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Three Pieces of Ancient Wisdom Still Relevant Today

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

Here are three pieces of ancient wisdom absolutely critical for consideration and communion in times of coronavirus. These lessons emerged in times of captivity or being in the wilderness. There are simple ways to apply them.

FIRST

God’s very first benediction and calling to humanity: God blessed human beings and called them to be fruitful and do all things with wisdom (Genesis 1:28).

These words follow immediately after the statement that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. God is revealed in the previous words as creator, who delights in creation declaring it “good”. Human beings are to reflect God.

This reflection is seen, and the earth is replenished when, in creativity, and fruitfulness, human beings do all things with wisdom. God “blessed” human beings with these faculties.   

Human carelessness, and exploitation of nature, has depleted resources and led to degradation of the environment. Greater care for the earth and the environment is essential to clean air and life for everyone. Breath is life.

Appreciate, affirm, enjoy, express gratitude for, and protect God’s creation of what is “good”. There is wisdom and blessing in this.

SECOND

God’s key lesson for life, you shall not live by bread alone (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4)

This was an important lesson for the people of God to learn during time in the wilderness. God walked with people to teach them, “You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord!”  

These are the words Jesus too affirmed in his days in the wilderness.

Life is not to accumulate more. Our spiritual wellbeing is important also.

Part of this lesson is to learn the concept of having enough for the day, and not stockpiling for another day (Exodus 16:4). Learning in humility to recognise when you have, or have had, enough, especially in relation to eating. The first petition in the Lord’s prayer is “give us our daily bread”, sustenance, but only enough for today. Try only buying what is on your shopping list. Buy less.

Human tendency to go headlong into business, enterprise, work, profit, accumulation of food and goods has to be checked by learning to say “enough”. Selfishness and greed add to the impoverishment of everyone.

Devote time regularly to reading, reflecting, and discerning the word of God.

THIRD

God’s most repeated ethical requirement, you shall also love the stranger

The Bible contains the command to “love your neighbour, as yourself” and this is taken to be the basis of Biblical ethics. Yet it is stated only once in Hebrew Scriptures (Leviticus 19:18).

Jewish scholars have noted that no less than 37 times the Hebrew Scriptures challenge people to “love the stranger as yourself”. There is no other command repeated so often, perhaps because it was the most difficult lesson to learn.

A neighbour is someone who is a bit like yourself, and easier to love. A stranger is someone very different from you, and more difficult to love. The Bible challenges us to love, and to encounter God in the stranger. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus invited his followers to see and emulate the goodness and mercy of the stranger who ensured the avoided, hurting person had the provision of care and healing (Luke 10:37). The stranger shows what it is to love.

The “stranger” is the one most on the outside of your world, the most despised or isolated. Who is that in your experience? The challenge to “love the stranger” needs to be stated again and again. The “stranger” is a teacher too.

Social distance and space have brought new dimensions and challenges to how we handle social difference. Celebrate difference. Resist division. Our future is together, with all our differences, and international.

Learn to see the image of God in those who are different from you (in skin colour, ethnicity, faith, and so on). Find ways to ensure those who are most marginalised are not isolated, but have supportive connections. What is the most loving way to be with anyone hurting the most, stranger or not? Decision making starts here.

Inderjit Bhogal, 28 April 2020

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Virtual Sanctuary

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

BUILDING WELCOME, MAINTAINING CONNECTION WITH REFUGEES

Notes prepared for an interview on Radio Sheffield on Sunday 19th April 2020

What can churches do?

We are all in a very difficult coronavirus situation, but we are not all in the same boat.

We are all in the same sea and storm, but there are different degrees and levels of protection. Some are in well protected boats, others are in fragile boats, some are in dingys, and some people are in the water looking for life belts of rescue. There are people, especially refugees and those seeking sanctuary among us who are more vulnerable than others.

Coronavirus is universal, but the degree and levels of protection are very different. A universal aspect of COVID-19 is isolation, and a very real sense of fear and uncertainty and trauma.

Trauma is a universal, global phenomenon now. It is no longer just the experience of the most marginalised people. No one is privileged or protected in Coronavirus. No one is immune. We all know what it is to be separated from those we love.

Trauma is not new for people seeking sanctuary and refugees, but we can all empathise with them, as we all share this reality.

Coronavirus is now a double jeopardy, trauma on top of trauma, hurt for people who have already been in situations of harm and danger through war, and who already carry with them deep scars of violence.

The danger for many “asylum seekers” and refugees is that loneliness and destitution is deepened and exacerbated. All the familiar structures and support are removed.

People without homes, and people far from homes, people whose homes have been destroyed by war and extreme weather are at great risk.

The media was full of news of refugees prior to 31 January. What is happening to refugees now, how are they faring at the borders of Europe? We need more news from the wider world. We need more information about the most vulnerable.

And it is important to keep before us news and information about people seeking and taking sanctuary among us.   

This week there have been reports of refugees in peril in the Mediterranean Sea.

23 Italian MPs and three MEPs wrote to the Italian Prime Minister imploring him “act quickly to help those who need to be rescued at sea. We hear news of a shipwreck, of boats laden with humanity, desperately trying to reach the European coast”.

Information provided by Non-Government Organisations on Easter Sunday stated that four boats, carrying 258 migrants between them were in distress, in the waters between Malta and Italy.

47 of them were rescued by SMH, a Spanish NGO.

This is the time of the year when the numbers of refugees in the Mediterranean increase. 

In addition, there have been bombings in Libya close the coast where migrants are kept in detention centres, and this pushes them to leave.

Italy says its ports are “unsafe” owing to coronavirus.

Shamefully, Britain maintains a hard line for example in offering welcome to unaccompanied refugee children whose lives are in danger. According to charities working with refugees, such as Safe Passage, the majority of the around 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children who have arrived in Britain since 2010 have got here using dangerous travel methods including hiding in the back of trucks, further endangering their lives. Less than 1000 unaccompanied refugee children have reached the UK through government schemes. Even this week, children who have been legally accepted to join families in the UK remain trapped in overcrowded refugee camps on Greek Islands.

Refugees have practically disappeared from news broadcasts.

Coronavirus is being used by governments as an excuse to say refugees cannot be rescued because it would not be safe to do so.  This is alarming in the face of words of solidarity towards people who suffer the most. Church leaders can be more audible in expressing concern, and calling for justice for refugees. Local churches can intentionally ensure refugees in their localities, and in their prayers, are not neglected.

Build virtual sanctuaries within your virtual congregations, to ensure those in the double trauma I have described above are not isolated. Support then through local sanctuary charities and networks. Search out your local City of Sanctuary group. Donate financial support through their website. Offer other support as you are able in the circumstances.

When we come past Coronavirus, we must maintain the priority of protective hospitality for the most vulnerable while we ensure that care workers, local and those who are here from other countries, have greater justice in terms of worker rights and wages. We must not lift the pedal off the need to love more those who have been valued the least.

I live in Sheffield. I am well aware that the Sanctuary Centre in Sheffield which has provided a hub for meeting and friendship has had to close owing to COVID-19 and government guidelines.

City of Sanctuary Sheffield has over the years built up a vast network of partners, volunteers and supporters. City of Sanctuary is now the single point of reference for refugees and supporters in Sheffield.

We are working with them now to build a “virtual sanctuary” to nurture and sustain the sense of belonging, friendship and support by:

  • Developing ways to keep people connected and supported, and ensure all asylum seekers in accommodation have WiFi connection
  • WhatsApp Groups with personal messages of encouragement and practical tips, food deliveries, financial support and learning languages
  • Maintaining contacts for legal and health matters through remote service delivery, critical in ensuring pathways to justice and guidelines on rights are not disrupted
  • Maintain telephone check-ins
  • Supporting home schooling with teaching support and laptops
  • Directing supporters to online petitions

The COVID-19 Handbook for asylum seekers is being developed and kept up-to-date online by many partner organisations working together.

You and your church and organisation can support work like this with offers of help and donations through the website, and join campaigns like Lift the Ban aimed at giving asylum seekers the right to work. Link up and maintain contact with refugees as you are able to.

Asylum seekers live on £5.39 per day. Many of them are sharing bedrooms with complete strangers, with all the associated fears. Government guidelines for social distance are impossible to follow. Many of them are in this precarious situation longer than expected owing to delays in processing their cases. The need for safe accommodation is acute.

Exorbitant fees are required now from people who people who have been accepted as qualifying for leave to remain in Britain following an application for asylum. These applications used to be free. However, the fees are now up to £2,389 for an application that may cost £375 top process. Fee increases were announced in the budget on 11 March 2020. These excessive fees are paid by people already in vulnerable situations and are used to help fund the immigration system. Vulnerable people should not be subsidising the system. Fees should reflect the cost.  

Within all their other priorities refugees and asylum seekers have a great spirit of helping and surviving. One of my friends, a refugee from Liberia, has mobilised people to form a choir, and arranges worship and pastoral support. He is providing training on mental wellbeing. He is a dedicated worker providing incredible support to other refugees from a knowledge of personal trauma.  He insists need to create empathy more than sympathy.

Inderjit Bhogal

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Easter: Life and Forgiveness

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

It is generally recognised in scholarship that the Gospel according to Mark is the first written record of anyone’s memory of Jesus, possibly based on the sermons of the Apostle Peter. It has been argued also that the Gospel according to John may be the written memories and meditations that give us windows into the life and thoughts of the earliest followers of Jesus. They are mostly Jewish followers of Jesus who also remain attached to Synagogue communities. Some in the Synagogues were divided in their responses to Jesus (John 9:16; 10:19). Some of the newest follower of Jesus wrestled with how to be his disciples within the wider Jewish community, and feared being excluded from Synagogues on account of their allegiance to him (9:34,35). Some will have found this difficult. There were many, like Nicodemus (3:2) and Joseph of Arimathea (19:38) who kept their discipleship private. To be excluded from the Synagogue would have been a humiliation (9:34).

We cannot pretend that there were not complex arguments and deep divisions between Jewish authorities and the first followers of Jesus. Christians have to acknowledge that the way John has been read has contributed to antisemitic beliefs and behaviour.  The Johannine text has to be read with care. Jesus was a Jew. It is a contradiction for his followers to hate Jews.

The execution of Jesus by the occupying Roman authorities was followed by the persecution of the followers of the Way of Christ. Life for Jews under Roman occupation was hard too. The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in AD70.

Life for the small bands of Jesus’ followers was tough. They could only meet discreetly and in small groups. They were fearful of everyone, especially local police, occupying military and figures of authority. We discern in John the life of these small and fragile, almost sectarian, groups of followers of Jesus living as a tiny minority. They trusted no one and would be careful who they opened the door to. They lived and worshipped as excluded communities, behind locked doors for safety. They found strength in each other (see also Acts 2:44-47).

This is the band of people we read of in John 20:19-23. It is just a glimpse into their world. A small group meeting behind locked doors, scared and isolated. It is the first Easter Day.

I wonder if their fears included the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. They had been so scared when Jesus was arrested and crucified that they had denied knowledge of Jesus and abandoned him in his greatest hour of need. Now, Mary has just been to the tomb, found it empty, come to them and announced, “I have seen the Lord” (20:11-18). Their first response to stories of Jesus’ resurrection may have been that they were “afraid” (Mark 16:8). They’ve never known anything like the resurrection of a person. There were many reasons for them to lock the doors, they were probably looking accusingly at each other for letting Jesus down, and their fears have drained them of life.

“Peace be with you”

But their experience also was that Jesus stood among them, in their tiny house. He is aware of their fears and has his own scars he bears, and twice says to them, “Peace be with you” to reassure them. He is the one who was executed, but they are the ones who seem to have lost their life.

It is this frightened band of people who are the first people Jesus commissions to continue his ministry with the amazing words: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

Then he did something and said something quite incredible.

First, Jesus “breathed on them” and said to them “receive the Holy Spirit”. They felt his breath, that’s how close Jesus was to them. These words recall what is written in Genesis 2:7 that God breathed “the breath of life” into humanity. Breath is life. Jesus brings this lifeless group of people to life again, and assures them they will be sustained for life and ministry by the life and strength of God. His message is, do not be scared. Live fully in the world. You are not alone. God’s Spirit is with you.

Second, he gives them one instruction only: Be forgiving. This is the key requirement in the followers of Jesus who are commissioned to continue his ministry. Jesus may have been executed by those in authority, but what hurt and crucified him most was being abandoned by his closest friends. He forgave “those who know not what they do” from his cross, practically his last action before breathing his last. His first action with his followers gathered together is to show he forgives them, speaking words of peace. Now he instructs them to be forgiving. Forgive those who hurt you, and encourage this in others. Start here, forgive those closest to you who let you down, as I forgive you, he seems to be saying. Forgiveness helps to dispel fear and set you free. If you are fearful of those who have hurt you, or those you have hurt, forgive them. Forgiveness is most effective when it is face to face.

The symbols of the Spirit of God are life and forgiveness.

Inderjit Bhogal

12 April 2020, EASTER DAY

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Good Friday: My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020
Updated May 2020

He was awake.

Didn’t sleep.

It was his time of prayer, around five in the morning, it was still dark.

“Father not my will, but yours”, his constant mantra, and all through the night.

No time for ablutions, not even a wash, and no morning drink.

He is bound, and handed over for trial.

He stands, bound, thirsty, hungry, before blokes who hope they will not be kept long from coffee.

There are false accusations, and inquisition.

There is no charge.

Only the derision of “Crucify him”.

No “Hosanna” here.

The Holy City is trapped in “Jealousy”.

He is no King!

He may be their Saviour, but he is not our King.

End his reign quickly.

Born in a Stable, he is bullied in a Palace;

mocked in fun behind closed doors;

No reassuring hand, no word in his favour;

alone, with witnesses who willed an end to the madness, helpless.

Pilate washes his hands of the whole business, and leaves.

The dictator unable to handle obvious mistakes.

“Then they led him out to crucify him”.

Exhausted, breathing but out of breath,

he needs help to carry the cross.

Witnesses stand around, some look away.

Simeon, just passing by, is “compelled” to share the pain, carry the cross.

Veronica wipes his brow.

Jesus alone will carry the weight and meaning of the moment, every step of the way.

“And they crucified him”, on a hill, for all to see, amid criminals,

and stole and divided his clothes without shame.

It is only nine in the morning.

Others passed by, and mocked him.

“He saved others he cannot save himself”.

A slow six hours of torture, hanging on a gibbet.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” his only utterance.

Absorbed, never forgotten prayer of the Son of God.

Then a loud wordless cry, and he “breathed his last” breath.

Pierced and broke his mother’s heart.

She wept and held him at his birth, and now at his death, always her baby.

Joseph of Arimathea, “a respected member of the council” comes forward.

He stood and witnessed this whole tale, helpless,

“he was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God”.

Joseph, his father’s namesake, “asked for the body of Jesus”, and buried him.

Son of God or not, no lavish funeral for Jesus.

Buried with dignity, the evening he died.

Obscure birth and then burial in a cave,

in the company of his mother Mary.

True mother, Jesus was always her son.

Gospel writers mention names of four others who were present at the burial.

No Priest for prayers.

Jesus’ prayer continues.

Your Kingdom come.

Your will be done.

The Kingdom and the Will of God is symbolised in the cross of Christ,

The power that gives life and liberates is the power given away.

Jesus and his Way will live and will give life and direction to others for ever.

Inderjit Bhogal

10 April 2020 GOOD FRIDAY (Updated May 2020)

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Live Your Life in a Manner Worth of the Gospel

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

PHILIPPIANS 1:27

These words are written from the confinement of a prison. What is it to live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel?

There are four key ingredients and movements of the Gospel, namely the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.

First, Incarnation: God is revealed in, and is like Christ

God who is with us is revealed and reflected in the powerless dependence and vulnerability of a new born child born, not in the might of an almighty warrior. Humility is the first characteristic God.

Matthew and Luke record birth narratives. Written in the context of the fall of Jerusalem after AD70, at the height of the power of Caesar who was being proclaimed the Saviour, armed to the teeth, the Gospel writers assert that the Saviour is a helpless, dependent, vulnerable, weapon free refugee child.  

A life lived in a manner worthy of the Gospel will be a life lived in the confidence that God is with us, and shares our fragility. It will be a life that is characterised by humility, not oppressive and intimidating behaviour. It will be a life that will make decisions from the perspective of the most vulnerable, and most in danger. 

Discern the presence of God in people and places of humility.

Live humbly without being oppressive and intimidating, at home, in church, at work, in community, and you will reflect Christlikeness and the Gospel of Christ.

Secondly, Ministry: Reflecting the hospitable and healing ministry and practice of Christ

The ministry and practice of Christ was characterised by being a healing presence. Jesus had a ministry of healing, not harming or hurting. Jesus lived humbly, and was angry when confronted with hurt and exploitation. He modelled leadership as service. 

Jesus’ ministry is revealed as a service of mending hurts, doing good, including the outsider, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, sharing food with the hungry and water with the thirsty. He sought justice for those who were most exposed to exploitation.

We never hear of Jesus carrying any weapons of war in his hands. This is relevant in our world characterised by hurting and harming, and by increased spending on instruments of war. We need medication, and instruments of healing. Turn the spears into pruning hooks. Invest in those things and practices that heal, not in things and practices that harm and hurt.

Our commitments and actions have to be consistent with the ministry and practice of Jesus.

A life lived in the manner worthy of the Gospel will be a healing life not a harmful or hurting life, and will call for this in others. Be a healing presence, not a hurtful one, at home, in church, at work, and in community.

Thirdly, Crucifixion: Reflecting the passion and cost of such a ministry

Marks Gospel was perhaps the first attempt at recording the life of Christ. It does not include the birth narratives, but interprets Christ from the perspective of his suffering and crucifixion. The message of these themes is the recognition that nothing worthwhile is without cost. A ministry of healing and hospitality is not cost free. It makes heavy demands, and is exhausting and painful.

There is a cost involved in exercising the ministry described above. Jesus was tortured and persecuted and rejected. He valued communion with a small community. But Jesus died denied, betrayed and abandoned even by his closest friends. What greater humiliation is there than that?

Living life in a manner worthy of the Gospel will be costly. Expect opposition. However, such a life will be lived in a spirit of service and humility, without seeking to hurt or humiliate others. It is Gospel wisdom that we bear the cross. It is the pathway to resurrection and hope.

Fourthly, Resurrection: Reflecting hope, always

The resurrection stories in the Gospels insist that there are no dead ends. The weightiest obstacles can roll away.

This is modelled in the life and ministry of Christ. He always looked for transformation and the fulness of life in all places and for all people.

Reflect on your life and all the situations in which you feel you are at your wits end, at a dead end, stuck, imprisoned, not sure of which way to turn next. It is perfectly legitimate to puzzle over obstacles (Mark 16:3). Living and serving humbly does not mean you turn away from them, or that you give up in fear and frustration.

According to John’s Gospel (21:1-13), the disciples had laboured hard and had nothing to show for all their efforts, they were ready to give up, but in the wisdom of Christ they were shown a way forward.

A life lived in the manner of the Gospel will embrace the cross and the cost of life, but will always be characterised by hope, even in the worst of circumstances. Do not despair. Live with hope. Help others to do so also.

Conclusion

The Letter to the Philippians insists that we are to live our life in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel, but also that we are to live “side by side” not by ourselves, that’s why we are part of the community of followers of Jesus, with the “mind that was in Christ”. This is the mind that Charles Wesley says is “emptied of all but love”. It will not be a life without difficulty, opposition or conflict, but it will be a life that is not intimidated by opponents [Philippians 1:27-30].

A life lived in the manner of the Gospel has confidence in God who is revealed in Christ’s birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.

It is a life that will not exercise oppression or intimidation. It is a life lived in the confidence that God is with us. It is a life that will give you breath, that will be healing, that will give you strength to bear the cost, and to remain hope full, always.

So live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel, and bring and encourage this lifestyle in all life and reality at local and wider level. You will help to build a better world governed by humility, service, hospitality, healing and hope as opposed to oppression, intimidation and humiliation. It is the pathway of a follower of Christ.

INDERJIT BHOGAL, 9 APRIL 2020
MAUNDY THURSDAY. ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTION OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER (1945)

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He Restores My Soul

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

PSALM 23:3

This is a beautiful thought, my constant mantra, and in my mind as I observe trees and plants restored in nature.

These words speak to me of an unsolicited gift of God, who restores my soul, even in sleep (Psalm 127:2). It is an ongoing gift rooted in the grace and generosity of God, and applies to all people of all ages.

The Hebrew word for “soul” draws attention to the core of a person’s being. It is the essence and seat of your being. I believe it is here we are one with God, a union that is never broken. Here we are in communion with God when we are aware of this and when we are not. And, in the words of St Patrick’s breastplate, God is the “soul’s shelter” and sanctuary.

There is something very special and sacred about the words “He restores my soul”. What message do they hold?

The writer of these words was perhaps a shepherd working hard to safeguard and hold a small flock together, seeking the best nourishment for the sheep, and being exhausted in the process. The shepherd is perhaps most able to relax and recover as she/he draws on the air of green pastures and gazes upon still waters, when the flock is together and safe.

From here emerges the reflection that God is the Great Shepherd who in the experience of the writer is always with her/him, and with those who are precious to her/him, and holds them together. This goes a long way to hold and restore her/his soul. From this grows her/his commitment to the pathways of righteousness, without fearing loneliness, and with the assurance that she/he has nourishment and goodness even when surrounded by “enemies”. The Psalmist concludes that this is where her/his ultimate rest is.

Restoration is a gift of God, but it is also rooted in communion with others. In the mind of Christ, the key lies in communion with two or three. Nurture lasting friendship with two or three special people with whom you are in a depth of communion that is best described in the term “soul mate”. These are people who are like nourishing pasture and pools of still water, in whom you find restoration.

In the context of coronavirus and Covid-19 the focus is rightly on medication. But we cannot ignore psychological and mental wellbeing. We are discovering more than ever that communion with others is essential to our health and contribution. We are troubled when anyone in distress is alone.

Do not underestimate the reassurance and restoration that can come from communication and communion in twos and threes. This is pastoral care. It strengthens our ministry.

The soul is precious. It is the centre of our resilience when our body is weak. Nevertheless, our body, with all its fragility and vulnerability is the sanctuary of our soul. 

Perhaps the soul also is the “treasure in clay jars” we read of in 2 Corinthians 4:7. So the writer of these particular words goes on to say,  “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Even when your body is bruised and broken and exhausted, your soul within you will find pastures and pools, and paths of righteousness. It is treasured and restored by God.

Treasure Jesus’ Gospel wisdom that you should not seek material gain and wellbeing at the expense of your soul (Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25).

Inderjit Bhogal, 6 April 2020

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A Creed for Our Times

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

We believe God dwells in our midst

The refuge and shelter of our souls,

In whom is our sanctuary and in whom we live and have our being, and eternal life.

We believe the life of God flows in us and restores our soul.

We believe that the Spirit of God is upon us,

In darkness, and light, storms and stirrings,

In which God weaves with darkness and the “deep” to make life and love,

and calls us to protect all creation and life with carefulness, and to do all things with wisdom.

We believe Christ reveals the life of God, and how we can share in it,

By being fully human, embracing beauty and brokenness in life,

By seeking wholeness and the fulness of life for all,

Bearing the cost of suffering, and always keeping hope alive. 

We commit ourselves to so live our lives in God that we reflect the likeness of Christ,

See the image of God in all people, those like us and those different from us,

Love ourselves that we may love our neighbour as our self, and,

Always act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Inderjit Bhogal, 29 March 2020

NOTE: You can use the word “mercy” or “tenderly” in the final line, which ever works best for you.

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Be a Santuary to Yourself

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

I am beginning to think we are all in our Noah’s Ark in our own homes with our families (and pets if we have them), our sanctuaries.

“And there were other boats”

Mark 4:36

Life away from others is a daily reality to people who have been housebound for years. Religious communities have developed spiritualities that have required the need to “come away” for a while. We are familiar with the value of “retreat”.

Every household, every individual, in their own “cacoon” is a new place for us all, and requires us to come to ourselves, and imagine a new world.    

Noah and his wife Naamah were in the Ark, with their family, and the animals with them, when it rained for forty days and forty nights. They were in the stormy rain and turbulent waters of the flood which eventually did subside (Genesis 6:14-7:12). They did not have a garden they could take a walk in, or social media for entertainment and communication. The story gives us the beautiful image of the Dove with an Olive leaf in the beak as a sign of cessation of conflict (Genesis 7:11), and then the rainbow (Genesis 9:13), with a spectrum of colours in an arch, as a symbol of hope for all creation. I like the image of a rainbow, insisting that there are many colours, not just one. And it looks like a bigger roof providing a more inclusive shelter.    

The next Ark we come across in the Bible is the Ark as a “sanctuary” for God (Exodus 25:8) to symbolise God dwelling in the midst of people. This is image we have to hold in our mind when we read the words of John 1:14 “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, a development of the words of Exodus 25:8.

The Ark represents a sanctuary for its inhabitants. Noah’s Ark is a sanctuary for all those in a safe space with him.

This image grows into the Biblical vision that everyone will have their own Ark, a house in fact, with their own garden (see for example Isaiah 65:21), so that no one is without a roof over their head; and no one is afraid that their house will be destroyed or their livelihood plundered.

This ideal remains a dream that has not been achieved. History is littered with stories of exactly the opposite. Homes and gardens destroyed.

The shameful fact is that today there are 70 million refugees, a new all-time high, an unprecedented global situation. This includes 28 million people who are internally displaced, trapped in their own countries (of these 11 million are conflict related, and 17 million are disaster related. Disasters include storms, floods, landslides, droughts, wild fires and extreme temperatures). Their homes and gardens have been destroyed.

People who have lost their homes and the protection of their countries value sanctuary and safety expressed in welcome and hospitality and shelter. The global image that has been before us has been of refugees in boats in sea waters, and at border fences and walls, desperately seeking sanctuary. All people with names and families, and histories. There are heart breaking images of children whose lives are in danger, and many people in the water. A traumatic situation for anyone to be in.  

In Mark 4:35-39 is recorded the story of Jesus in a small boat with his disciples. They are caught in a storm. In this storm we read that there were “other boats” with him. There was not just one boat as in the Noah story. They were not all in the same boat. There were other boats, carrying other people, all in the same storm. They all went through the fears expressed by Jesus’ disciples.

Now, in the deep and choppy waters of the coronavirus, we are all seeking or taking sanctuary in homes and rooms and apartments. We all have fears and anxiety about the wellbeing and safety of ourselves, and our families.  Others are going through a similar situation to us. No one is immune to the virus, from rulers to the ruled, rich and poor, women and men, whatever our nationality or ethnicity. Our equality in our humanity, and frailty, and desire to be safe is clear.

The reality of our world is that there are those who have “homes” and many who do not. There are those with lovely gardens, and those without gardens. There are those for whom being in a confined environment will be difficult, and for others this will hold dangers of intimidation and abuse from oppressive others.

The rain stopped in the Noah story. Coronavirus will pass. But as we take sanctuary ourselves, we will keep in our hearts and minds all those in their own other sanctuaries now, with all the surrounding concerns. And we will not forget those who are without homes, or away from homes, and refugees who continue to be “the least important” internationally, and uphold them in our work and prayers. The poorest communities will be the hardest hit by all the circumstances surrounding coronavirus. We will maintain our solidarity with those who feel most excluded and vulnerable. I hope we will not allow enforced social distancing to lead to social division.

Sanctuary in our homes is bringing us to ourselves. We have time to reflect on ourselves, and how we are with others, and to explore our spirituality. In what ways are we individually a home and a garden to ourselves? What are the points at which we are a stranger to ourselves? Where does our deepest nourishment lie? What wells do we drink from?

I love the very first line of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali.

“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy great pleasure”.

Rabindranath Tagore

Each one of us is immense. We grow even more in our relationships with others.

Acknowledge the gift and treasure you are. We are to love ourselves, if we are to love our neighbour and the stranger as ourselves, and in so doing to discover what it is to truly love God. Look after yourself. Your wellbeing is a gift to yourself and to others. Care for your body for it is the Temple, the Sanctuary of God.

This is what it is to be a sanctuary to yourself. Model sanctuary in yourself. Be a wholesome, calm, healing and hospitable presence. So:

Allow yourself space to be. Allow others space to be.

Be compassionate towards yourself. Be compassionate towards others.

Be forgiving to yourself. Be forgiving to others.

Do not be afraid. Help others to not be afraid.

Be safe and non-violent in your words and ways. Support such non-violence in others.

When you do this, you can better support others in being and building sanctuary.

Noah’s time in the Ark with his family concludes with God’s universal covenant embracing all people, plants, animals and the environment around him (Genesis 9:12).

The gift of coronavirus may be to call us back to the insight of this covenant and God’s call to human beings again to commit ourselves to each other and all creation, to imagine and build a rainbow future with each other, as the “oikumene”, the household of God, and not least in terms of an ecumenism embracing all faiths, economic equality, and ecological justice, modelling an over-arching sanctuary for all.   

Inderjit Bhogal

27 March 2020

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Where is God in All This?

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

In my view the first two verses of the Bible are the key to unlock the rest of it. These two verses are a summary, and what follows in the rest of the Bible illustrates this summary.

Use the wisdom of these two verses to reflect on where you find yourself now. I offer a few thoughts.

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, and the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters”

Genesis 1:1-2

This is the beginning, not the end.

There is a formless void, darkness, and what is termed “the deep”. God does not create this. It is just there. But God dwells in the midst of it all. This is where the spirit of God is, creating something new.

The “deep” is described elsewhere in the Bible as a trembling, a disturbance, a stirring, or a storm within a person, in the mind, in circumstances or in the environment around us. It is a stirring, which can also be scary, but in which new things happen. See for example, Jeremiah 23:9, Daniel 7:2 and John 5:2.

In Sanskrit the word is “vritti”, which signifies a whirlpool. 

This is what is being described in the two opening verses of the Bible. And such scenarios are real throughout the Bible.

The stories of the Bible are reflections of a people, their journeys in life, and how they experienced and interpreted God in the midst of the harsh realities of their meanderings and troubles, conflicts and hurts, and the points at which they found meaning and hope.

The Word of God is discerned by the people of the Bible as they reflect on their often terrifying and troubling experiences. Their reflections reveal God who is with them in their travel and travail as the still and secure and creative presence at the heart of it all. Biblical witness illuminates and unfolds this insight.

The life of God flows in the “deep”, and is the ground of all creation. God weaves darkness and the deep into all creation, makes new things, and calls human beings to share in this work, to protect and take good care of life and all created things, and to do all things with wisdom (Genesis 1:26-28).

A true devotee of God (a disciple of Christ, a guru) will reflect the nature and likeness of God: staying without fear and serving in the midst of darkness and the “deep”, interpreting this as a place of sacredness, not scaredness, being creative not destructive, healing not hurting, hospitable not hostile, holding out hope not despair, modelling holiness.

In Christ we see how we too can reflect and share in the life of the divine by being fully human and embracing immersion in life (incarnation), seeking healing, hospitality and the fulness of life for all (ministry), bearing the costs of suffering (crucifixion), and always keeping hope alive (resurrection).

In life we discover God, in our humanity we embrace divinity, and in our time on earth we touch eternity.

Live confidently and help others to do so.

Inderjit Bhogal, 24 March 2020 (Fortieth Anniversary of the Assassination of Saint Oscar Romero)

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Just an Hour a Day

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020
Construct one hour a day like this. This is your hour. After this, you can spend time as you wish to, and with others to support them.

TEN MINUTES: SIT IN SILENCE

Silence. This does not mean no noise. It means you sit comfortably and just listen to yourself, and in all that is happening to you discern the voice and word of God. It doesn’t matter if your mind wanders or goes off in a tangent. Note what comes in to your mind

TEN MINUTES: WRITE

Write down some of your thoughts from the moments of silence, or other words. Just write. This is not to share with others, it is for you.

TEN MINUTES: READ

Read something. It could be a few pages of a book…your Newspaper…

TEN MINUTES: REFLECT AND PRAY

Read a short passage from the Bible. It could just be one verse. Reflect on this. What does this portion of scripture say to you? You may wish to write down a sentence or two to capture your reflection. Pause for a prayer. This could simply be to say the “Lord’s Prayer” with full attention

TEN MINUTES: LISTEN TO MUSIC

Listen to your favourite music. Or tune in to your favourite music station on radio, e.g Classic FM or whatever

TEN MINUTES: GARDENING

Just ten minutes to complete this special hour. A bit of weeding. Or as Jesus suggested, “consider the flowers and the birds” in your Garden. If you don’t have a Garden, tend indoor plants, or just “consider” them

Eat and drink in moderation. Reduce consumption generally.

Live radiantly.

Inderjit Bhogal

20 March 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here