We’ll gently remove the Christmas lights and baubles from the tree and carefully pack them away for next year. Likewise, the decorations will be taken down and, together with the Christmas crockery, stored in the loft. Memories of the ‘Christmas like none other’ will be squirrelled away, only to re-emerge in future conversations – “Do you remember the Covid Christmas of 2020 ?”. So, it’s all over, bar the shouting. Or is it?
Speaking of the Second Battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill uttered the familiar words, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” In a very real sense the same can be said of celebrations of Christmas, and none more so than Christmas 2020. Epiphany – Twelfth Night – can, at its best, mark the end of a beginning. Our hope is that it marks the beginning of a new way of seeing the world, and our place in it. We celebrated the birth of Emmanuel, God with us, and we are called to follow in his way. In the words of Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, and civil rights leader, ‘Now the work of Christmas begins.’ His litany is today for us, our reflection:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
6th January 2021 – Revd Paul Bettison
If we get over the Covid 19 pandemic we’ll have missed a trick. That is, if once the vaccine has had an impact, the NHS is relieved of the added burden under which it has toiled for so long, and things feel more ‘normal’, life carries on as before, then we’ll have learned nothing.
At present, it feels as though we have lost much of what we had taken for granted. Think about it. The experience of the loss of anything that has been important can be unsettling – and that’s the understatement of the millennium. Facing significant loss, there is the temptation to hope that the loss can be, like a hurdle, ‘got over’. That is, jump over it, land on the other side, and then carry on as if nothing had happened. I believe a more helpful and realistic approach, leads to a realisation that, rather than ‘getting over’ such an experience, it’s a case of ‘going through’ it. When we go through something, we leave bits of ourselves behind and pick up bits that we carry into our future.
So today, a question for each of us. As I travel through the experience of the pandemic, what have I lost and what have I gained?
As you ask of yourself that question, remember that in all our losses and in all our gains, one thing remains secure; the assurance that God is with us.
Sometimes we sorrow, other times, embrace,
Sometimes we question everything we face;
Yet in our yearning is deeper learning:
We belong to God
Till earth is over may we always know
Love never fails us: God has made it so.
Hard times will prove us, never remove us;
We belong to God.
Thank you for hopes of the day that will come,
For all the change that will happen in time;
God, for the future our spirits prepare,
Hallow our doubts and redeem us from fear.
8th January 2021 – Revd Paul Bettison
Reading the book had been both challenging and life affirming. Thinking that I had another six pages to read, I was surprised to find that I’d reached the end. The remaining pages were devoted to ‘Acknowledgements’. That is, a catalogue of the names of many of the people who had provided information, and offered support and encouragement to the author in his writing of the book. I started to tot them up but lost count! How often do we acknowledge the contribution made by others to our lives and the life of the communities of which we are a part?
As we look back over our shoulders and see 2020 disappearing into the past, maybe with a sigh of relief, it would be good to compile, as it were, a virtual ‘Acknowledgement’ page. On that page will appear the names of the people to whom we feel that we owe a debt of gratitude. People who have supported us, encouraged us, and enriched our lives. We would struggle to name them all. And the names of many of those people will be unknown to us. I’m thinking now of shop assistants and scientists, medics and transport workers, refuse collectors and civil servants. So the list expands……
I recall the experience, at the beginning of a new school year, of opening a new exercise book. There it was, a blank, new page. As this New Year opens, why don’t we use the opportunity to write on the first page, virtual or real, a list of ‘Acknowledgements’, reminding us of our dependence on others. The exercise may even prompt us to acknowledge openly and often the support, encouragement, and love upon which we depend.
Our Prayer today is simply to reflect on that list of ‘Acknowledgements’, giving thanks to the God revealed in and through those people with whom we share our lives.
Paul Bettison 8th Jan
There’s a thriving market in snazzy coats for our canine companions and I’ve seen images of feline friends sporting bat-man costumes. Pet food suppliers advertise gourmet meals for dogs and cats, and there are even tasty peanut butter treats on offer for horses – and low-fat at that. What are things coming to? Anyone would think that animals were human! A correspondent writing recently to a newspaper protested ‘I find it an offence to their natural dignity to try to imbue animals with human characteristics’ – there’s an interesting twist.
Yet, though we know full well that animals are not human, we would be foolish to ignore our relationship and interdependence. Listening to Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the global charitable foundation that funds scientific health research, the Wellcome Trust, I heard him speak of the importance of recognizing that human and animal health and well-being are intertwined. We are in relationship with all living things. The current debate about ecology and biodiversity focusses our attention on that truth. Our close connection to, and relationship with, all living creatures is, I believe, God-given.
Commenting on Rob Cowan’s book ‘Common Ground’ the reviewer wrote of the author ‘(he) leaps over the space between animal and human as though there were no difference between us’. Well there is a difference, but our humanity would be diminished were we to ignore the relationship that exists between creations that are equally cherished, valued, and loved by the Creator. I happily chat away to Gracie, the horse that I ride, and I’m convinced that, in her own way, she chats back!
As I look out through my window, I see the rain pouring down. It is as if the heavens have opened. My mind drifts back to the story of Noah and the flood. It was not only Noah and his family who were directed into the ark, but animals too. When the waters receded, Noah, his family, and every living thing that had made its home in the ark, left their refuge and made a new beginning. ‘God said to Noah “Go out of the ark, that you may abound on the earth and be fruitful and multiply’ – together.
A re-creation story!
We praise you for the wonder and
beauty of your world.
We thank you for the companionship,
which so many creatures afford us in
Make us sensitive to their needs as well
as to our own, and guide us as to how
we may support the work of animal
welfare organisations as they seek to combat
cruelty and to promote the well-being
of all animals.
Strengthen our resolve to protect
endangered species in the wild.
Move in the hearts and minds of
people throughout the world, that
there may be a growing reverence
amongst us for the life you have given
them, and a growing desire, that
Creation may enter into the glorious
liberty of the children of God.
Loving God, Creator and redeemer,
hear our prayer.
Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (adapted)