Pause for thought: Making the change
Like me, you may feel secure within Covid constraints and have acclimatised to impoverished social interaction. Yet this is far from life in all its fullness. Others describe similar experiences, so I know I’m not alone in this.
Heaney’s poem Skylight speaks to me about the often-‘claustrophobic’ frameworks within many of our social institutions. I’m not for one moment suggesting we discard safeguarding and genuinely necessary regulations, far from it. However, I wonder to what extent as Christians, we may have lost our nerve, become confined in our imagination? I invite you to reflect on your gifting, your calling, your leadership as you read Heaney’s poem:
You were the one for skylights.
I opposed Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof Effect.
I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.
But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.
Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground: Poems, 1966-1996 (London: Faber, 2002), p. 350.
If you’re reading this from a place of exhaustion, how might you nudge a slate to one side, hesitantly ease open a window, and invite surprise into your life afresh? If you’re feeling that bit stronger, what servant leadership might you exercise in collaboration with others to restore life and invite the sky into your workplace, your community, your home?
A similar thought is echoed by Ewan Kelly and John Swinton in the Introduction to their edited book Chaplaincy and the Soul of Health and Social Care (2020). The opening quote could have been written for the present:
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.
Abraham Lincoln, Address to Congress, 1862, cited by Kelly and Swinton, p. 19.
Kelly and Swinton invite us to step back from our day-to-day routines and consider the bigger picture, to ask deeper/wider/higher questions. They call for new models of chaplaincy that steer away from the icebergs instead of simply calling for more speed.
Revd Dr Julian Raffay