet at a distance or virtually. May all our spaces of connection be holy ground. Amen.