This is the end of an unusual and tumultuous year, where many of us in our community, and around the world, have experienced hardships and upheavals that have caused us to re-evaluate our values, lifestyles and priorities.
Now, as we face a challenging Christmas season and New Year, we asked our steadfast spiritual and religious leaders in the local community to offer their spiritual insights about the trials and tribulations of the past year.
In the spirit of Radio 4’s ‘Thought of the Day’, but for the whole year, we hope they bring you some respite, insight or new perspective no matter what your faith or beliefs.
Reverend James Hugheson from St. Paul Old Ford
The end of the year as autumn turns to winter is always a very special time for me. There is something about the trees being stripped of their leaves, the light fading away as the days get shorter and the bareness of creation which is very powerful. To me it is a reminder of the fragility of life, something which we have been reminded of in a hard way in 2020. Yet the starkness of this time of year is tempered by the knowledge that spring will come and new life will once again adorn creation.
The light will once more shine brightly through. The opening words of John’s Gospel say this beautifully: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’.
For me the light of faith has been so important this year, but that light has shown through in so many ways in our country; acts of kindness to strangers, reconnecting with neighbours, those on the frontline of fighting Covid-19. As we look towards Christmas those lights and the light of Christ are things that give me hope that however dark the days seem the light will overcome it. And for that I’ll be giving thanks.
Reverend Tim May, Rector of Bow Church
Christmas can often be a sentimental time, full of high hopes that aren’t always met. We are confronted with undercooked or overcooked turkey, that argument you knew would happen with your family but which you somehow believed might just be avoided, and the memory of that night out with your colleagues that now makes you cringe to the core. By the time it comes to January we often feel the anticlimax of Christmas: a jaded greyness and a tired lethargy as we recycle cardboard, clinking bottles and create the apocalyptic scene of decomposing Christmas trees on blustering London street corners. This year, it feels as though we’re in January already. We’ve all had a long year and there’s just less to look forward to than normal. So, what’s left of Christmas in 2020?
Peeling back the layers of sentiment and the years of customs, when you look at the first Christmas there is in fact, plenty to hold on to. The Christmas story is actually not that sentimental: the teenage scandal of Mary and Joseph, the insecurity of a jealous megalomaniac King Herod (not unlike other leaders I’m sure we can think of) and the frankly alarming news that the eternal God became human, not only that, a baby. That last aspect is what I, more than any other year, hold on to in 2020: God becomes one of us to rescue us from ourselves. God entered the chaos and the fragility of humanity to redeem it, not to discard it.
It’s not sentimental but it connects with how I feel at the end of this year. I feel fragile and chaotic and in need of rescue. Of course the sentimental version of Christmas has its good sides but it’s reassuring to know that the heart Christmas beats faster in bad years rather than good.
Reverend Alan Green, Rector of St. John on Bethnal Green
Christmas is a bit of a struggle this year. But, actually, is it not always a bit of a struggle for many people? It certainly must have been pretty awful for Mary and Joseph: forced by the Roman regime to walk 90 miles for a census, only finding a stable to lodge in and to give birth, with their privacy disturbed by rough farm workers and three peculiar foreigners! In the midst of this chaos and hardship the biblical narrative draws attention to the wonder and joy they experienced at this birth, despite it all.
In a normal year we try to shut out the chaos and the hardship of our world through carol services, school nativities, presents and food and drink. This year we should try not to use Christmas to blank out the difficulties of our lives and the difficulties of our world; we cannot use it to make out, even for five days, that we are not in the midst of a pandemic that requires us to make sacrifices in order to protect everyone.
Instead, we have the opportunity to face up to the realities of our situation and still, like Mary and Joseph, find wonder in what we have – family and friends, a caring neighbour, a stranger who offers help, doctors and nurses….
Look up, you might see a star that brings comfort and joy, you might even hear the angels sing!
Sheikh Mohammed Mahmoud, Senior Imam, East London Mosque
With the end of a very testing year, we are reminded of the blessings that God has given us from His bounty; our faith, families, friends and so much more. It’s by enduring difficulty that we are able to better appreciate our blessings. And with every hardship comes ease, and with the end of this year, we turn towards 2021 with hope for ease yet the resolve to stand against any trial, because we know within every trial there is a blessing and wisdom known only by God. These trials encourage us to seek out God, to search for Him and to hold onto Him.
We have all faced great difficulty this year, some more than others. And life has changed for many, in more ways than one. But after every storm, there is sunshine, so with this new year I pray that God blesses us, our families and communities as we enter the year 2021 and I wish everyone a very festive season.
Suhel Siddiki, Imam of Bow Mosque
I am very proud to be part of this well-built community that has unwaveringly plunged through and kept steadfast during these difficult times. As we know, this pandemic has been a very tough time for us all and there are many lessons to take from this, but as Muslims we believe in one Allah (god) and the words of the prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him and all the prophets that came before us, that our lord highlights whatever is afflicted upon us we take lesson from this and we be patient. Be it of what we have lost or what has burdened us. This is what builds us as Muslims, as this is not just a way of life, but it is our belief.
We cannot see our Lord, we cannot see our prophets, nevertheless we believe in them.
So anything they say we try to take on board as much as we can to the best of our ability. We pray at all times, be it in times of hardship or times of happiness. When we are happy we pray to thank our lord for what he has bestowed upon us and when we are in difficulty to gain the attention of our lord despite he is all hearing and all seeing. We pray five times a day and we are humbled to put our forehead on the floor for our Creator. Many of us were affected mentally when we were unable to do this in the house of Allah (masjid) however through our steadfastness and faith we propelled through it Alhamdulilah (all praise be to Allah).
Allah says in the holy Quran “we seek help by being patient and praying our Salah”. Allah loves those who are patient and someone who is loved is given more, furthermore Salah opens the door of mercy and acceptance. It is difficult to be patient but to waste the reward of patience is worse. In conclusion we should all have faith that Allah knows what is best for us just like we know the teacher is always quiet during the exam, but at the end of it there is a result.
Doctor Paramabandhu Groves, Founder of Breathing Space London
During the first lockdown, although it was a challenging time, many people commented on positive aspects of the experience. London was quieter and life became more spacious. At least for some, the lockdown suggested a different way of living and focused the mind on what was really important. As we go into 2021, with the promise of an end of Covid in sight, we could end up being caught up and driven again by the busyness of lives. Instead maybe we can reclaim some space, reconnect with what is most important in our lives, and try to live by qualities, such as wisdom and kindness, that enrich our lives and connect us to others.
Suryagupta, Chair of London Buddhist Centre
What a year! Deeply challenging, transformative, unsettling illuminating are just some of the words that come to my mind. While many of us were missing the connections with our loved ones, our daily routines and dealing with financial challenges, the new was also emerging, like the early throes of spring after a hard winter. In the midst of Covid 19 we were also discovering new connections, new skills, a new way of approaching our everyday lives.
In looking ahead to next year it’s important that we find ways to maintain that which has helped support or nourish us during this time. This could be meditation, yoga, enjoying green outdoor spaces or a cup of tea with a single friend. I’ve recollected over and over again this year how it’s often these simple things that can make a difference to feeling connected, grounded and part of a community. This can be invaluable when the world continues to spin.
If you like this article, you might also enjoy reading our interview with Reverend James of St. Paul’s Church Old Ford.
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