….and another thing

By John Stettaford

With the nights drawing in rapidly and the leaves falling fast, autumn is definitely upon us. With the clocks “going back” at the end of the month, that’s all we need. And world events seem to be moving just as fast and just as darkly. We are being advised to buy now for Christmas to avoid shortages. But, frankly, my Christmas is no different from most weeks of the year, in that I plan nothing different. I don’t even eat very differently. I find myself these days eating more often just the same things that I ate during the rest of the year. The only change I always make is to buy the double edition of Radio Times to avoid missing something of interest on an obscure channel. That and sussing out what radio is worthy of attention.

What I usually, mostly watch and listen to is the news, and during that time when attention is pretty much exclusively on entertainment, the news is shunted to less regular times and usually half or less in time. Frankly, I try at all cost to avoid the fest-frenzy. Looking at our society, for a religious festival supposedly celebrating the birth of their Saviour, for most it means little more than Christmas lunch, watching the Queen at three, and opening presents. The two Ronnies did a wonderful sketch one year where Ronnie B was in Ronnie C’s off-licence. He proceeded to load up with crates and crates of booze, ending with the line, “We wouldn’t bother, except it’s all for the kiddies!” I might celebrate New Year with a glass of port, but that’s about it. I’ve always felt that our celebration of Christ’s birth (and second coming), hitherto held in the better weather and lighter evenings of the autumn, was a much more appropriate celebration of Christ’s birth, but that, of course, is now relegated by the church to NROV (not required on voyage).

It will be interesting to see what kind of winter we will have. Will it be cold or mild, seemingly never ending and dark, or will we skip onward lightly into spring? How will the pandemic fare in the winter months with ’flu adding to the NHS’s woes? With Covid-19 numbers rising daily and ‘plan B’ becoming more and more likely over the next few months, I’m behaving as though nothing has changed. Still wearing a mask; still sanitising as necessary; still avoiding unnecessary public places, still washing hands when I’ve been out.

One of the things we used to do, marking the benchmark of the autumn festival, was to remind ourselves as to who was no longer with us since the last time we met. We didn’t lose anyone in Reading this year, I’m pleased to report, but other congregations have not fared as well. As John Donne famously noted, seek not to know for whom the funeral bell tolls, it tolls for each one of us, since we are personally diminished by the passing of another. It is one of the tragedies of growing older. My mother, in her last year of life, bemoaned that all her friends had gone, and even all her brothers and sisters had predeceased her. The consolation of additional family members, especially her great-grand-children, left her unsatisfied since she saw them only infrequently.

Solomon in the Proverbs, seemingly writes in his old age, looking back on his life. He, of course, strayed from the church of his time into error. And it would seem from what he wrote, that really he knew better but carried on anyway. Still, his advice remains valid for us today: don’t abandon the uprightness taught to you from your youth. Oh that Solomon had followed his own advice! On the other hand, we do need to understand that we should grow in understanding. We need to be seekers of truth, willing to examine anything presented to us for change and updating. That can be unsettling, but that’s what we signed up to. Repentance isn’t just for our initial calling, it is for life.