Dear Friends

I am enjoying reading an excellent Lent book this year by Richard Harries entitled ‘Hearing God in Poetry’.  Harries is a prominent retired Church of England Bishop, formerly the Bishop of Oxford.  His book is an anthology of poems for each day of Lent from a wide variety of poets, with his own accompanying analysis and commentary.  
On Monday I read W H Auden’s ‘Memory of W B Yeats’.  Written further to the passing of Yeats in 1939, and in the context of ever increasing worry about impending war in Europe, Auden includes the following lines in the 3rd section which, when I first read them, I could not help but feel a chill from the prophetic tones to our context today:
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Auden is writing about the politics of war; the armies being described as ‘the dogs of Europe’ with the nations waiting, each stuck in its own isolation through hatred.  The ‘intellectual disgrace’ is a charge we may so easily level at those situations where the world has watched horrors unfurl and been seemingly impotent to stand against it unless there is a perceived vested interest in ‘getting involved’.  Few can have witnessed the conflict in Ukraine and not asked the question, “is this not history repeating itself?”, and therefore “how are we allowing this to happen?”.
At times like this many of the previous grievances we may have had politically and economically suddenly seem trivial.  It was only weeks ago that we were all getting incredibly agitated about whether No10 was holding business meetings or cheese and wine parties.  I think most of us would swap the headlines today for those of yesterday in a heartbeat now…
For all the gloominess though, history also shows us that when things get really dark, humanity has a way of winning through in the end, even in the face of unimaginable cost.  That is not by any stretch to say that it’s all ok – it really isn’t – but it is to say that things of light and hope do shine brighter when all seems lost, and we can look for those beacons of hope in our despair.  
One such thing has been the response to the call to find hosts for refugees coming to this country.  It is a resounding testimony to the core good of humanity that in just 24 hours about 130,000 people registered their interest in providing space in their own homes for Ukrainian refugees.  This is inspirational, as has been the response in so many ways over the past couple of weeks.
In our Lent course this week we explored how the cross of Jesus stands as the ‘big cross’ on the horizon, and that in following Jesus we are all called to carry our own crosses too (Matthew 16:24).  We looked at how the cross, what it stands for, is found in our everyday stories, and we vividly found that the cross is not just about darkness, about a reminder of death, but is also about light and life.  In short it is representative of God inhabiting our lives not just for us, but as us, and the full abundance of those lives.  The tears and the laughter.  The darkness and the light.  We made a cross from a collage of newspaper cuttings, and found that it just wasn’t complete unless it reflected the fullness of the human experience; the bad news AND the good news.  Here it is: