by Claire Bodanis, Director, FalconWindsor
I went to church this (Sunday) morning without any make-up on. Not because I’d slept in (chance would be a fine thing), nor because, in the weekend morning rush, I’d simply forgotten. It was quite deliberate. I was afraid I might blub and end up with mascara all over my face — never a good look in the choir stalls, even if it does match the cassocks.
Why? Because, like last time, it was this morning’s announcement that churches will also have to close during lockdown that really finished me off. I’d been teetering all week between feeling cross on one side to feeling flattened on the other, as the press debated digital Christmases, circuit breakers, tiers, and the disparity between the UK’s four nations. I was therefore planning a nice juicy blog rant about parliamentary democracy and its importance in the development of reporting regulation, which is of course hotting up right now. And I know many of you love a good blog rant!
However, two things occurred as I sat musing in my pew, which led me to write this piece instead. First, I remembered that blog day this month is the day after the US election — plenty of scope for blogosphere ranting! — so maybe another one, albeit on a different subject, isn’t what’s needed for lifting the spirits the day before lockdown restarts.
Second, I was touched by this morning’s sermon for All Saints’ Day by our non-stipendiary priest, whose day job is being a senior City lawyer. Why mention the day job? Because it probably has a lot to do with why her sermons reflect a very real understanding of the daily trials of the rest of us ordinary sinners.
Her message today, on the theme of saintliness, was pretty simple, and, I hasten to add, relevant to anyone, whatever their beliefs, even though it was, being a sermon, couched in Christian language. She said: ‘We are all called to be saints, in all our diversity, our human-ness, and yes, our oddness as well.’ (And some of the famous ones were truly dotty. Look at St Simeon Stylites — sitting on top of a pillar for 37 years was just the tip of his iceberg of dottiness.)
Our priest explained that being a saint wasn’t about grand heroic gestures of self-denial or martyrdom, admirable though these may be. Rather, being a saint is about any act of kindness, however small, however unrecognised, that we do for someone else. ‘Any deed of making other people and their welfare the centre of our focus,’ she said, ‘any willingness to take time to listen; any showing of understanding; any act of forgiveness and seeking after reconciliation; any act of speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves; any moves to establish peace and justice on even the smallest, local scale; in short, any act of love — is what makes a saint.’
She concluded with a provocation. In these times, more challenging than most of us have ever faced in our lives, she asked us: ‘Are you able to share hope where there is despair? Are you being a blessing to others at a time when the world could not need it more?’
After a bit of soul-searching, I concluded that this last week in particular I’ve been so self-absorbed in my own lockdown angst that I haven’t been doing many acts of kindness at all. Nor much sharing of hope. Nor indeed, much being of a blessing to anyone. In fact (God clearly has a sense of humour), the halo of saintliness in Mansfield Road is definitely being worn by my American Jewish husband right now.
But I’m starting to wrestle it back. First, with this morning’s idea of getting together with my fellow church musicians before we’re locked down again to record all the music for the next month, so that it can be beamed out as part of the virtual Sunday services. That’s already way better than the last lockdown, when we were taking turns to record a solo psalm or hymn each week on our iPhones, with crummy acoustics and pretty much no accompaniment.
Second, I swallowed my irritation at the ridiculous self-service machine in M&S that kept asking (seven times, yes seven) for someone to come and verify my bag, and managed to make the harassed assistant smile.
And third, I wrote what I hope has been uplifting rather than agitating to read on a day of plentiful agitation. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to sustain it when lockdown starts again in earnest at the end of the week, but I’ll do my best. After all, it’s nicer for everyone else, but you know what? It makes me feel a whole lot better too.
Turns out, thanks to our priest, I could have put my make-up on this morning after all…