One of my favourite jazz singers is the late great Ella Fitzgerald. A great classic of hers is Stormy Weather and the words were going around my mind as I sat down to write this.
“Life is bad, gloom and misery everywhere, stormy weather, just can’t get my poor self together, I’m weary all the time.”
Hot on the tail of two years of pandemic, we have endured this month three powerful storms that have been causing havoc throughout the country; the clean up operation will take months. Following the natural storms, we now face the dark clouds of conflict as Europe stands on the brink of war. Not a small local conflict in a remote outpost but in one of the largest countries in Europe. And there are implications for us in London – sometimes called Londongrad because of the amount of dubious money that is invested here. There are implications for our whole country too – cyber warfare has been carried out successfully in the past with disastrous results and may well be part of the armoury used against the allies in the approaching conflict.
Life does seem to have surprises, not always pleasant ones, around the corner. As today’s letter of St James puts it rather ascerbically, “You never know what will happen tomorrow; you are no more than a mist that is here for a little while and then disappears. The most you should ever say is: ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall still be alive to do this or that’”. That is indeed true, but I don’t think it means we need become fatalist or think that there is nothing we can do in response to the vicissitudes of life.
The people of Ukraine seem to be taking a positive attitude, almost like the Blitz spirit during the second world war. Grannies learning self defence, people going about their business, determined to stand up to the aggressor. I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a worshipper at the cathedral in Kiev say this, ‘if we remain calm, then Putin has not defeated us inside’.
Today the Church remembers St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, one of the first Christian martyrs who faced conflict most of his life and martyrdom when he was an old man. As the persecution of Christians began the Roman proconsul gave Polycarp the choice; renounce his faith and save his life, or die. Polycarp’s calm response was this
‘I have served him for eighty six years, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?’ Polycarp had an inner calm, a spirituality that sustained him in the face of terror.
We don’t know what is around the corner, but we know the one who travels with us. As Christians, we are called to trust, to tread this earth lightly, to walk in the power of the spirit, and not in our own strength or anxiety. We are also called to pray for our leaders, for those who suffer and to seek truth and integrity. As we come to God to pray for the healing of our world and for others we pray for his grace to know that healing, peace and calm in our own hearts.
Some apt words from the philosopher Lao Tze
“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours.
If there is to be peace between neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”