Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom of Breath

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

It is windy outside today.

I always associate a windy day with Pentecost when the church is born by the breath of God (Acts 2:1-4).

BREATH OF GOD: Wind and air are associated in the Bible with the breath of God.

Everything is brought to life by the breath of God (Psalm 33:6).

Adam comes to life when God breathed into his nostrils (Genesis 2:7). This is the first time the idea of breath is introduced in the Bible.

The first action of the risen Christ is to breathe on his disciples who seem to have lost all life and hope (John 209:22).

The concluding words in Psalms is “let everything that breathes praise God” (Psalm 150:6).

Breath gives and is essential to life.
We are thankful to have breath.
We need to value air more, clean air even more.
We need to give more attention to breath and breathing.
Become aware of your breathing…see how shallow it is.
There are ways to breathe well.

YOGA has come to be respected as an art form, especially the various moves.

But the key to Yoga is breathing.

Yoga literally means inner communion, blending opposites, breathing in, breathing out, turning left, turning right, achieving unity of body, mind and spirit. It is a way to clear the airways, open all the channels, to allow breath and blood to flow well, and enhance wellbeing.

THE KEY TO THIS IS BREATH, the source of life and energy.

Breath is the blending of oxygen and carbon-dioxide, blood and body. Good breaths help the flow of the essence of life in body, mind and spirit. It helps to reinvigorate body, mind and spirit.

If you are not breathing properly the other parts of Yoga are not so beneficial, and you can hurt yourself. Good breathing improves blood circulation, helps to connect body, mind and spirit, and helps to achieve stillness and balance in body, mind and spirit, and manage stress.  

If you can achieve seven good breaths in a day as part of your regular breathing you are doing well.

Good breath is more than the in and out rhythm which can be quite shallow.

BREATHE WELL: Good breath is cyclic. Breathe in and fill the bottom of your lungs, then the top of the lungs; breathe out and empty the bottom of your lungs first and then the top.

When you can do this, you can also use the following two ways to breathe well.

  1. Using the two nasal canals alternatively for seven breaths. First breathe in through the left canal. To do this place your thumb on the right of your nose and press to close the canal and breathe in through your left canal. Breathe out through the right canal. To do this place the “ring” finger on your left canal and press to close it and breathe out of your right canal. Repeat this for seven complete breaths. Use the next suggestion to achieve a complete breath.
  2. Use what is called the 4-7-8 count for a complete breath. Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold the breath in for 7 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds. Try and take seven breaths like this as part of your regular breathing. You can do this any time it is convenient. You can use the “two nasal canals” suggestion for these breaths.

A note of caution. Don’t restrict or force breath. If you feel dizzy or light headed, stop and breathe normally.

Inderjit Bhogal, 10 May 2020

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Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom for Anxious Days

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

These words are part of what is termed Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Seek first the kingdom of God. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today

MATTHEW 6:25-34

Imagine Jesus sharing reflections with people as he sat on a hillside. Many were there with their anxieties. They were living in times of Roman occupation and oppression. They were living in fear, worried about their future, and looking for wisdom. They will have sought help.

We could imagine we are sitting with Jesus on Wincobank Hill with our anxieties.

What did Jesus say to the people around him? Read and study the whole of “the sermon on the mount”. To understand the words of Matthew 6:34 read the words that precede them in the rest of Chapter 6. There are words about modesty in lifestyle, and not stockpiling for the future. The words in verses 25-33 centre on handling anxiety, and conclude with the words in verse 34. The wisdom is, do not be overly anxious about the future, live in the present by clear values.

There are three pieces of wisdom that precede the words in verse 34 and illuminate them. There is a simplicity in these words. Some may consider them simplistic, but they contain depth.

First: “Look at the Birds”. You don’t have to travel far for this. Just look out of the window. Listen to the bird song. If you want to develop the looking, get a good pair of binoculars to help. There are many resources to identify them, not least by their song. They work and play, and are melodious.

Two: “Consider the Lilies”. I like the word “consider”. It suggests pay close attention, study, be inquisitive, explore, appreciate. There is immense beauty in lilies, visitors to them like bees and butterflies, and wider nature.

Spend some time with birds and plants in your garden or travel further if you are able to. Time with nature offers nurture, nourishment, rest, refreshment and time to reflect. It can help to clear and still the mind and determine what is important. Getting close to soil can be healing. It is full of life. All people of all ages can wonder at the majesty, magic and mystery of creation.  

Three: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Direct your life by this rule. By rule I do not mean instruction, but way of life. To be a follower of Jesus is to “consider” and live by this rule. Jesus prayed “your Kingdom come” expressing his high priority and hope. Jesus is encouraging his followers to put their lives and anxieties into the wider context of the wellbeing God desires for all people.

Jesus directs his teaching anxiety about the future with words about how to live day by day. Seek first…

The words of verse 34 are not about fatalism, simply accepting destiny, or just leaving everything to God. There is a basis to them. It has been suggested that the Gospel writer added the words “so, do not be anxious about tomorrow”. Whoever is to be credited, these words make sense and hold gospel wisdom in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.

Make the most of each day. Live one day at a time. Appreciate good things around you. Seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God, “and all these things will be given to you as well”.

Inderjit Bhogal, 3 May 2020. Words shared in Sunday morning worship with Wincobank Chapel Congregation

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Lessons from Ray Davey: Corrymeela Reflection and Prayer

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

8 MAY 2020

From the Croí 8 May 2020 Led by Inderjit Bhogal


It is 75 years since World War 2 ended in Europe.

On 15 May is the annual Conscientious Objectors Day when we remember those who refused to join the war.

With others I give thanks for all those who give their lives for justice and peace, and pray for a world without war and violence.

With the whole world at present, in our times of coronavirus, I give thanks for all those who work to provide care, prayer and healing.

I give thanks for all those who have upheld the witness to non-violence and peace. I find inspiration in them.

Today with the Corrymeela Community I especially give thanks for Ray Davey who was a prisoner in World War 2, and was released on 8th May 1945, and I will conclude my offering with a prayer written by Ray on 10th June 1944.

I want to begin with a prayer I wrote on 31 January 2020 as the UK determined to leave the EU which has at least tried to maintain peace in Europe.

PRAYER FOR OUR TIMES

Holy God
Creator of the universes, the heavens and the earth.
You make all people in your image;
You know the hurts and hopes of us all;
Your presence is deep within us and around us.
Holy are your ways and holy is your name.
For all the ways in which
We assault and abuse your image in us, and in your creation around us
Forgive us
For seeking the best for ourselves but not others, and so often at the expense of others
Forgive us
That our highest ideals are marred by our selfishness
Forgive us
For our ways and words that bruise and break relationships, households, congregations, communities, neighbourhoods and nations
Forgive us
For the inhumanity, inhospitality, hatred, wars and violence
Which destroy homes and displace people
Forgive us
For the inhumane, inhospitable and hate filled treatment of people seeking sanctuary, and of refugees
Forgive us
Holy God
Bring us and the world to end hatred, war, and violence, and always to build cultures and communities of healing, hospitality and justice
Where all are welcome, valued, belong equally, and have sanctuary and well-being.
Strengthen us to work with you to heal hurts, keep hope alive, to make all things new, and never to tire of seeking justice and peace.
In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

For a reading I offer only one verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and it is from Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I came to Ireland in my younger days to meet people I admired, including the leaders of Corrymeela. I looked up to them all, especially Ray Davey the founder of Corrymeela.

I recall once sitting on a wall by the Croi with Ray Davey. I was talking to him about an idea growing in my mind about Sanctuary for refugees.

In typical form Ray said, “If you have an idea you must incarnate it. Go and do it”. I did, and have seen sanctuary grow as a movement in Britain and Ireland and beyond, and I am thankful to Ray for his encouragement.

Ray is an inspiration for me because he stands out in a world littered with the debris of war as a peace maker. He never gave in to war and violence. He remained constant in his objection to war and in his work of building relationships of respect and trust.

Ray was a prisoner of war and kept diaries which he published. I have a copy signed by Ray and Kathleen that Ray gave me when I visited them on 26 September 2005.

Ray used his confinement in a prison camp positively and learned the importance of human community as he brought prisoners together for prayer, and how relationships sustain the human spirit in difficult times.

He wrote that “love is at the root of all things, not force and hate” (War Diaries, page 175). Ray stressed the need to live with this attitude consistently.

He wrote of “the sacrament of social workers”, of service, modelled in Jesus washing feet. “A revolutionary idea of leadership” noted Ray, “one of the master touches of his life” (War Diaries, page 211).

This experience he used as a leader and theologian while he was University Chaplain twenty years after he left prison, and worked with the wisdom and enthusiasm of young people to lay the foundations of Corrymeela Community and its work over the last 55 years or so.

Ray used his solitude to deepen his relationship with God, a communion from which nothing and no one could separate him. He was a man of deep prayer. Ray’s prayers reveal his deepest hopes and desires.

Only one of Ray’s prayers in his diaries make it into his book The War Diaries. It is on page 202. He prays that his life will be an “instrument fit” for God’s greater service.

I had the privilege of reading through Ray’s actual diaries when I visited him on 11th November 2010. I was particularly fascinated by his prayers and wrote down three of them into my own diary. I will use these prayers to close this meditation in a couple of minutes.

Prayers reveal our deepest hopes and desires.

What are you praying for in your time of confinement?

It seems to me that the whole world has one common prayer at present. Everyone is praying that a cure for coronavirus may be found soon, and for healing. No one is immune from Covid-19. We all want anyone who is hurting to be healed.

I dislike the use of war terminology in relation to Covid-19 like “enemy” and “battle”. We should talk instead about healing and hope. Be positive in your language.

Ray’s War Diaries close with important lessons (page 222). He concludes, “the things that make wars and unhappiness are not just Hitlers and Mussolinis, but are things in our own lives – greed, pride, dishonesty, lack of consideration. If we are to overcome these things, we must become different ourselves”.

Ray incarnated his ideas. The Corrymeela Centre was opened in October 1965 for “all people who are of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and to work together for the good of all..”

Let me close by sharing with you lessons I have learned from Ray’s time in confinement, they are valid for our communion in times of coronavirus:

  1. Do all you can, within your restrictions, to bring people together and build community
  2. Love is the root of all things, not force and hate. Incarnate love in your lives
  3. Never take pride in the humiliation of others. The sacrament of leadership is modelled in the humility of service as seen in the ministry of Christ
  4. Invest in instruments and efforts of healing. Put away words and weapons of violence, hate and harm
  5. Deepen your relationship with God. Devote more time to prayer

So, I will close with a prayer written and said by Ray in prison. 

O God of all ages, we know that we live in momentous days, days of destiny and change.

Today we look to the world, we think of all that happens there.

Humbly and in faith we commit our cause to thee.

We confess our wrongs and evils, as a nation and as individuals.

We admit our part, and we accept our blame for this disordered and shattered world.

Be with all who take part in the struggle, endue them with patience, courage and crown their efforts with success.

May all the nations learn the folly, uselessness and senselessness of war.

And in thine own good time may a just and lasting peace be born from the ashes and destruction of so many lands and lives.

Give us the determination to live in patience and faith until the day of our freedom.

Breathe in us anew the burning resolve to fashion a society that shall think more of the things that bind men together than those that keep them apart.

Give us the will to raise a new community, God centred and God controlled.

Give us the practical willingness to plan the remaking of our own homes and the rededication of our lives, so that our land may be built on the solid basis of love and trust.

O God of our captivity, whose hand has held and sustained us through this weary journey,

Be with us now in these days of suspense and waiting.

As thou hast been our guide and strength in the past strengthen us now.

Give us the quiet mind of patience and confidence.

We remember thou hast said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth thee”.

Father who hast created the nations as all members of the great human family, cause the terrible strife to cease.

And when it comes to an end may reason, justice and foresight prevail.

Cleanse our hearts from the spirit of revenge and hatred and reprisal.

Give us the spirit of charity and forgiveness.

We would reaffirm our belief in love as the centre of life.

Give us the determination and faith so to live as individuals and nations that wars may be outlawed forever.

Amen.

RAY DAVEY PRAYER DATED 10 JUNE 1944

A Blessing
Creative God
Breathe your breath of life on us.
Forgiving God
Breathe your words of peace on us.
Empowering God
Breathe your spirit of strength on us.
Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal, Former Leader and CEO of Corrymeela

8 May 2020

Note: Davey, R.( 2005). The War Diaries: From Prisoner-of-War to Peacemaker. Belfast, Brehon Press

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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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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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