Pastoral Letter for June 28, 2020
I’m wondering if anyone recognizes the face of this kind-eyed, elderly gentleman?
It belongs to Terry Waite, who back in 1980 was appointed by Robert Runcie to serve as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Assistant for Anglican Communion Affairs. In 1985, Terry Waite accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury on a visit to Canada, that included a stop here in Regina (does anybody remember?) and Edmonton, where I was able to attend a special diocesan service to mark the occasion.
In his role, Terry Waite was involved in negotiating the release of Anglican clergy and British Nationals held hostage in the Middle East. But Terry Waite was himself kidnapped in Beirut in 1987 by members of the Islamic Jihad, and spent the next four years in solitary confinement, before finally being released. Throughout those years, a member of the chapel community that I was a part of then, would constantly intercede for Terry at our weekly Eucharist. “Taken on Trust” was the title of the book Terry wrote about his experiences.
In an interview in 2013, Terry Waite was asked how he coped during all this time in isolation in a dark cell.
You have got to be able to discipline your mind, because everything is lived from within. There is no external stimulation. There is no books, no one to speak with, no one to feed your identity back to you.
I was fortunate, firstly, because through life I had been an avid reader and therefore I had built up a store of books, poetry and prose in my memory. Secondly, I’d been brought up as an Anglican—I’m an Anglican Christian—and had been brought up with the Book of Common Prayer. The language of that was very, very helpful. I had unconsciously memorised it as a choir boy. If I can just give you an example of what I mean from one of the great old collects of the prayer book:
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night . . .
That is very, very meaningful when you’re sitting in darkness. That collect not only has meaning, but it also has poetry and rhythm. There is a relationship between identity, language and prayer; somehow they help you hold together at your centre.
Some people may find this strange, but I never engaged in what is called extemporary prayer during that time. I felt that if I did I would be begin to, sort of, go down a one-way track, reveal my own psychological vulnerability and just get into the business of saying, ‘Oh God, get me out of here’—which isn’t prayer at all. That’s just being like a child. So by falling back on that which I knew, the Prayer Book and the balance of that, I was able to keep a bit more balance in my mind and also maintain some degree of inner balance… (1)
Well, it’s been 15 weeks since we began our own “isolation” under COVID, and 15 weeks since we dusted off and started praying through The Order of Service for Morning Prayer from our own Book of Common Prayer. Some of us, perhaps, are getting a little tired of this, but then again, perhaps some of us are finding the poetry and rhythm of the prayers are working their way not only into our hearts, but our memories, giving us an anchor for the soul in these tumultuous times. As Terry Waite discovered, “ life is lived from within” and “there is a relationship between identity, language, and prayer that help you hold together at your centre…and also maintain some degree of inner balance.”
With every prayer and blessing, from “my cell” to “yours”, as together we lift up holy hands, hearts and voices in prayer and praise to the Lord,