REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 50: …and everyman for himself!
I still remember the great joy of an outing to the Saturday movies. It was there I heard the stirring cry of the 3 musketeers: one for all and all for one. Some years ago I was taken by the wit who added: and everyman for himself! Was it cynicism, realism or just a memorable one-liner? I have no idea, but it does add some realism to the ideal expressed by the musketeers.
Realism is always vital in living out our ideals. Not only do high ideals receive criticism but they are often hampered and limited by selfishness, ours and others. It is ever so easy to do even the right and best things for the wrong reasons. This may have been on Paul’s mind as he grappled with his own sin in the famous Romans 7, where it was precisely because of his Godly desires that his struggle with sin was so real. The closer we get to the Light the more we are shown up. Far from a sign of disobedience, our struggle with sin is a sign of our keeping in step with Jesus. We need not despair however, because believers are counted righteous by faith in the life and death of Jesus [Romans 8:1-4], therefore always keen to be giving our all for Jesus, in sanctification [8:5-17] and sacrificial service [12:1-21]. Living for our-self will simply not be an option, even if it seems tantalisingly attractive and easier.
What has this got to do with the pandemic? It is said of the elegant women, in some cultures, who balance a large jar on their heads, that you don’t know what’s in the jar until it is bumped! So too with the tendency for pandemical pressures to throw us off balance. Will our response bring us closer to God and reveal Christlike characteristics or cause us to become self-absorbed and fearful?
Dr Karl Menninger, a one-time President of the American Psychological Association and author of the book, Whatever became of sin? Suggested to a person with problems that it would help them if they left their house to visit someone in need. He was urging the person to take some responsibility for overcoming their problem. Every man for himself thinking is selfish, blaming others as the cause of our concerns. Menninger’s advice, largely neglected I fear, helps us think of others before ourselves, thereby going a long way to reversing our self-focus.
The obvious panic buying of toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic, has thankfully stopped. But has this focus on our own needs been replaced by expectations that others alone are responsible for my problems or be made to pay for their mistakes, whether doing too much or too little in combating covid-19. Having gotten used to not meeting for church, but now with an excuse not to, some it seems, are deciding it is easier not to return. It is so easy for and everyman for himself to extinguish the attractive all for one and all for one motto of the musketeers. But we are wise to recall, what most of us know from experience that everyman for himself thinking never brings the same lasting satisfaction and joy that other-person-centred-living delivers. The apostle Peter, no stranger to hasty self-serving, proved the value of his exhortation a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him [2 Peter 2:19]. The pandemic gives us many opportunities to this other-person focus. A visit, phone call, concerted prayer, a cheque written, an email or hand written note, a listening ear, some well-chosen and thoughtful words with strangers or friends are all vital signs, that in refusing to be overcome by self, we are finding the joy of service by looking out for the needs of others, especially those who cannot repay us [Philippians 2:4].
To pull this off consistently [it is hardly Christian to be content with random acts of kindness] will inevitably draw us to keep on considering Jesus example [Phil 2:5-18], and coming through Him to our dear Father for help [Luke 11:1-13]. The Collect at Morning Prayer reminds us of this real freedom and help. O God, the author and lover of peace, in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; defend us your servants in all assaults of our enemies, that surely trusting in your defence, we may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen [AAPB 1978 following BCP].
My chief adversary, apart from Satan is myself, with the centrifugal pull into self-pity or self-interest. The challenges of the pandemic are another opportunity of proving the twin truths of this prayer: the freedom of service and the strength of Jesus. That He selflessly served us on the Cross and continues to do so as our sympathetic High Priest, continues to assure us of a throne of grace to help us in our time of need [Heb 4:14-16]. Paradoxically the simple prayer of Sir Alec Paterson: O God help us to be masters of ourselves that we may be servants of others, when prayed without any thought of self, will bring us blessing as we seek to help others. The command to carry each-others burdens, not only gives us the joy that in so doing we will fulfil the law of Christ [Gal 6:2] but that our efforts will be aided by God, bring us much encouragement [2 Thess 2:16-17] and become the means of growing our love as it overflows to others [1 Thess 3:12-13]. What we keep we lose and what we give away we gain is proven true.
Peter Brain 17th November, 2020