From the Rectory. Iffley Parish Magazine, December 2020.
I write to you during our second lockdown, uncertain what to plan for Christmas and unsure whether public worship will be able to take place. Please see the church website and notice boards for the most recent information and for all Christmas services & activities.
I’ve found that during both lockdowns my mind has sought solace and inspiration from others who have had to endure long periods of isolation. One of the things that makes enduring the lockdowns so difficult is that we’ve not freely chosen them; they’ve been imposed on us. Who else has a lockdown imposed on them? Prisoners and those held hostage.
One such group were the hostages that were taken in Beirut in the 1980s,Terry Waite, John McCarthy and Brian Keenan. Brian Keenan was teaching English at the American University in Beirut when he was kidnapped and spent the next four and a half years as a captive (11 April 1986-24 August 1990). In 1992 he wrote about his experiences in captivity in the book ‘An Evil Cradling’ (London: Hutchinson, 1992).
It is a harrowing account, but not entirely. There are surprising moments of indescribable joy. Recently I’ve been drawn back to one such moment described graphically in the book (p.68f):
“Another day. The Shuffling Acolyte and I take part in our daily ritual, that long walk to the toilet. That same walk back and I am home again. I don’t look any more at the food, knowing its monotony will not change, not even its place on my filthy floor…….With calm, disinterested deliberation I pull from my head the filthy towel that blinds me, and slowly turn to go like a dog well-trained to its corner, to sit again, and wait and wait, forever waiting. I look at this food which I know to be the same as it always has been.
But wait. My eyes are almost burned by what I see. There’s a bowl in front of me that wasn’t there before. A brown button bowl and in it some apricots, some small oranges, some nuts, cherries, a banana. The fruits, the colours, mesmerize me in a quiet rapture that spins through my head. I am entranced by colour. I lift an orange into the flat filthy palm of my hand and feel and smell and lick it. Before me is a feast of colour. I feel myself begin to dance, slowly, I am intoxicated by colour.
I cannot, I will not eat this fruit. I sit in quiet joy, so completely, beyond the meaning of joy. My soul finds its own completeness in that bowl of colour. The forms of each fruit. The shape and curl and bend all so rich, so perfect. I want to bow before it, loving that blazing, roaring orange colour. What I have waited and longed for has without my knowing come to me, and taken all of me.”
Reading this helps me appreciate the richness of life that I can still enjoy. And it invites me to savour all the more the surprises that cut across my path each day; such as when out for a walk I see someone that I know and can enjoy their company for a while.
If I can cultivate a little of this attitude in myself then perhaps I will still be able to celebrate Christmas whatever my circumstances. After all Christmas has at it’s heart an even greater surprise than a bowl of fruit!
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