Bishop Lee; How long O Lord

First published 23rd June 2020

In my last piece – Sacred Space – I said I would write more about the significance of an App and the radio in journeying through a prolonged confinement.

In recent years the CofE has invested in producing digital resources for prayer. This began with an App to use for Morning, Evening and Night Prayer but has since expanded greatly. There is now a treasury of resources to draw upon, with the CofE being one provider among many.

Physically I was not far from my lowest point as Lent began and looking forward to using the App provided for that season on the theme of Care for Creation. As yet unaware that I was at the beginning of a ‘Wilderness experience’ I found the material dry and arid.

Having persevered with it for a week or so, I turned to another online resource ‘Pray as you Go’, one I frequently use when travelling at an early hour. What immediately spoke into my personal wilderness was the music setting the scene for contemplation on a passage from the Bible. Specifically it was the music of Lament.

The Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament for Christians – are rich with songs lamenting what is going on in the nation or in the writer’s personal experience. I made sure I kept a record of the music and later searched online, using Spotify as a starting place, to find and explore the music which had touched me deep within, enabling me to pray with emotional connection as well as intellectual awareness.

This was happening for me well before Covid-19 wrapped its deadly cloak around the globe. The music of Lament has since become significant for all of us, individually and collectively, as many cry out “How long”?

So what place did the radio play? Unable to join services of Christian Worship physically, I had to find new ways of participating. As I write this, several weeks into the Lockdown, churches have found a variety of ways of connecting with those confined to their homes. Sometimes by delivering written material, but where possible, also through the use of digital platforms and streaming services.

For me, in January and February, as well as the thousands across the UK for whom physically joining a Church service is impossible, there was Sunday Worship at 8.10am on BBC Radio 4. This became – and continued to be as I emerged from my wilderness journey – a significant source of participation in worship during Lockdown. Despite distance and isolation, I have felt connected with others across the length and breadth of the land, and with God the Holy Trinity.

The service on 29 March, the one known as Passion Sunday, particularly spoke to me. The preacher was based at Duke University, the very place I had been scheduled to go for my Study Leave at the beginning of February. As you can imagine, this fact drew me closer. The theme he chose to preach on was divided into three parts: Lament, Hope and Witness. It felt as though it had been written especially for me.

Although the theme was earthed in the oppression faced by the people of El Salvador when Oscar Romero was Archbishop, through the work of God’s Spirit listeners like me caught the power of Lament to release hearts weighed down by seemingly insoluble troubles. Emotional connections were made which fanned the flames of hope and trust in Christ. Lament was not a road down into a pit of despair but the sculpting of a path through the most barren and threatening of landscapes and finding the courage to keep on it.

Footnote: I found the Album ‘Work Songs: The Porter’s Gate’, Tree in a Storm by Jodi Penner, and ‘Lament and Hope, Vol 1’ by Bifrost Arts all contained music for Lament which blessed me?


June 2020

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