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A Sermon by The Rev’d Joan Claring-Bould

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

Augustine of Hippo (354–430), in Confessions.

With much of the country in lockdown there is an increasing undercurrent of frustration and anxiety throughout the community Wednesday morning we awoke to media speculation that South Australia was about to join those in lockdown, but for the time being we have only been given some further restrictions around crowd gatherings and interstate travel.

Thank you for those 25 people who made the service back in the Cathedral in June such a delight. On Tuesday I made the decision to revert to an online Taizé service for this weekend because of the restriction around congregational singing which is an integral part of our services. That is disappointing since we have only been back in the Cathedral one month, but hopefully we can return to the Cathedral next month and thereafter.

For us, this is a small inconvenience, but for many in the community this new outbreak of the COVID virus has brought great hardship. Businesses have had to close elsewhere without the financial backing they had last year, school holiday travel plans have had to be cancelled, important family events like weddings and funerals have been impacted to name just a few.

But perhaps even more significant is the ongoing effect of the pandemic on the mental health of the population. Spurred on by all forms of the media catastrophising each potential outbreak in advance and wanting to be first in with the dramatic news story (after all, that is their job) there is a disproportionate sense of anxiety in the community. Why else would our supermarket shelves be devoid of toilet paper once more!

The pandemic is serious and the medical and state advice we are given needs to be taken seriously for our own sake and for the sake of the community. But we do need to keep things in proportion and respond rationally to what we take in from the media.

There are reports of increasing numbers of people going to hospital emergency departments with mental health issues since the pandemic began, as well as a huge increase in the number of people of all ages calling the phone helpline services simply because they feel anxious and overwhelmed by life’s circumstances.

Some people turn to drugs or alcohol or both to escape the pain of their reality, others drown themselves in work, others gambling, others in inappropriate relationships etc. We can only have compassion for them. They could, and may be, us.

To be honest, I suspect we all struggle at times , at very least, with the long term frustration of not being able to plan ahead like we used to without restrictions.

The great spiritual writers of the church, like St Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century, have known that in our worldly lives there is always going to be uncertainty and even the threat of death. Augustine knew that our peace comes as we, more and more, try to allow our hearts to rest in  heart of the One who loved us into being. He writes:

 “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

The basis of Taizé prayer is contemplation- opening our hearts to the heart of God,  through simple harmonic music, short words of scripture, an brief intercessions all coming in from and going out into silence. In particular, the words of the songs (chants) are and repeated a number of times, so that the singer does not have to consciously have to think of the words they are singing, but they become words  sung from the heart. There is little movement in the service. The Taizé Cross or icon and candles in a darkened church or hall are there to focus our attention on the Light that lightens our hearts and overcomes the darkness.

Taizé prayer is by nature a healing prayer because it attempts to put as little human intervention as possible between the prayer and God. The ambience which includes the stillness, the cross, the candles and beautiful simple harmonic chants are there as gentle props to guide our hearts towards the calling and welcoming heart of God.

Lord God,  “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” Amen.