Survival Tactics

One aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic that has simultaneously amused and horrified me has been the survival tactics adopted by various people. If their social media posts are to be believed, they have ranged from eating and drinking too much, making sourdough loaves, and de-cluttering to learning sanskrit, dieting and binge-watching Netflix. I wonder about those not posting on social media, those in low-paid jobs (or perhaps, no job at all), struggling with depression or another form of ill-health, those just desperate to get by and seeing no end in sight to their troubles. In the monastery, we have encountered a few practical difficulties, but the routine of prayer, work and observance goes on day after day, largely uninterrupted by events outside the cloister. We are, after all, accustomed to solitude, silence and dealing with most domestic emergencies by ourselves (boiler break-downs excepted). But that isn’t really a survival tactic, is it? It is simply ordinary monastic life. A survival tactic suggests to me a way of coping with the extraordinary, and today’s Mass readings strike me as providing a very profound one.

The first reading, Ecclesiasticus 27. 33 – 28.9, is a searing indictment of anger and resentment which bring death to the soul. The gospel, Matthew 18.21–35, is a direct warning of what to expect if we fail to forgive. But it is the second reading, Romans 14. 7–9, which provides a wider context for both. The way we ourselves live, our readiness to forgive, affects not just ourselves but others and taps into the life and forgiveness we experience in Christ. If we pause for a moment and reflect, that is extraordinary. It gives to our whole life a significance and purpose that we might not recognize. What we think and say and do matters. We can give life, or inflict death. St Basil says somewhere that if we have love in us, God dwells in us; but if we harbour hatred and resentment, the devil dwells within us. The choice is plain. Whatever our external circumstances, whatever restrictions the pandemic may impose upon us, we can channel this life-giving love and forgiveness towards others and in so doing discover that we have received the same gifts. A survival tactic? Yes, and more than that.

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9 thoughts on “Survival Tactics”

  1. I have preached twice in the past week on the readings from Matthew and Luke which speak of forgiveness as I will today, as I lead a “Service of the Word” basically Morning Prayer on Sunday, in the absence of our Vicar due to illness and no other Priest available to celebrate Holy Communion. And it will be live streamed – something I have been keen to avoid to date. But needs must.

    As you are aware my survival tactics have been initially, sticking to the rules, and only going out for essentials. Latterly, following Jen’s troke, rehab and recovery at home, it has been about protecting and supporting her. Now she is independent and is actually returning to work (on a limited basis on Monday), for the first time in five months (apart from her time in hospital) I will be home alone, apart from the Cats. And I am not looking forward to that. I know I have plenty to do, including keeping house, editing the parish magazine, researching future sermons and maintaining out two facebook groups and whatsapp group. But my comfort zone of someone beside me will be missing for some of each day. I have decided that I will spend some time with the Bible and a lovely Catholic Prayer book (in English and Latin) I purchased some time ago, and I believe will fill my time adequately as I try my very rusty Latin to read some of the wonderful prayers there to Our Lady, to Joseph and those I am missing from my youth. I will also indulge in the Psalms in traditional language in the Book of Common Prayer, which I also love. It might not be survival tactics, rather I think, revival tactics for my faith and love for things that are so precious to me, but are missing from so many lives these days.

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  2. Dear Sister, I had pondered on today’s readings before reading your straight – talk blog, which has encouraged me no end. God ‘s example of love and forgiveness is very hard to follow at times! So thank you. The sun is shining .. All is well.

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  3. Sister, I read today’s readings early this morning and my heart sank because I am dealing with so much anger and disappointment now. I am Canadian, and as I watch the reprehensible shenanigans of Trump which affect us even in our own country, or the entitled Catholics who walk into our cathedral saying they are exempt from the mask bylaw and so are all their children, or the favouritism of poor workers at the expense of good workers at my place of employment which may result in layoffs, or the myriad other injustices in this world, I just get angry – plain and simple – to the point where I am sometimes not able to pray or even think of anything else.

    So today’s words are words for me, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, I am the reader at the cathedral for this evening’s Mass. God does indeed have a very good sense of humour. I can practically feel him poking me and giving me the stern but loving eyeball. This pandemic and its resulting chaos is starting to get to me and yet we all must keep enduring. If nothing else, I have become well aware that this world is truly a place of exile. Our hope is elsewhere. Here it is all endurance and some days we must look very carefully for the consolations.

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    • If only we were all as honest as you have been in your comment! You don’t have to hide your anger from the Lord. He knows and understands. Some people know me as ‘the nun who shook her fist at the Tabernacle’ (long story). I’m not proud of that, but I do believe that we go to God as we are, not pretending to be the ‘nice’ person we assume God wants. Be encouraged.

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      • Well, if nothing else, Sister, I have always been brutally honest with God. I have stamped my feet, pointed my finger accusingly, yelled, and turned my back on Him rather sulkily. As you say, I am not proud of the behaviour, but I know that He knows what I am thinking already and I figure that if a plaster a smile on my face and fake some piety, that is just hypocrisy. I believe he cherishes on honest heart – even if it is angry – rather than a heart full of pious hypocrisy. And if nothing else, I know that beyond my immaturity, misunderstandings, and exhaustion, lies a God who loves me as I am beyond measure. I guess we both have that going for us. 🙂

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  4. So true, but there is an upside. The street that I live on in London has seen a huge outpouring of care and concern for all the community. It’s a long street – 130 houses and over 500 residents. The elderly have been phoned, provided with meals and shopping, students have been helped with studying, the Anglican Church at the end of the street which has always been community minded has been a real focus and the community raised over £2000 to help it to survive lockdown. Despite the frustrations and difficulties we all feel that a great deal of good has come from all this and the community is much stronger than before. We’ve even forgiven the lad who played his grime music non stop for more hours than I care to remember!

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  5. Sister, it seems that about two-thirds of the Gospels address forgiveness. One might think that that in itself would make the process easier but it doesn’t. The beauty of the letter of St Paul to the Romans is that this love described is restorative without any retribution. The Gospel leaves me wanting. The parable leaves no room for process and time. Can deep forgiveness be as easy as a snap of the finger? Isn’t the start of the process deciding one will embrace the possibility and desire and openness to forgive?… As an aside I read the first reading as a Lector in the U.S. Our first reading was Sirach: 27:30-28:7. not the Reading you mention. We don’t have the same Lectionary? I never knew.

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    • Forgiveness is never easy, nor is it a once for all business, I agree. I also see it as a process and have often written about it as such. We have to insert ourselves into Christ’s action of forgiveness, again and again. Unfortunately, the scriptural excerpts we are given in the Mass lectionary do tend to truncate important aspects of the theology we draw from them. So, for example, as you imply, today’s gospel reading may suggest that forgiveness is done and dusted as soon as we decide to forgive; but we know it isn’t. Yes, there are variations in the Mass lectionary. The readings are ultimately the responsibility of the Bishops’ Conference of the region in which Mass is celebrated.

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