We had chartered a boat out of Largs and were sailing for West Loch Tarbert, writes Rev Sydney Maitland, the wind light and in the south west. But it grew lighter and fainter until the wind died away altogether and we were left in the middle of the Inchmarnock Water bouncing around on a moderate but to some, uncomfortable seaway. The cry came out to use the iron jib – ie the engine – however, something else was going on.
The wind was changing and in due course it would fill in from a different direction. This was not the occasional wind-shift that we would find when on passage. It was a clear change of direction, and eventually it did fill in, from the west as I recall. A pleasant sail into West Loch Tarbert.
Recalling an incident when sailing in the Clyde is not the stuff of parish magazines, but it does point to something else. At present we are still remembering how our church life had developed until the Coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a halt. We are trying to recover what we had done before and to adapt it to the slow rate of change and the possibility that restrictions could be re-imposed. It is not a comfortable situation, and this is the parallel with the becalmed boat bouncing around in Inchmarnock Water.
I have written recently about the sense of waiting for something to develop, even if we cannot see what it is or how it will affect us. That has not changed but there is now a sense that we are already adapting to new circumstances, and small changes are affecting our life and worship. These will almost certainly continue, but the main event is not yet. It is still to come, and I am not thinking only of the COP26 meeting in the city in November.
There is still a great sense of uncertainly in the land. The process by which the Covid pandemic is worked out, the effects of inflation and the curtailment of certain industrial processes and their effects on what we eat. How will the country’s trading and farming practices affect our way of life, and what will happen to our customary foreign alliances? All this is shrouded in uncertainty and this is before we even think about how they will affect each other.
Yet despite all this there is still another theme, resonating around us: ‘God is our strength and refuge, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.’ I think that this sums up pretty well where we are and where the nation may be going as a whole. It definitely speaks of confusion, uncertainty, doubt and anxiety. (Psalm 46: 1-2).
But is does not stop there. Verse 5: ‘God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. God shall help her, just at the break of day.’ The provision of God is sure, even if we have to wait for it, through a dark and stormy night, if need be.
In the midst of all this the psalmist is determined: ‘The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.’ (Verse 7) He refuses to let go of God or to allow fear to determine all actions and his sense of being. If anything, he is directing us to concentrate on God, even in the midst of all the confusion. It is like dropping an anchor: to keep the vessel in one place even if there is a storm blowing.
If anything, he is saying, ‘Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth.’ (verse 10, my stress). This does not mean that we do not make prudent provision, but we do not have to be transfixed by our own fears. We do have alternatives to focus upon and we are free to draw on them for ourselves and to offer them to others as occasion presents itself.
Yes, this time of waiting can leave us impatient, but then when we call to the Lord for patience, He answers by giving us the opportunities to exercise it.