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Walking on Oceans - courage + beauty in a time of fear

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Note -given our isolation from one another, you may like to contact a friend and discuss these questions and pray together.

How are you coping in these strange times?” This line, or some variation begins most of my sentences today. This ‘time’ that we are in began a while back with an ‘awareness’, then it turned into a ‘trickle’ of references and conversations. China, Wuhan, rescue missions, Christmas Island, quarantine, social distancing, toilet paper, flatten the curve, isolation... Now it is an ocean, it is everywhere, it is all we talk about, all we think about, to the point where it becomes hard to imagine the way through.

As I sit here this morning I reflect on CS Lewis words penned in another time of crisis. Lewis writes:

“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things -- praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts --- not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs”.

This is a very different ‘crisis’, yet the sentiment of Lewis’ note still resonates; how we choose to live now matters. How we choose to relate now matters. How we choose to share and show kindness now matters. These things of course always matter; peacetime, wartime, times of health and times of pandemics. Yet they matter especially now because they reveal so much about our faith and what it is that we place our hope and trust in.

What then does it mean to live well in a time of pandemic? What are the ‘sensible and human things’ for this time? Reassuringly, many of the things that we already do all the time! Things like reading the Bible, praying, walking, cooking, gardening and talking to friends and family.

It’s of comfort to remember the Bible was written in times of crisis, fear and uncertainty - and has an endless wealth of wisdom and life to provide us today. As I’ve reflected on this over the past week, a few key ideas have come to mind and so I share them here as both reminders and as an encouragement in this ‘strange time’.

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1. Now is the time to live our worship

As Christians the songs we sing enrich and deepen us, reminding us of the truth of who God is and what God calls us to be. Yet so often the words we sing each week remain disconnected from our everyday, as we each struggle and fail to have our whole lives be an act of worship to God. As we reflect on what it means to live well in these times, we need to begin by seeing our lives as acts of worship. This means practising those lines that we sing in our worship songs, that we have literally repeated again and again by taking practical discipleship steps to live those out in our everyday life.

Songs like ‘Oceans’ that challenge and encourage us to drawer closer to God and to be guided by the Holy Spirit,

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

(Oceans - Where Feet May Fail, Hillsong United)

The ocean is the perfect metaphor I think for this current pandemic. That sense of the enormity of the situation, of being completely and utterly overwhelmed by this surging and powerful force. In the ancient Hebrew world, the sea was a fearful place (think Jonah and the whale), and to cross it was to engage in the great journey of faith.

Reflect - Worship songs such as Oceans provide both comfort and disquiet to our spirits in times like these as the words take on renewed levels of meaning, significance and challenge. How are the worship songs you sing speaking to you at this time?

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2. Life is Beautiful

One of my favourite films of all time is Life is Beautiful. For those of you who don’t know the film, I’d encourage you to check it out. Set within the unfolding reality of Nazi occupation in Europe, a Jewish father uses humour to shield his young son from the grim realities of war. For me, the film calls to mind that powerful statement by Dostoevsky, which was a favourite of one of my own heroes Dorothy Day. He wrote: "The world will be saved by beauty".

What is the salvation being spoken of here? How can beauty possibly offer us salvation from ourselves and our times? As with many around the country I am working from home and as I write today I am increasingly aware of the calling of the magpie out my window. Oblivious to the times, the magpie sings as usual, calling to its family and going about its day's work. (It’s a pity I associate these birds so closely with the Collingwood football club because they really are beautiful and remarkable creatures!)

What my bird friend has done is provide me with comfort and music during a time of quiet, anxiety and isolation. In their own simple way the magpie has reminded me that there is still a bigger story at work in the world, one which God has in fact declared ‘good’. So whether it’s magpies or cuddles with the dog, let’s remember that life is beautiful and that at this time, we can find salvation in naming, sustaining and creating beauty. We may not be the ‘Italian singing to one another on the balcony types’, but as we confront the ocean all around us, let us commit to be people who in faith and courage are saved by beauty.

Reflect - What is the beauty you are seeing and hearing around you?

Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.

3. Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.

Finally, ‘Oceans’ draws to mind Peter’s failed attempt to meet Jesus as he approaches on the water. (Matthew 14:22-33). You have to admire Peter’s courage; stepping out onto the deep waters to meet Jesus who was coming towards Him. Too often I think we focus on the fact that Peter doubts in this passage - taking his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink. That is important to reflect upon, but I think equally important and the point that is often overlooked is that Peter is the one who steps out, the one who is prepared to live his faith on the ocean of fear and uncertainty.

Jesus' invitation in verse 29 here is to ‘come’, to step out, to trust in Him, to walk on the ocean that is all around us… to keep our eyes fixed upon Him. There is nothing certain about the times we are in; it is literally as if we are seeking to stand on the surface of the ocean. All around us society, businesses, governments, media and of course we as individuals and families are trying to shore up certainty and restore trust. Yet Jesus' invitation to us is to again put our trust in Him. This surely doesn’t mean that everything will be all right, that harm will not come our way or impact those close to us. No, what Jesus' invitation to Peter was then and is to us now, is to understand that only in him will we find solid ground, only in Him will we find real life.

Reflect - Times of crisis have the ability to lay bear all that is otherwise held up as true, meaningful and life-giving. What do you hear Jesus is showing you at this time?