The world is in a fragile and rather dangerous state in so many places, it seems, at the moment. All the more so when tragedy and terror come near. The Bishop of Worcester reminded the Diocesan Synod in June that despite appearances, it is probably no more chaotic now than it ever has been. Ask people in the Middle East or parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and they would tell us that living with chaos is their norm. Commentators note that people adapt pretty quickly to a new norm. An example of that is life in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, where the population simply had to get on with it. It seems that human beings adapt and get on with life.
Getting on with life is really important. Sometimes we can be overcome by events to such an extent that we sit there caught like a rabbit in the headlights. Getting on with life means celebrating the very gift of life. One of the problems of being surrounded by so many real and heart-rending bad news stories is that we begin to feel guilty for enjoying ourselves: how can I enjoy myself when so many people are having such a hard time. Therein lies the way to real anxiety.
Jesus kept telling his disciples not to be afraid and not to worry. That’s not the easiest thing to hear for those of us who are natural worriers. But in saying that, Jesus was not immune to the problems and tragedies of life: he was no hopeless optimist. There were plenty of bad news stories around him in first century Palestine under foreign occupation and riven with religious and political power struggles. Yet he wanted his followers to celebrate life: they feasted as well as fasting with him. Do you remember how the religious people, no doubt with a tinge of envy, rebuked Jesus and his followers for eating and drinking – in other words, for having a good time?
Why am I saying that now? Well, typically August is a holiday month. If you are lucky enough to have some holiday, either at home or away, I want to encourage you to enjoy it to the full. Think where the word comes from: holy day. I remember chocolates on sale at Holland House, our diocesan retreat house, which said on the wrapper ‘Put the treat back into retreat’. Don’t let religion get in the way of life. Don’t let the stories of human woe and distress submerge the truth that life is a gift, and that each day is to be treasured and lived to the full.
I suspect that joy in being alive is not simply an antidote to much of the misery around. It is more powerful than that. Jesus said that he came so that we should have life in all its fullness. Celebrating life inspires us to transform life. Christian communities have kept the flame of hope alight in many dark places because of the value and joy given to each day and each moment, celebrating the wonder of being fully alive. That’s a good enough definition of a holiday to me!
Archdeacon of Worcester