‘Letter from Dublin’ to be broadcast on Downtown Radio, Northern Ireland on Sunday, 4th January 2009
Walking the beach at Brittas Bay in the stillness of an Irish winter afternoon, it seemed that summer days could not be so far away: no breath of wind disturbed the silence and tiny waves rippled onto the beach. Turning for the car park, there was the realisation that summer would come, but only after the wind and rain of the spring. Standing at the edge of the Irish Sea in the teeth of a March gale would be a different proposition.
An economist’s comment, earlier this week, that we were facing into the worst depression since the 1930s, had about it the feel of standing on a beach on a quiet New Year’s Day knowing that summer days would eventually come, but also knowing that there are stormy times ahead.
While we know that better times will return; we have no idea how long will last the difficult times; we have no idea how many jobs will be lost; how many homes will be repossessed; what future there will be for our young people. When we are facing the troubles ourselves, the assurance that things will eventually improve is not much comfort. It is no help to know that the economy will grow in 2010, when we need money to pay bills by next Friday.
Perhaps there is no simple Christian response, but aren’t Christians meant to be people of hope? Aren’t we meant to be the ones who are confident about the future?
In the year 587 BC, Jerusalem is about to be overrun by the invading Babylonian army; people are gathering together whatever they can and fleeing for safety. In the middle of it all, there is the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.
People are desperate for money and one of Jeremiah’s cousins comes to him asking that Jeremiah perform his duty as a family member and buy a field that his cousin needs to sell.
Jeremiah buys the field as a sign of confidence in the future of his country; not just the spiritual future, but also the economic future. Jeremiah puts the deeds of the field into a storage jar so they will be preserved and be a reminder that better times will come. Jeremiah says to Baruch, one of his companions,
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’
2009 in Ireland is hardly as bad as 587 BC in Jerusalem, but there is a need for hope and perhaps the sort of faith that King George VI expressed on Christmas Day 1939. Speaking to the Empire during the first Christmas of World War II, he quoted the poet Minnie Louise Haskins,
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.'”
We don’t know how long the troubled times will last, but we trust that hand will be with us.