Preacher: Suzanne Hyde

Suzanne Hyde

Well we are certainly living in discombobulating times! Thinking about today’s reading, particularly the one from 2 Timothy, I felt myself almost envying St Paul as he proclaimed, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’ We of course, are all still in the middle of a most challenging and exhausting battle. When Covid and then Lockdown first began, as a Nation we embraced the collective challenge to stay safe, to do our bit and indeed many people found creative and constructive ways to re-structure their lives and the St Marylebone HCC did too!

As restrictions eased we enjoyed greater freedom, but just when we thought the end of the race was in sight, we turn the corner and realised we still have a long, complex road ahead of us. The problem is most of us have used up our resources – and our resilience; patience and optimism are failing. I have noticed in my own clients that they are struggling far more now, than earlier in this pandemic. And of course we are facing dark winter nights as well as further restrictions – the mood all around us and that I heard articulately expressed by Lord Hennessy on Radio 4 is that ‘we face what must be a winter of bleakness, loss and widespread anxiety…a perilous winter.’  Sorry – a rather bleak way to start! But hang in there……

So, whilst feeling rather envious of Paul, I then read the context of this letter to his much missed friend Timothy. In fact, his letter overall is rather subdued. Historians believe Paul wrote this letter after he had been arrested and imprisoned, and shortly after this he suffered a martyr’s death. He confides to Timothy that he misses his friends, that winter is coming, he feels his death is imminent and he speaks bitterly of the failure of many of his friends to stand by him. It’s all now sounding rather familiar. I wonder how many of our emails, letters and texts have followed a similar pattern over the past months. But the crucial thread that runs through the whole letter is that ‘he knows ‘who he has believed in’ [2 Tim 2, 11-13] and despite all he holds firmly to his faith.

Even though St Paul can’t hide his despondency, he still encourages his colleagues [in the chapter before [2 Timothy 3] to hold on to sound doctrine, right conduct and to oppose false teaching and to be steadfast in their response to all situations.

Paul here is talking of course about being ‘resilient’. Resilience is not denying the gravity of a situation or just covering over our feelings with jolly platitudes, but making a realistic appraisal of a situation and at the same, time holding fast to our beliefs and values. This was brought home to me in an assessment I was doing the other day.  I had been asked to explore someone’s resilience. I was struck when the person, who was recovering from a recent psychiatric admission, said they had realised that ‘resilience’ wasn’t just a matter of just ‘pushing through.’ They thought because they had ‘survived’ many terrible things over their lifetime, that they were resilient. However, Lockdown had revealed their deep vulnerability and they had suffered – along with one in four people in the UK – increased mental illness over the past months.

Wikipedia provides a helpful definition of resilience. ‘Psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting the self from the potential negative effects of stressors”’. As I talked with this person, they shared the things they were now putting in place to help them to develop their capacity to weather the current storms.

Whilst resilience is a current buzz word, Jesus got there – as usual – way before we did. In our reading from St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, whilst appreciating that there was an enormous amount of work to do and not enough people to do it [sound familiar], takes time to prepare his disciples for the difficulties that lie ahead – in essence, to adopt behaviours that will increase their resilience.

He counsels them [and having looked at many of the Mental Health organisations current Advice pages, the advice is remarkably similar]

  • Firstly, he exhorts them to make sure they travel with someone else. Good advice for us all – don’t go it alone! Reach out to others – stay in touch through all the resources we have at hand. Just having someone else’s perspective on a situation can help to shift our own position and make us less susceptible to ‘going down rabbit holes’ as I like to call them i.e. thought processes that are negative and self-destructive.

 

  • He instructs them to choose carefully who they associate with. Also important for us, to be with people who encourage and support us. We also need to be careful about what we read and listen to. Jesus cautions them: ‘you are lambs among wolves’. We can be remarkably naïve and like Pollyanna, want the world to be how we would like it to be, not how it is.

 

  • He encourages them to ‘travel light’; to not be encumbered by possessions and paraphernalia. How many of us have become aware of how much clutter and unnecessary baggage we carry? Having less can help us to appreciate what we do have.

 

  • He also urges them not to be pre-occupied with outcomes, but to focus on what they have been commissioned to do. If people receive and make use of what we give them – that’s great, if they don’t that’s not our business and we don’t need to lose sleep over it. Many times, Jesus reminds us to just focus on what is within our circle of influence and control and not to get busy with what everyone else is doing. This is a key factor in mental health and often media sources can contribute to anxiety and confusion as we are influenced by what others are doing and saying.

 

  • Jesus also encourages them to ‘receive’ from others and to attend to their physical needs. He obviously predicted the pandemic as he exhorts them not to go ‘from house to house’, but to stay in one place [sorry I couldn’t resist]. But seriously, it’s never been more important to make sure that we look after ourselves and ensure that our basic needs for sleep, good nutritious food, gentle exercise and rest are being met.

 

I often check in with my clients on how they are doing in these areas. Recently, I had breakfast with a lovely friend, who is working in A & E in a London Hospital. I was so impressed as she shared how she has ‘up-scaled’ her own personal self-care during these times, despite working 13-hour shifts! Even though she’s a hero – she recognises that she doesn’t have super-powers and needs to rest and replenish. Someone else told me that they set themselves small goals, like making their bed every day or just writing in a gratitude journal a few minutes each day. If we are not sleeping well it affects our judgement and increases our anxiety. In Japanese Prisoner-of-War camps, they used to wake prisoners up every hour, so that when they interrogated them, they were often disoriented, anxious and unable to sustain their resistance.

Overall, Jesus is saying that in order to be a healing force in the world and effectively do His work, we have to make sure we prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead, not just mindlessly or frantically reacting to situations around us.

I know last year when I preached, I spoke about the film The Joker. In finishing today, I want to mention a rather more nourishing and inspiring film, that is currently showing on Netflix, called My Octopus Teacher [it’s great for kids too!] It’s a beautiful documentary where a filmmaker, having a sort of breakdown of his own, starts snorkling and comes across an Octopus camouflaged by lots of beautiful shells and which it only shakes off when it feels safe. By developing a relationship with the Octupus, the filmmaker begins to slowly learn how to take care of himself and to become re-invigorated by the beauty of life, as well as acknowledging its terrible and sometimes destructive forces.

What struck me in reflecting on resilience, is that there is a misconception that resilience is something you either possess or don’t. However, resilience is something we can choose to ‘develop’ through difficult times by drawing on the resources within ourselves and around us. It isn’t something magical. The person I mentioned earlier had grasped this and was able to see how she needed to create new habits to help her respond to difficulties and challenges. Or as one writer comments:

 No matter how bleak or menacing a situation may appear, it does not entirely own us. It can’t take away our freedom to respond, our power to take action.
Ryder Carroll

I heard a quote recently that ‘we are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.’  I think this applies to resilience too – what works for one person, may not for another. We have to discover our own particular tool-kit to navigate the crazy waters that we find ourselves in. Jesus exhorts us to ‘speak peace’ to those we encounter but we are also in need of that peace ourselves before we can sustainably reach out to others. So wherever you are in your personal boat – it may be a lonely one, or it may be crowded with children/or people dependent on you, I hope you will find the strength to navigate safely through and that your resilience will be developed and that with St Paul you can confidently say ‘you have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the Faith’

Amen.

The Feast of St Luke 2020

Suzanne Hyde

Today is the day we celebrate St Luke.  He was believed to have been a physician and is the patron Saint of Doctors. So, as the Director of Clinical services of the Healing and Counselling centre down in the Crypt, St Luke has a special place in my heart.

Whilst thinking about today’s service, and what to speak on, I went to the cinema to see the film ‘Joker’; which focuses on a dystopian world set in Gotham City. The film gives the backstory of an evil supervillain  – the Joker – featured in the Batman films. It shows the central characters slow descent into mental illness and a life of vicious crime. It is a chilling and difficult film to watch. Afterwards, I found myself thinking about how many times the Joker character had the opportunity to turn things around, or to make different choices. And the times he reached out to others, only to be disappointed and sometimes attacked because he was different or not wanted.  He was not originally a sociopath: he had feelings of love, need, generosity. However, his complex family background, full of secrets and lies, and his sense of rage and injustice, eventually turns him to the dark side. He is desperate to be seen, and in the end, it is by being a figure of terror and anarchy that he finally gets his wish. I don’t want to spoil the film, but there is a deeply moving scene, when the Joker does NOT kill someone – but let’s them live, saying ‘you were the only one who was kind to me.’  One of the cast when interviewed, commented ‘It’s an amazing character study. It’s such an organic evolution of what happens in our society when we don’t take care of people’.

The founder of the healing and counselling centre, the Rev’d Christopher Hammel-Cook] had a vision for St Marylebone to be a place to care for people.   In his obituary in the Times the writer said of St Marylebone: ‘People are offered under the same cavernous roof a wide range of medical, psychological, social and spiritual skills.’ All these services under one roof having a common quest for healing and wholeness.

And of course, never has our world needed so much healing! There has been much in the press recently about the soaring suicide rates in the UK, and just to give you a few facts [sourced from The Samaritans], in 2018, suicide rates rose by 11.8%, with 6,507 people taking their own life. And a chilling fact is that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. But as the film the Joker so powerfully documents it is not one-off traumas or difficulties that lead to mental illness or suicide, and indeed crime. In fact I was interviewing someone who works as clinical lead in a high security prison last week, and he verified that  all of the prisoners, had suffered long-term, sustained, neglect, abuse and when shown care and kindness, were able to begin changing some behaviours.

Closer to home, a colleague from another pastoral organisation told me over lunch the other day that she had met with a Vicar to discuss a project, and asked him, ‘how are you?’. He looked shocked, and then tearfully said, that in 23 years of being a Vicar, no-one had ever asked him how HE was. This comment has stayed with me and came back to me as I read the two passages we heard earlier.

In the reading from the Second Letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4, 1-18) St Paul shows that he is no stranger to disappointment, betrayal and pain. In this pastoral epistle, which he wrote at the end of his life, hence his comments about having ‘finished the race’, ‘fighting the good fight’, he takes great care to instruct his friends and colleagues on how to navigate their way through the choppy waters of life. And these instructions address the physical, spiritual and mental needs of people, much as St Marylebone seeks to do and also much as St Luke does in the other reading we heard (Luke 10, 1-9). Neither Paul nor Luke would have had access to the behavioural psychologist Eric Maslow’s famous, hierarchy of needs. However, their instruction follows his pattern. We are physical beings and if are physical needs are not taken care of then we cannot attend to our psychological or spiritual needs. Luke instructs the disciples to attend to their physical needs, to find safe shelter, avoid danger, make sure they eat and drink well. To do meaningful work and to be remunerated for it. Having done all these things, they can be in a position to bring peace and to offer healing to those in need.

Looking at the psychological perspective, St Paul refreshingly expresses his feelings; he talks about his bitter disappointment, his upset about being betrayed. He doesn’t cover over his feelings with sweet platitudes. He confides in his friends so that they can support him. He doesn’t do the British ‘stiff upper lip’, which can leave us isolated and at the mercy of our inner demons.  Equally he warns against taking revenge or bitterness, which can, as we know eat away at a person’s soul and personality – or as I like to think of it, it’s like eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die! Both Paul and Luke caution against naivety, about being wise as to people’s motives and capacities. Not everyone wants our help or is able to make use of what we offer. Likewise we can expect to be deserted and let down at times, and here it is crucial that we can draw on a Spiritual perspective and guidance.

St Paul admonishes us to ‘keep our head in all situations’ and to develop endurance. Carolyn Myss in her book about Theresa of Avila comments that we need to ‘develop a spiritual practice, a discipline, in which every day something is expected of you as an individual……..to maintain rituals that invoke grace and generate a connection with the sacred in your daily life…..and to build a soul with stamina.’ [Caroline Myss, Page 46/47, Entering the Castle.] And of course at St Marylebone we offer a mid-week and a monthly healing service. If you have never been to it, I would encourage you to come along. When I first started here, when people went up for the laying on of hands, I sat back rather primly for the first few times, thinking ‘as Director I should not be seen as needing healing!’ And then I realised, ‘why wouldn’t I receive this beautiful ministry?’….we are all in need of healing!

St Luke exhorts the disciples to speak peace into people’s lives and to bring the Kingdom of God into the world. This is not a just a Spiritual manifestation, but includes bringing our whole mind, body and Spirit into the service of peace and healing.

In conclusion, you may have noticed that we have added a new strapline to the Healing and Counselling Centre’s header. It says: ‘Changing lives every day’. When I first came up with this, I wondered, is that a bit grandiose? but actually it does describe our work and mission – reaching out to people in need and hopefully giving them the tools, understanding and support to make better choices. And this is often how healing and wholeness get established, little by little, day by day, reaching out, being kind – both to ourselves and to others.  The film the ‘Joker’ and the devastating suicide figures and other headline news that one in three people will experience a mental health problem in their life, show that when services are cut and people are isolated, there are terrible consequences.  Similarly, in our own lives, when we get out of balance, perhaps we can remember St Marylebone’s focus on mind, body and spirit as a reminder to not prioritise one part at the expense of the other. Being so focused on spiritual things that we lose our sense of grounded-ness. Being so busy working that we don’t allow time for rest and replenishment, both spiritually, mentally and physically. St Luke laments, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’ May we all be, in whatever sphere of work or service we perform, the voice of peace and hope – and maybe now and again ask Father Stephen, Father Jack and Mother Katy, how they are!

Suzanne Hyde

I have been Clinical Director of the Healing and Counselling service [down in the crypt] for just over two years now and it has been a whirlwind of activity and growth.  One of the most exciting things about the Centre is that it offers in-depth help to people who are in pain and suffering from all sorts of mental challenges – anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders etc.  We see people from all walks of life and Religion or none –some highly successful outwardly, but inwardly feeling impoverished and desperate. Or people who have never quite been able to launch into life in any meaningful way and others who have sustained often devastating traumas.

The Healing and Counselling centre has a unique position in that whilst the healing service once a month and the mid-week communion all offer opportunities for the laying on of hands and speaking God’s healing into  and over people’s lives, simultaneously, we also know that we are  instructed to ‘work out’ our salvation – to use our talents, and contribute to our own growth. And it is this combination of healing and counselling that the centre represents. We see in the Gospels that Jesus did miracles, healed people instantaneously, even raising them from the dead. But he also gave instructions, imparted wisdom and told parables to help people to live more whole and purposeful lives. ‘ I have come to give you life and life more abundantly’ he exclaims. [John 10.10]

Although we all may know that occasionally  miracles and healing can happen, however in this short time that I have to speak to you today – I wanted to draw attention to the ‘miracle’ of ordinary healing and wholeness [which actually is quite extraordinary and miraculous in itself]. When we have a physical injury or illness, we may indeed need the intervention of a doctor, but also the body innately knows what to do – it sends white blood cells to the site of injury and puts its energy into repairing the damage. In a similar way when we suffer traumatic, emotionally painful and distressing events – whether from external incidents, or internal unhelpful beliefs often created in childhood, I believe – as the psychologist Carl Jung proposed, that the psyche, much like the body gets to work trying to repair the damage – seeking to restore equilibrium and reaching towards wholeness. Sometimes we might need the support and help of doctors and therapists/counsellors/mental health services [which statistically up to 1 in 3 people will need over their life time], but there are also many helpful Biblical principles which can aid our healing journey and contribute to building a more conscious and robust psychological capacity within us.  A way of thinking about this is when we plant a seed/bulb, it is a miracle [particularly if I’ve planted it], that it starts to grow and turn from a kernel into a beautiful plant. However, we also have to nurture the plant, protect it from frost and storms. Similarly, we have to nurture ourselves and be protective of our own development.

I would like to focus on two pieces of Scripture that capture this principle.

 1 Firstly

A powerful verse from Hebrews [who scholars think may have been written by St Luke] – the writer says: Hebrew 12 v 13

Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.’

I often use this verse – or a paraphrase of it – to encourage people that when they have an injury/hurt/upset, that whilst we are not in always in control of what happens to us – bereavement, illness, redundancy. We, however, can ‘make it worse’ or exacerbate the injury.  Over my 18 years working as a therapist, I have noticed a pattern in a lot of my patients. Many have sustained deep injuries from childhood or other traumas – real injuries – painful rejections and abuse – and I have deep empathy with their pain. However, I also notice that often people make things worse [in fact I’ve done this myself] – so that the injury rather than allowed to heal and recover – gets worse. I often say to them, if you have a broken leg you see the doctor they attend to the injury, but then you have to rest and make sure you don’t do things that will undo the help that has been given.The innate healing processes in the body will do the rest – but if you decide to veer off the straight path and climb a mountain or cover rough terrain you are going to make the injury – as the verse above says, potentially irreversible[psychologists and psychoanalysts have spent years trying to explain this phenomenon of sabotaging our own healing.] Yes, some wounds leave terrible scarring and we may be left with a vulnerability in a particular area. But the wisdom of scripture is ‘keep it clean’ – make straight paths, give yourself, your body and your spirit the best chance to heal and recover.

 The Second piece of wisdom comes from an interesting dialogue between Jesus and St Peter, just before the ascension. Jesus is telling Peter what is going to happen to him and what his path ahead is going to be.

[in John 21, v 23] ‘Truly I say unto you when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will guide you and carry you where you do not wish to go. [this he said to show by what death he was to glorify god.] And after this he said to him “follow me.”’

  However, the very interesting – and often over-looked  part of this vignette, is when the ever so human Peter, turns to Jesus and exclaims, looking at John ‘Lord what about this man?’ Jesus replies: ’ If it is my will that he remain until I come, WHAT IS THAT TO YOU, YOU FOLLOW ME’.  Those five words: what is that to you? Are a powerful instruction from Jesus. He is basically saying ‘mind your own business, focus on what your path is.’
One of the biggest problems in our Society and a key contributor to mental health issues is comparing ourselves to other people. Facebook and other Social media have exacerbated this with the ‘look at my marvellous life’ pictures [and rarely showing the difficult issues.] However, we can also see in Biblical times that they weren’t immune to competition and curiosity about what other people were doing: who was better? has a more important role etc. But Jesus is very clear ‘what is that to you – you follow YOUR PATH – the one that is meant for you.’ I call it ‘getting busy’ by being distracted by the ‘it’s not fair, how come they have…a better education, more money, a good job?’ Rather, we are called to focus  on the work that we need to do, regardless of what anyone else is doing. It requires discipline but it also brings freedom.

So to summarise whilst not wanting to underestimate the hard work that can be involved in healing – whether physical or mental, and the complexity of the world we currently live in with all its demands and very real traumas, I hope these two nuggets that I have shared with you from Scripture, might be  helpful to you. St Luke, as we know was a doctor and his name means the bringer of ‘light’. He attended to people’s physical needs but also shed light and counsel on their psychological and spiritual needs.

We need to make straight paths for our feet and wise choices, so that the healing that is available can unfold. We need to co-operate with the healing processes.

We also have to resist being distracted or pre-occupied by other people’s journeys and experience,  we are clearly told to  follow the path that we are on and make the most of it. In fact Jung helpfully points out [and I have this quote on my kitchen blackboard to remind me] that ‘if the path ahead of you is clear you are probably on someone else’s path!

A small story to conclude, on Friday I was having lunch with a colleague from the Centre. She shared with me a story of St Marylebone church that many of you may know, but I actually didn’t. She told me that in the war, all the stained glass windows in the church were blown out and destroyed. However, the windows, although they couldn’t be re-constructed as they were, the pieces were gathered together and made into the windows we see today. I came into the Church afterwards and stood looking at the beautiful windows and was reminded again of how even shattered things can be restored.  With the vision of a good architect, hard work and patience, something new and beautiful can be created. They may not be as they were before,  but with effort, skill, faith and hope, shattered pieces and lives can be rebuilt and transformed.