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Reform Magazine | July 14, 2020

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On the pilgrim way: ‘What does being generous mean now?’

Sheila Maxey wonders how to be generous in lockdown

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A poem by John O’Donohue which has helped me throughout this lockdown is now bothering me. It begins: ‘This is the time to be slow /… until the bitter weather passes’. Yes, I have had to learn to accept long, slow days – I have even learnt to relish them – but bitter weather is not my experience at all.

As time goes on, I become more and more conscious of other people’s bitter weather: people with no income at all, queueing up at foodbanks; theatres and other creative ventures closing down; a generation of eager, sociable students faced with online tuition. The poem’s third verse begins: ‘If you remain generous,/ time will come good’. But what does the word ‘generous’ mean for me, when all that society, and my nearest and dearest, want of me is that I should stay at home and stay well? I’ve had a lifetime of having an open door to friends and strangers. Now, no one has crossed our threshold since 19 March.

Generosity, in my book, means going out to meet need. Of course, there are phone calls – lots of them – and listening is a form of generosity. And I can give money, as we are living very cheaply during this lockdown. But basically, as society struggles with this calamity, ‘stay at home and stay well’ seems to be the mantra for my generation.

There is an awful lot of ‘passing judgment’ about – the complete opposite of generosity – and I find it in my own heart. I look at a group on my daily walk and think: ‘They can’t possibly be all one family.’ I note the increase in traffic and think: ‘Those can’t all be essential journeys.’

An excellent United Reformed Church resource about the way forward suggests my age group should not gather in church buildings for many months to come. (See www.urc.org.uk/new-normal.) Congregations will have to gather without us. Now, that calls for generosity of heart on our part, and a certain humility: do we not wonder whether the congregation will survive without us? If it does, surely it will do so differently?

Out of concern, our children have sent us comedy DVDs to keep us going. They commission knitting from me to keep me occupied. I begin to think that the generosity of heart required of me is to live contentedly and patiently through this period, causing my nearest and dearest, including my church community, as little worry as possible. And, if possible, I should exercise a ministry of encouragement to those who are guiding our way forward in church and in society.

I leave John O’Donohue with the last word: ‘If you remain generous,/ Time will come good;/ And you will find your feet/ Again on fresh pastures of promise,/ Where the air will be kind/ And blushed with beginning.’

Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex

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This article was published in the July/August 2020 edition of Reform

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