Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom of Hope

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

Holy God, you are our refuge and our hope.

You live in heaven, on earth, and in our hearts.

Your majesty surrounds us in all your creation.

In Christ you are revealed as One who pitches a tent and lives among us.

You take sanctuary in us and make your home in the core of our being.

Holy is your name.

Holy are your ways.

We bless you for the honour you give us

By making us all in your image,

By calling us all to share in your mission,

And by inviting us all to eat at your Table.

We thank you for Jesus Christ,

In Him You have given the whole world

New patterns of living, loving, learning, serving and suffering,

And the promise of the fullness of life,

Wholesome life on earth,

And life that is not extinguished by death.

We bless you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit,

The breath of life;

The strength to live by each day.

We hold before you

All those who are struggling today, and those who bring care, help and support.

Those who are taking their last breaths, and those who watch and wait and pray with them;

Those who have died, and all who are bereaved.

Grant to us, to the world, and all who are in our prayers, your sanctuary and strength,

And bring us all where you want us to be.

In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

I am pleased to offer this prayer and meditation to support the important and good work of All We Can with some of the poorest communities in the world.

I am not an optimist, but I am always hopeful, I keep hope alive and encourage others to do so too.

Optimism is an attitude that says, relax, everything will be ok, leave everything to God, all shall be well.

Hope is an attitude that says, whatever situation we find ourselves, we will say “right, now come on, roll up your sleeves, we will work together with others around us, apply all the wisdom available to us, and work for the best result, God being with us and our helper. We can make things better and we will not give up”.

Optimism is individualistic and passive.

Hope is solidarity and pro-active.

This hope is in me, for me it is rooted in faith, and solidarity with others.

I see it around me and I find it in others.

This hope has inspired and sustained me not least in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic.

I see this hope in the incredible expressions of solidarity in people, that within all our vast differences we are all one human race, every person is precious, every person is vulnerable, no one is immune, our sickness and our health, our existence and our survival, rests in each other.

I see this hope in the incredible solidarity in people, in attitudes and acts of grace and generosity, in people of all faiths and ethnicities and nationalities, from infants to hundred year olds, that have spread more rapidly than Covid-19.

We have glimpsed and discovered our incredible connectedness to others all around the world.

We have glimpsed and discovered our intricate connectedness to the air and the earth and the environment and all creatures great and small all around us.

We have realised that though people say “we are all in the same boat together”, that we are not all in the same boat. There are different boats, with different levels of protection.

We are all in the same storm, but in different boats. Some people are not even in boats, they are in the water, and looking for life belts.

We have all experienced fear and anxiety about the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, and friends.

We have realised others are in a similar situation to us.

We have a solidarity in our humanity, and frailty, and desire to be safe.

We all seeking refuge and sanctuary.

We have realised that while some of us have good protective people and provision around us, and have homes and gardens, others don’t, and live in danger, in streets, in refugee camps.

Thousands have lost the their homes through wars and violence and extreme weather, and are as refugees seeking refuge and sanctuary.

This coronavirus storm will pass.

But as we take sanctuary ourselves, we keep in our hearts and minds those in their own sanctuaries now, with all the surrounding concerns, those without homes, those away from homes, and refugees who continue to be “the least important” internationally, and we uphold them in our work and prayers.

I give thanks for and find hope in the work of charitable work of organisations like All We Can, through whom we can maintain our solidarity with those who feel most excluded and vulnerable.

The issues in which our hope is grounded are vast.

We will find strength in our human solidarity.

In the midst of everything I have found myself wrenched to the core of my being as a young friend of mine, Lucia, went through a fourth Liver Transplant. The operation took place in January. Lucia worked hard with an incredible team of NHS staff and her family to pull through. Lucia died recently, four days before her 21st birthday.

I have been in desperate need of hope in this situation.

Lucia herself, along with her family and NHS team have filled me with immense hope. She participated in every decision about her life and support, made difficult by the coronavirus restrictions.

Lucia has generated an incredible response to organ donations, and founded her own initiative in this, details of which can be found on the website Live Loudly, Donate proudly.

People like Lucia fill me with hope by bringing the most challenging situations to life, and affecting how we are and live and handle apparently insurmountable obstacles. 

So often I find hope and the way ahead in the life of those who struggle the most, who would be within their rights to shout out at God, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, but who by their own hope hold out a vision of God where you may least expect to find God.

The ultimate symbol of that hope for me is Jesus Christ.

The story of Lucia reminds me that those who are in difficult situations are also people of hope and resilience. They help to keep my hope alive.

Thank you and bless you for the hope you hold and represent.

Please spend a moment to view how the All We Can Coronavirus Appeal is bringing hope to some of the world’s poorest communities as they deal with the effects of this coronavirus, in particular in our work with refugees and refugee camps at this time.

Bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

28 May 2020, Twenty First Birthday of Lucia Quinney Mee, founder of Live Loudly, Donate Proudly

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Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Attention

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

We are all asked to “stay alert”.

Staying alert requires paying attention.

This is what all good teachers call for.

Pay attention, and this is a pre-requisite to staying alert, and living to your full potential.

In our meditations I began with attention to breathing, and to stillness. These precede attention.

Good attention flows from breathing well and stillness, and will help to provide the clear focus of attention.

We all have many distractions such as unsolicited apps, messages, and so on.

Attention flows from breathing and stillness, being in the present moment, being aware of what or who is there, considering information, reflecting, and resolving to do something as a result.

This is really what research means.

Pay attention, observe, collect data, reflect on it with care, till you have a revelation, your data offers new illumination, new information.

If you are like me you will have had moments when something or someone makes you pause, stop in your tracks, and pay attention in this way.

For example, you pass something regularly, and one day this something, it may be a tree or view for example, catches your breath and stops you. You become present in that moment and place, you really consider the information, you reflect, and you take action, even if it to gasp “wow” in a moment of revelation.

During this time of coronavirus, with less air pollution, there have been some remarkable photos of mountain ranges from massive distance on facebook and twitter.

There was a photo of Mount Kenya that someone took from Nairobi City which is 85 miles away.

Many people living in Nairobi responded that the photo is a fake, you surely cannot see Mount Kenya from Nairobi!

But the photo is a fact.

What is more, that view is actually visible from Nairobi most days, but most people don’t see it.

The man who took the photo says, “the hustle of Nairobi prevents people from looking up. The slowing down is not there”. He said that maybe, the Covid-19 virus has slowed people down, and with less air pollution helped people to see more.

As I said, we can all walk past things many times and miss them.

But there is a moment in which we become aware of something for the first time, and think, I pass this regularly yet I have never been aware of it before.

There is a story in the Bible of Moses who was minding his sheep in a field when suddenly he saw a bush that seemed to be aflame. It made him stop, and turn his attention, and look with more care (Exodus 3:1-12).

When Moses saw the bush that seemed to be aflame, he said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight…” (Exodus 3:3). As he paid attention here, he felt he heard the voice of God drawing his attention to brutality and suffering, and the experience changed his life.

He became the leader he was.    

Young Mary had a moment when she believed an Angel was speaking to her. In the Church calendar this moment is called the “annunciation”. As she paid attention in this special moment, she heard the voice of God, and “pondered” on what she heard (Luke 1:26-31).

She became the mother of Jesus.

Today is 24th May. It is a special day in Methodist Churches.

24 May 1738 is regarded as the day John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, had a special experience.

At a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London, he was listening to a reflection on the Letter to Romans. Then, he writes in his diary, “About a quarter before nine…I felt my heart strangely warmed”. He felt loved by God.

He became the leader of a movement called Methodism.

Six hundred years ago there lived in Norwich a young woman called Julian. Aged about 30 she became seriously ill. At the end of her illness she began having visions., and then spent around 20 years living in a small room and writing her visions which she called Divine Revelations, a book worth reading. Her most famous revelation arises from just observing a hazelnut.

Reflecting on a hazelnut in her hand she writes that it revealed three things to her. “The first is that God made it. The second, that God loves it. The third, that God keeps it.” This simple observation gave her peace, that she can rest in God the Creator, the Keeper, and the Lover. 

The important thing about these special moments is that they happen in the everyday, ordinary circumstances which command attention and become sacred moments and places and people.

Attention can give you rest, and make you more capable and give you more direction for life.

It said to Moses you are more than a shepherd, and to Mary, you are a person of potential beyond your imagination, to Wesley you an assurance of love, to Julian confidence in God.

Attention increases your awareness, and makes you more mindful of yourself and others. It literally opens your eyes and ears and heart and soul. It is an essential quality in leadership.

This is what faith and spirituality is.

Seeing and hearing God in ordinary everyday life, and hearing the voice of God calling you to be the immense and immeasurable person you are capable of being.

Be alert, but more than this, pay attention.  

Inderjit Bhogal

24 May 2020, John Wesley Day

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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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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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