Dear Friends, There’s a line in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca describing a nurse who is attending to the whims and wants of Mrs Van Hopper, "all humanity washed away by years of disinfectant." I hope that is not your, or indeed anyone else’s, response to our wonderful nurses in the NHS, as a kind touch of a caring hand transforms sickness and sadness into healing and hope. I say this of course, in the context of Covid restrictions on touching of any kind. Since March of this past year, touch has become something very different. Many of us have probably been moved over this past week or so either to visit ourselves, or see on the television news, people who for the first time in a long time are able not just to visit their loved ones in care and nursing homes, but also touch them, hold their hands, hug them. We have witnessed too the healing and the recall to a deeper sense of humanity and worth those caresses have brought, as people have become more real before our eyes, more animated, more enlivened, reminded through touch, more than merely words, that they are loved, that they belong. Touch figures significantly in the scriptures. How can it not? It figures so strongly in life. Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms, Jesus touching the sick and allowing His health and wellbeing to flow into their lives and limbs. The woman with the haemorrhage reaching out to Jesus and draining Him, claiming from Him, His health and wellbeing, until He sensed it being robbed from Him. Jesus putting spittle on His finger and anointing a blind man, taking a child in His arms and saying that to such belong the kingdom of God. Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, stroking the hair of Jairus’ daughter and bringing her back to life.....Touch. It was a natural part of Jesus’ interaction with others. He came to love us into wholeness with His compassion and creative energy, which He so generously shared. Touch. It means so much. When words fail at the bedside of a sick friend or loved one, a hand is held and so much is then communicated. After an argument has been resolved and the love which lays at the heart of a relationship is proven to be stronger than what divides, than any difference or disagreement, then a hug and healing begins. Not having seen someone one has been worried about, and then you are reunited........again touch seals the bond. But now, in these days lived out under the shadow of Covid, we are told to refrain from touch, those of us who live alone, those of us who meet others from beyond our household. For some of course, who don’t like physical contact, it is liberation, for others who are more naturally tactile, their sense of isolation is reinforced. I have hardly touched anyone for almost 9 months now, though the dogs get hugs every day of course. I truly feel for those who feel the impoverishment of not being held, hugged, offered tangible signs of affection and acceptance. I recall an elderly lady in my curacy parish in Eastbourne, St Mary’s, in hospital. Something had gone wrong during a routine operation and she had slipped into a coma. I used to pop in and see her in my lunch break. I was told she could not hear me, wasn’t conscious of anything, but I held her hand and probably wittered on about my own preoccupations, food, the dogs, the parish, or juicy bits of harmless gossip, just trying to make contact. Weeks later, she recovered and what she said to me stayed with me. "You were the only one who touched me as though I was still "me", a person you had a relationship with, not just a body to be dealt with. Everyone else, kind though they were, were taking my temperature, cleaning me, turning me, examining me, injecting me. Thank you for treating me as if I was still a real person, me, myself, not just a "thing". (I paraphrase of course.) It pierced me. It stayed with me. I could so easily have done otherwise. And it is so hard for those who care for others, perhaps in nursing or care homes and hospitals, unable as some still are to hold hands and reassure that love is real. God knew, knows, our need for touch. He it was, extraordinarily, who took the ordinariness of bread and wine and invested it with Himself, wanting even to be part of our bodies, tangible proof that we "do this in remembrance of Him", that He is real to us. We feel the touch of the wafer upon our tongue, the wine flowing into our mouths and throats and know afresh that God with us. God wanting to be physically present, wanting to be part of who you and I are and now, but, due to Covid, even that is being denied to so many of us.
What is possible, however, is the Zoom service and I pray with all that is faith within me that God would use that grace-fully, to become real to us in the way in which we need Him to, for our hunger and thirst for Him has never been as acute. God recognised, heard the cry of humanity 2,000 years ago, that He become more real to us, so came, a gift, gilded in straw, greeted by shepherds, given that we may touch Him, hear Him, see Him, be touched by Him.
But then, in His risen-ness He was heard to say, "Do not touch me," because, tantalisingly, He is now with us in another form, even as the air we breathe, present but not physically so in the way you and I are. Perhaps like our sense of one another on our computer screens or voices heard the other side of a telephone. And we pray that we may find the spiritual resources we need to be present with those we love by projecting our love into them, with the energy of our emotions and intents. Sometimes I know others are thinking of me, praying for me, I can feel it, I can almost smell it. We are all much closer to each other in the Spirit than we may realise.
Those who live their lives in cells in monasteries or convents have learned the lesson well: to project their love, their compassion, their prayerful intercession for the world, other than through touch, but through the energy of the Holy Spirit. This may be the time when you and I learn to do this too, to picture people in our mind’s eye, hold their hands and pray energy, healing, hope into what they are experiencing, going beyond the boundaries of physical separation and, in the confidence of the Holy Spirit, allow our creative energy to flow from our souls, minds, hearts, into the lives of the frightened, isolated, lonely, fragile. You and I have the Holy Spirit at our disposal.
All the way through the scriptures men and women of the Spirit have always dealt creatively, constructively, with the limitations and restrictions that seek to confine and to limit them. God’s energy, God’s compassion, God’s Spirit cannot be contained or restricted other than perhaps by our lack of believing. Let us set aside time every day to "be in touch" with God and "be in touch" with those we care about through such prayerful projection.
Let us believe in the enterprise to which we have been called, to reach out with confidence and compassion, in strength and solidarity, to those who need our loyalty and love. Let us see in our minds those we cannot meet up with physically, smile at them, reach out to them, be with them, hold them if that feels appropriate, in the loving embrace of prayer.
The God who makes Himself real to us is one who will always use creatively whatever we offer Him, as surely as once He used the few loaves and fishes He was offered, to feed a multitude. For He will invest into what we offer Him the gift of Himself, to make up for any defect or deficiency. Pray confidently in the power of the Holy Spirit, reach out to those who need the touch of God upon their lives. May God use your prayer to bring affirmation to the isolated, encouragement to the down-spirited, strength to those weakened by the experiences of the past year and hope to those who are hungry for something to believe in and look forward to. You are part of God`s love for others, be alive to that
and active in this enterprise of the Spirit.
And may you sense Christ reaching out His hand of blessing upon you, and know His strength, His reassurance, His power, His peace, His love, His touch, resting upon you.
With all good wishes, your priest and friend,
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom service. Our theme is John the Baptist and the readings are: Isaiah 61 verses 1-4 & 8-end and John 1 verses 6-8 & 19-28.
The Collect O Lord Jesus Christ, Who at your first coming sent your messenger,
John the Baptist, to prepare your way before you: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries May likewise so prepare and make ready your way, By turning the hearts of the disobedient To the wisdom of the just, That, at your second coming, to judge the world,
We may be found an acceptable people in your sight. For you live and reign with the Father, In the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
Prayer for the lighting of the third Advent Candle:
Blessed are you, Sovereign Lord, just and true, To you be praise and glory for ever. Your prophet, John the Baptist, Was witness to the truth, As a burning and a shining light. May we your servants rejoice in his light, and so be led to witness to Him Who is the Lord of the coming Kingdom, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and King of all ages. Blessed be God for ever. AMEN.
Christmas Services at St Mary`s:
Sunday 13th December: 9.30am Zoom service. 11am The Holy Eucharist will be celebrated in church (for those who have previously booked) 3pm-4pm Personal Prayer in church.
Wednesday 16th December: 10am-11am Personal Prayer in church. Sunday 20th December 9.30am Zoom service 11am The Holy Eucharist will be celebrated in church (for those who have previously booked) 3pm-4pm Personal Prayer in church.
Wednesday 23rd December 11am Christmas Eucharist in church, (for those who have previously booked) Friday 25th December, Christmas Day 9.30am Zoom Service 11am Christmas Eucharist, (for those who have previously booked) Sunday 27th December 9.30am Zoom service 11am The Holy Eucharist will be celebrated in church (for those who have previously booked)
To make a booking for one of the Eucharists in church, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org