Peace in Chaos
Tumbling like Autumn Leaves
This is not the email I’d planned to send today. But it’s the message I need today and so I’m sharing it with you.
Here in the UK the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced (pending a vote in Parliament) a new lockdown beginning on Thursday in response to the ‘second wave’ of Covid.
This is hard for everyone. My wife and I are pretty fortunate in the grand scheme of things but we had hoped to fly to Sweden on the 9th to visit her family we haven’t seen since New Year; something which most likely will now not happen. I’m sure that many of you are in a similar situation. Whether it be distance or out of concern for parents or family members who are shielding or vulnerable, or having to choose who will be in your bubble etc etc. It’s Covid. We all understand.
But understanding doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
If anything, the sense of powerlessness can make it seem worse.
Although felt acutely in these present times this is not a new phenomena. History is the collective thread of processing and making sense of perpetual change within the kaleidoscopic multi-scaling of the relational matrix we live within. Change, and the occasion for anxiety or at least concern for what will come next, is one of the few constants faced by each generation in turn. It’s this which lends the enduring resonance to the oft-quoted (by me at least) conversation Gandalf has with Frodo.
Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
This is the perennial question which confronts each generation:
How will you use the time which is given to you?
In the midst of change, especially the kind of change which seems overwhelming and disempowering, we can find ourselves wrestling with anxiety and worries. Stoicism and a british stiff upper lip may seem commendable but a denial of reality is not a recipe for inner peace. Neither is interpolating our own sense of meaning upon reality necessarily a wise idea. To live well within reality means recognising the nature of that reality rather than asserting baldly that it is as you wish it were.
It’s here that I find myself confronted again and again with the recognition that none of this is about me, or what I think. It’s not that I don’t have a role to play or that my thoughts and voice are unimportant. Rather, I’m a mortal being; transient and limited in time, like the browning leaves I’m here today but tomorrow shall be blown away on the autumn breeze. Clinging determinedly to the branch as I’m buffeted by the winds of the world is decidedly not-peaceful. Instead I should accept the support of the spirit of God as he takes me into uncomfortable and unexpected places. The leaf may seem to spin wildly and uncontrollably as it tumbles through the air, or it may seem to find its poise in a joyfully exuberant aerial ballet - perhaps with and amongst many other such leaves, such mortals.
This is not to be fatalistic. It’s more akin to one of my favourite proverbs:
A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
Afterall, each pilgrim finds in turn that their journey through life makes the most progress when they walk with God; not against God, nor dragged by God. (Trust me, I found that out the hard way!)
I’m reminded of this each day as I pray Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. One of the regular prayers is known as the Second Collect at Evening Prayer and through the discipline and rhythm of praying this prayer regularly I’ve found that it has seeped into my spirit and strengthens me even and especially when I don’t expect it to.
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
God is the source of all holy desires, all good counsels and even of our own good deeds. Everything that is good comes from him.
The World cannot give us that goodness, though it tries.
Instead of peace it offers us Covid. It offers us politics, conflict, economic challenges, stress, and loss. Instead of hope it offers us darkness, uncertainty, and makes us either entirely self-reliant or helplessly dependant.
God offers us that peace which the world cannot give.
In that peace, aligned with his will by repenting of our sins, receiving forgiveness, and entering into the promise of sharing in his divine, eternal life we are enabled to reorder our lives such that we become more and more the people he is calling us to become - that he created us to be.
This peace is not just warm fuzzy feelings, a hippy-like sense of flowers and love; it’s practical and effective: “that we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness”.
And this hope is not a magical decree which we ritually recite in our sacred spaces; it’s the consequence of what God has already done for us. That is, “through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour”; by his life as one of us, by his dying our death for us upon the cross so that we may share in his risen life beyond the tomb.
“The peace of God that passes all understanding” is the profoundly practical result of a surprisingly tangible God who loves us such that one day we shall shake his hand and break bread with him in his kingdom. There’s a reason that we eat bread and drink wine. We touch things. We bite bread. We swallow wine, and in worship encounter God, our Saviour - the giver of peace.
And so as 2020 unravels much of what we thought we knew we could expect, let us pray that God will ‘give us peace such that the world cannot give’ as our tumbling leaves find their place in the ballet of the ongoing thread of history.
With every blessing,
Samuel S. Thorp
Husband | Priest |Wanderer
Someone recently said that they like these ‘creative emails’. I’m flattered that people think they’re creative but I’m simply trying to let myself write as myself. I almost feel as though I could write no other words than the words that appear, even if they’re not always the words I initially intended! Regardless, if you appreciate these emails you may also appreciate my poems which I recently published in my new book Glimpses. Click the button to find out more, including reading a couple of poems for free.
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From the Pilgrim Path