How to sail without sinking
¡Hola! When we were last here, gazing over the waters to the island of La Gomera, who could have known? This was way back in January 2020 when we made a final call to Café Charlotte on the waterfront at Los Cristianos to say goodbye to Tenerife before our flight back home to a wintery Aughton. Little did we know then that a German tourist had just arrived at La Gomera, bringing with him the yet-to-be-named Covid-19 virus. Within a few days the virus had taken firm hold and within a couple of weeks, soon after we had left, the whole island was in harsh lockdown Strangely some did see it coming. Or at least, those tasked by HM Government to anticipate major disruptions could see that the main threat facing our country was a flu-like pandemic. We now know that we were woefully unprepared; in the provision, for example, of personal protective equipment. The little-known National Infrastructure Commission was established in 2015, an independent agency to monitor not only our economic systems but more, threats to our quality of life. It published its first major report in May, 2020: ‘Anticipate, React, Recover: Resilient Infrastructure Systems.’ Two of its main conclusions then were that we need to better anticipate future shocks by facing up to uncomfortable truths and also that “we should value resilience properly.” Sound advice not just to politicians but to all of us. For we all when facing painful realities prefer to bury our heads in the sand, often all at the same time! And resilience? Here I quote one of my all-time heroes, sporting superstar Eddie the Eagle Edwards: ”Resilience can go an awful long way.” Remember how Eddie always got up after each fall; remember how he dismissed the taunts of his fellow ski-jumpers. Eddie is resilience personified. Someone else who kept on getting up after being knocked down yet again is the apostle Paul: “We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated, he writes to the church in Corinth who caused him so many anxieties. “We are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out!” (2 Corinthians 4:7f JBP translation). We all need to be resilient – which, as it happens, is the current theme of my BRF Guidelines Bible study notes, how we are to find resilience in setbacks and suffering. Beginning in the Old Testament, we read how the people of Israel learned resilience the hard way. To all intents and purposes they were knocked out for good in 587 BC when they were made captive by the Babylonians and exiled to a distant land. By any historical reckoning, that should have seen them off for good, never to rise again. Addressing a broken people, God’s prophet speaks hope: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” (Isaiah 51:6). In other words, decide to see yourselves and your situation through God’s eyes, the God who made heaven and earth, stronger than any force that would destroy you. God is our good creator and will redeem his people, however dire their situation. We see this most vividly in Jesus who stills the storm and in a clear reference to the God who creates, walks on water. And it is this Jesus whom all the powers of darkness would crush, even destroy him, at the cross. They threw everything: at him: injustice, oppression, humiliation, betrayal, physical pain, even death. His resurrection victory reveals him as both model for our resilience and more importantly, its source. We are to be marked out by his resilience. As the BRF commentator writes: “Sometimes Jesus does not still the storm immediately. Sometimes he sends us into the storm. Sometimes he calls us out on to the water. Sometimes we sink. The faith that proves resilient is the one that follows, trusts Jesus, commits to following him wherever he calls and whatever he commands. He does prove his power to conquer in the end.” (page 18). And going back to the NIC report, we need to face up to some uncomfortable truths, not least about ourselves. Over these last two years the experience of long periods of self-isolation has been painful. Many of us have experienced major mental health issues. For some, a painful discovery – we are not as strong as we thought. Like the first disciples of Jesus, we realise there are still areas where we do not trust him and panic. No problem – for the simple reason God knows this, even if we do not. And he promises his presence alongside us. And more, he shows his love in the way we need each other. We are to “carry one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2). Looking now over to Gomera, half-hidden in the morning mist, this is invariably the starting point for anyone wanting to row or sail single-handedly across the Atlantic. In fact, this is where in September 1492 Christopher Columbus disembarked in his voyage to find India by sailing westwards. It speaks of setting out into the unknown, prepared for any hardships and setbacks. However, as we entrust our lives to the Christ who sends us, who promises his constant presence, who assures us of all the resources we need. So he promises: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33).