A Moment to Reflect

9 September 2020

A Moment to Reflect -101

Being with young people in Gaza who are learning how to smile again.


Before we ever had the Internet, did you ever take part in a quiz or competition where you had to send in your answers on a postcard to a radio station or TV programme, or to a magazine or newspaper? And did you ever win a prize?

Naturally there were always very few actual prize winners but sometimes people were sent a consolation prize.

A consolation prize is like saying, ‘you weren’t good enough to win a real prize but here’s a wee something to make you feel better.’

Of course, it’s only a confirmation that you’re actually a loser!

In a football match a ‘consolation goal’ may be scored by the losing team near the end of a game. It may be the most brilliant goal, and surprisingly often it is, but it has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the match. So, you’ve still lost. You’re still a loser.

I did come across a slightly different definition recently, which sounded to me like it was based on personal experience. 

“A consolation prize is when you ask a girl out and she says ‘no’ but she wants to remain good friends.”  (In other words, you’re a second best. …or maybe even third or fourth…)

It’s a pity that this is the way in which this word ‘consolation’ is most often used—as something ‘not quite good enough’ or ‘second best.’

But there is a much better way of understanding it: one that is closer to its real meaning. Take, for example, these verses from John’s Gospel – part of the story of the Raising of Lazarus.

“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.” John 11:17-19

Here, to console means to comfort, encourage and show your care simply by ‘being there’ for someone.

The English word ‘console’ actually comes from two Latin words: “con” which means with, and “solus” which means “the lonely one.”

So, to console someone is simply “to be with one who is lonely”

And, sometimes when you’re grieving, or struggling with anxiety or fear, or loneliness… that is what you need most. You don’t need explanations, you don’t meaningless platitudes… sometimes you don’t even need (or want) practical help: you just want someone to be with you.

The current pandemic has exacerbated the loneliness of a lot of people and created new forms of loneliness for many more people.

Part of the problem, surely, is that the very nature of the only effective means we have to keep the epidemic under control is one that requires us to keep our distance from each other.

I think one of the most important questions we need ask in these days is, “How we can I still console people when I cannot physically be with them?”

I don’t yet have an answer, but I do think it’s the right question…

5 September 2020

A Moment to Reflect -100

Clyde Walkway at New Lanark


An official announcement by the Scottish Government that the Covid-19 Pandemic had reached Scotland was made on 1st March this year when the first confirmed case of the infection was noted. Three weeks later (on 23rd March) the country went into so-called “lockdown.”

It was an unprecedented situation that unfolded rapidly and unpredictably. Though some people originally hoped, and maybe even expected, that it would all be over within a few weeks it soon became clear that this was going to be a long-term battle with unknown future consequences. And we’re still in that situation.

Although right away we launched into providing weekly online worship, towards the end of April I was asked if I would consider occasionally writing a short reflection online to encourage members of our congregation and any others who stumble upon our website or Facebook Group. And so this “Moment To Reflect” blog was launched on the 29th of April. Since then, for six days a week, with only a couple of short breaks, I’ve tried to provide some food for thought, by sharing some photographs I’ve taken over the years, some quotations from others and some thoughts of my own. Perhaps inevitably it became something bigger (and more time consuming) than I’d originally intended. [I guess a bit like the pandemic?]

Today I notch up my 100th article and so it seemed to me a good ‘moment to reflect’ on what to do next.

Now that I am having to prepare weekly online worship (and believe me, that really is time consuming,) a weekly ‘in-person’ Sunday Evening Service and (starting this week) a weekly online discussion group, I don’t think I’m going to have enough time also to produce a daily “Moment to Reflect.” So, from now on I’ll try to blog a couple of times a week rather than every day except Sunday and we’ll see where that takes us

As for Number 100… I want to turn again to a favourite quotation that I shared in the online worship just a few days beginning this blog.

It comes from a letter written by a Franciscan Friar, whosename was Fra Giovanni Giacondo.‘ Giacondo,’ of course, is not really a surname: it’s an Italian word meaning ‘joyful’ or ‘happy.’ [It’s the origin of our rarely-used English word ‘jocund.’] So, I guess you could say that he was Brother John the Joyful, or maybe even the original Rev Jolly

Well, Giocondo, was born in Venice in the 15th Century. He became a priest, a scholar, an architect and a teacher— a real “Renaissance Man.”

In 1496 he was invited by the King of France to become the Royal Architect. And he is the man responsible for designing some of the oldest bridges in Paris including the original ‘Pont Notre Dame’ and “Petit Pont.’…so…now you know!

But as well as building bridges, on Christmas Eve 1513 he also wrote a beautiful letter to his friend, the Contessa Allagia Aldobrandeschi.

Here it is:

letter written by Fra Giovanni, 1513

I am your friend 

and my love for you goes deep. 
There is nothing I can give you which you do not have,
but there is much, very much, that, 
while I cannot give it, you can take. 

No heaven can come to us 

unless our hearts find rest in today. 

Take heaven! 

No peace lies in the future 
which is not hidden in this present little instant. 

Take peace! 

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. 

Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and 
glory in the darkness could we but see —and to see we have only to look. 

I beseech you to look! 

Life is so generous a giver, 

but we, judging its gifts by the covering, cast them away 

as ugly, or heavy or hard. 

Remove the covering and you 
will find beneath it a living splendour, 
woven of love, by wisdom, with power. 

Welcome it, grasp it, 

touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you. 

Everything we call a trial,
a sorrow, or a duty, believe me, 

that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, 

and the wonder of
an overshadowing presence. 

Our joys, too, be not 
content with them as joys. 

They, too, conceal diviner gifts. 

Life is so full of meaning and purpose,
so full of beauty–beneath its covering–
that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. 

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. 
But courage you have, 
and the knowledge that we are
all pilgrims together,
wending through unknown country, home. 

And so, at this time, I greet you. 
Not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem and with the prayer
that for you now and forever,
the day breaks, 

and the shadows flee away.

Whatever lies ahead of us along the road, don’t forget that our fellow traveller is the Good Shepherd himself.

Stay safe.