I bet you a million squillion quid

Were you going to do great things in lockdown? Maybe you were going to learn a new language, or a new skill – morris dancing or brain surgery – or maybe you set your sights on creating the perfect gateau or starting a micro brewery? Did you dust off your old guitar and search online for how-to-play videos? Or did you set your sights on reaching peak fitness and running ten miles a day?

I’d be willing to bet a million quid that you did none of these things (if I had a million quid). I bet your days meandered by.

I also did none of these things, but then, I never intended to anyway. I am, by nature, a sloth. I did unpack my patchwork one day, and I started to teach my granddaughter how to knit (we managed just 12 rows) and … well, that’s it, really. That’s not to say I haven’t learned anything at all in this last three months, I’ve accidentally learned loads; I’ve learned that banana bread is a doddle but lemon drizzle cakes sometimes dip in the middle, and I’ve discovered things about the house drains that I really didn’t want to know (a horrible flood) and how much it costs to have a dry stone wall built when the hill is sliding into your property (another thing I didn’t want to know) and I’ve learned that when your tyres are a bit soft the car gets VERY noisy and when the garage doesn’t put the seal back on the oil pump everything grinds to a very messy halt. It’s been an eventful and panicky lockdown – quite scary at times! I’ve even found myself wishing I was a blokey bloke so that I’d know how to deal with all these things. They just do, don’t they? Weird.

More happily, I’ve learned that God is beyond good, and that I am no earthly use, and that this is OK. I’ve learned that the Bible is alive and relevant and piercing – and not always the most comfortable read. And I’ve learned that God is to be trusted and that with trust comes real solid pinch-me joy. Pinch me hard, and let me know I’m not dreaming.

This blog is read in 37 countries – not by hundreds of people, but by a few every now and then, so I’d better bring you up to date with where we are just now with our lockdown here in Wales. We are edging very very very slowly towards a lessening of regulations. We are confused, a bit bored and tetchy, our thinking is growing circular, muffled and blunt, and, speaking for myself, being a selfish shellfish, I’m not always aware and focussed on the fact that this is a time of acute pain and loss for so many. In this part of the country the restrictions have been followed, there have been few deaths, and it’s a shock to turn on the tv and to see the mass graves in New York. It’s a wake-up call to think of and pray for friends in South Africa, in Italy, in London, in the Midlands, in the USA.

We have to make an effort to remember, when we are so far apart, that there is real grief in a world of mourning, that yes, we’re human and flawed and so we make jokes about lemon drizzle cakes and drains, but this is a time when our priority is to pray, and to extend love those who are suffering deep loss. A time for prayer. A time to grow.

Lockdown has had its small triumphs and good lessons well as floods and landslides…. I’ve learned a lot about love, and about friendship.

“A friend in need” the saying goes “is a friend indeed.”

A more colloquial rendering of that wisdom is “A friend in need is a bloody nuisance.”

Many of us have discovered friendship in this time of real need. The supermarkets are full of people who are shopping for those who are self-isolating, and there are stories of kindness and selflessness running alongside all the stories of stupidity and greed. In my village people are baking for each other, checking that the elderly are OK, showing real care and concern, not just clapping the NHS . How I hated that little ritual…

But I do appreciate the real kindness I’ve been shown and, as I can’t go on the street and applaud my friends, I’ll tell you about them instead:

With no outside space of my own, I’ve appreciated being invited to join neighbours in their gardens – in fact just four homely low-key visits have been life savers. True friendship isn’t about shared belief, or age, or gender, or nationality. It’s not talking about love. Friendship is a rickety chair on uneven ground and a mug of tea and the sun overhead, and laughter. These friends are as different from me as anyone could possibly be, different beliefs, lifestyles, ages, nationalities, sexualities, histories, we have nothing in common at all. At the start of lockdown I was studying James and I’ve just closed the commentary on it, sated and happy. In the second chapter there’s a warning against saying the right and ‘kindly’ thing but then doing nothing – James tells us that it’s no good wishing someone was warm and fed if we then walk away, leaving them cold and starving. Saying the right things to ease us through the moment, giving false hope and empty comfort, is hypocritical. It’s also something that us people of faith do quite a bit. But James warns us that when do this, our faith is dead.

These neighbours of mine who have offered friendship, are not the ones who say all the right things at all, it would never occur to them to say “We love you.” Instead they say “We’ve got the kettle on so come round right now, we’ll sit in the garden and we’ll see how much nonsense we can come up with.” I am so appreciative – they’re all partnered, they have each other, they don’t need my company, but they offer theirs.

Here’s another pertinent saying; “They put their money where their mouth is.”

I thank God for my non Christian friends. Pagans, agnostics, atheists all. They are a gift from God. He loves them. They are amazing.

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