Terry was a science teacher for over twenty years before becoming an Education Consultant specialising in Management Training and Personal Development. He also served for a time as a Local Councillor for a Whitstable ward. Terry is a member of All Saints and has been for many years a Lay Preacher in Baptist and other churches.
My first awareness of the painter L S Lowry would have been in 1978 when the music duo Brian and Michael hit the number one charts with their song “Matchstick Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs”, a reference to Lowry’s idiosyncratic depiction of people in an industrial urban landscape. Of course, the figures in the paintings are not quite what we would term ‘matchstick’ which normally is characterised by simple single line markings, but I think we can quite easily appreciate why the songwriters’ chose this particular metaphor.
Something strikes me when I look at some of Lowry’s urban scenes, populated by so many anonymous people. Paradoxically, there is a sense of the people being in a state of ‘separately together’. They are in close proximity yet, for the most part, they also seem to reflect a strong sense of being independent and even alone. There does not seem to be so much sense of the relational. I think perhaps this is a consequence of the starkness in which the figures are drawn, the freezing of a moment in time, and the strongly geometric representation of the background buildings that frame the people in the foreground. Lowry has been quoted as saying about his figures “They are all lonely, you know”.
This possibility of people being ‘together’, and at the same time ‘alone’, strikes me as mirroring the strange, tragic and fearful situation that a biologically simple virus life-form has imposed upon us. We are certainly ‘in this together’ , occupying the same physical and social landscape, but at the same time required to be considerably ‘alone’ through the curtailing of normal social interaction. Specifically, for us as Christians, we are temporarily deprived of the vital Christian element of Ekklesia, the New Testament word for Church, not the building, but the gathering for worship, fellowship, and reciprocal ministery. I don’t think we will ever take this for granted again. It is perhaps a time to allow the Spirit to shape our hearts and minds anew, helping us to discover what is truly important in life, and to value again what we have tended to take for granted. Perhaps this is a time to give more attention to our inner spiritual world, a world that God inhabits comprehensively with the full spectrum of Divine love ?
It is likely that our generation will discover new ways of continuing Christian fellowship ‘at a distance’ when required. We are gifted with the technology to telephone, text, Email, face-time, etc. But there are many who cannot access these and they will require particular attention. Above all, our love and concern for one another will surely lead us to pray both empathetically and expectantly. Love, and its beautiful children, Faith and Hope, do not recognise distance or separation. Who knows, in our separation God might work a miracle amongst us! When Jesus reached out to touch the leper he collapsed the space between the Divine and afflicted humanity.
That is also the ministry of today’s church and each of us. Impossible as it seems the challenge is to engage our spiritual imagination and find ways and means. We are grateful that our Pastor Simon has already taken the initiative in this task.
For followers of Christ ‘Thankfulness’ is a deep theological and spiritual concept. It takes us beyond self-focus and orientates us outwards to a focus on the Divine and the creative order of which we are all a part. The very fact of being thankful seems to release the balm of healing and inner peace. With grateful hearts we can daily give thanks for those who continue to work, health professionals and so many others, putting themselves at risk as they deliver essential services. The Bible powerfully echoes to us that “God is Love” and we shall see extraordinary manifestations of that truth, lived in the service and dedication of those who claim to have no religious faith as well as those who do. May we all contribute in whatever way is possible at this strange and unsettling time. May we keep each other in our minds and hearts. My we still be together in our separation.
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace . ( Numbers 6: 24-26 )