Some of you will remember that the Director of the Westminster Abbey Institute, Claire Foster Gilbert, came and preached at a Waterloo Festival Eucharist a few years ago. She is writing a weekly letter to the community gathered around Westminster Abbey, and Philippa Owen forwarded this week's letter to me.
Claire identifies very precisely that feeling which I suspect many of us have - and have had, perhaps, since the start of the pandemic. The desire to solve the problem, to find a solution, to work out a way forward out of all this. I know that I have had times of real stress and exhaustion, when even my voice has begun to seize up as I am presented by the size of the challenges facing us. Many of you, in conversation with me, have talked of similar emotions.
In her letter, Claire says
We are in danger, during the Covid-19 pandemic, of getting stuck in fight or flight mode, permanently in a state of heightened awareness, always in warrior pose, ready for action and reaction.
If you feel that the success of the response to the pandemic rests largely on your shoulders, or at the very least if you let go for a moment of your bit of the response there will be dire consequences for others, then you are unlikely to be able to rest properly. You may feel resentment that half the country is working its fingers to the elbow while the other half twiddles its thumbs. And if you can't serve as you wish to, your enforced stillness could be anything but relaxing.
She makes three suggestions:
Try putting your service in perspective... Place your service next to something bigger. Look at the stars hanging in the clear night skies and imagine the galaxy cradling our planet. See your place and purpose in a much bigger story.
Make a discipline of regularly relinquishing your claim on your work. Each of the great Abrahamic faith traditions has a sabbath. The principle of regular rest is a way to avoid pride, to recognise the smallness of one's contribution... Make sabbath time not just weekly, but between activities during the day.
Laugh at yourself. Find humour in your work. It might be gallows humour, but it helps.
We can learn from the way fish move in the sea: they flap their fins when the waves flow in the direction they are going, and wait while the waves ebb. They do not try to fin against the flow. And for rest, they don't wait for the sea to stop, but dive deep beneath its waves and find its quiet centre.
Do read the whole letter, or you can listen to it.
Perhaps it's permissible to add a fourth suggestion, following my sermon on Sunday: breathe! As I said,
I invite you, now, to relax, and think about your breathing: and, as you do, to take in a deep breath, slowly, right down into your lungs: and breathe out, slowly: and as you do, imagine that you are breathing in the Spirit of God, letting it fill you, and inspire you, and give you life. Breathe in.. breathe out. And once more: inspire - exhale.
I have never been more sure than I am now, that we are being undergirded by the infinite arms of the love of God. That foundation is holding us, even as the world seems to be disintegrating. I am trusting in that generosity as I try to live it out. I am grateful for the many ways in which you are all helping to ground the community in the generous love of which I speak in my sermon.
Apropos ... please feel free to bring donations for the homelessness hotel and the Foodbank into church tomorrow afternoon, between 2 and 5.
In the meantime, may you have the opportunity to relax, and breathe, as this sunny day turns into, I hope, a restful evening. The Waterloo Festival is celebrating environment week. Here is the Festival's Green Gallery - some wonderful images of the churchyard and elsewhere to help you find peace.
With my love