21st July 2021 A Candle in the Window Peter Millar
May you give to us all, dear Lord, a vision of our connected world as your love would make it. A world where the weak are protected and in which none of us may sleep in peace until the hungry share in the world’s riches. A world where those in the shadows can experience the sun, and where those with everything can understand the meaning of injustice and do something about it. A world where different races, nations and cultures can value and live by the words “mutual respect.” And as our beautiful planet burns and floods, awake us from our slumber to these endless cries of our wounded earth before it is too late. (Based on an old prayer from the campaign group War on Want - Peter)
O God of many names, lover of all nations, we pray for peace and wisdom in our hearts, in our homes, in our communities, in our nations in our world. The peace and wisdom of your will, and the peace and wisdom of our need.
Adapted from a prayer written many years ago by the great George Appleton whose heart was open to the world and its faiths and cultures. - Peter
But you, Lord, have made us responsible for each other; for the neighbour, the stranger. This is the glory of your kingdom, you have put us in relationships; you have made us responsible with you. Help us, Lord, never to disown that responsibility. Help us never to forget that you are in all things and all things in you. This day if you put anyone in front of me help me to see you in them and to take responsibility.
This prayer was written by the late Canon Subir Biswas (1934-1977) who for some years worked in St Paul’s Cathedral in central Calcutta. During his ministry there, the Cathedral, as it still does today, reached out in many different ways to those in need living in that vast city. With others, Subir founded the Cathedral Relief Service, and although we only met a couple of times, and he tragically died from cancer shortly after I arrived in India, he remains for me, and many others around the world, an inspirational figure.
In the immense cathedral which is the Universe of God, each one of us is called to take all that is human and to turn it into an offering and a hymn of glory. This is part of what is known as ‘an Orthodox aspiration’ from The Orthodox Church. Let us reflect on the Universe as an immense cathedral.
Understanding our bodies better than before:
Very soon, we shall be exposed to all kinds of new and complicated information about the state of our health, including our personal level of risk for any number of illnesses. This is because progress in human biology is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. On the horizon are entirely new ways of defining, screening and manipulating health, completely new insights about diet, and any number of ideas for how babies can be born. Things are not moving along incrementally. Rather, we are on the brink of a revolution.
The advent of more advanced metrics leads us into a sea of more nuanced possibilities. For instance, consider the Human Cell Atlas – a huge global project in which more than 10,000 scientists have come together to identify and classify all 37 trillion cells of the human body. By comparing individual cells in depth – by analysing the level to which genes are activated in them, how many copies of each protein is present in them, and so on - we can classify single cells with unprecedented detail. This will lead to a deeper understanding of the way in which tissues and organs are constructed, which cells derive from which other cells in the body and what goes wrong in disease. But this will also enable deep analytics of the body’s cells in a biopsy, blood sample or even a nasal swab.
Recently, a consortium of researchers from744 different research centres reported the genetic sequence of more than 2,600 cancer samples. It was found that each person’s cancer contained four or five “driver mutations” – changes to the genome that promote cancer directly by endowing cells with a special ability to multiply. Crucially, several mutations were calculated to occur long before any clinical diagnosis of cancer would be apparent; secret messages inside our cells, tell-tale signs of cancer beginning.
So how are we to act on all this new information? How do we grapple with a test result that means your risk of developing cancer, or another illness, within the next 20 years is one in six? Would it be different if it was one in four? How about 5 years instead of twenty? At what point would you decide to take a medicine as a precaution, or undergo a preventive operation, knowing that the medication or operation carries its own risks?
To equip us for all this, we need to reach a new level of public understanding about health, disease, risk and probability. Some of this should be taught in schools, colleges and universities, of course, but there needs to be more. During the pandemic, we have seen a huge increase in the number of scientists discussing their work in public. Now, as the UK government formally lifts restrictions, we must embrace science as a vital part of our culture even more than we do now. At stake is not just our health and wellbeing, but our sense of what it means to be human. (This is part of a recent longer article by Prof Daniel M Davies, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester and author of – The Secret Body. Dr Davies also has a short video clip on the web.)
A compassionate life:
I personally did not know Dr Averil Stedeford in the UK who has died at 89, but recently read a tribute to her life written by her grandson Martin Rolph. This short piece is based on some of his words. I found Averil’s life inspiring because for me she represented, with thousands of others across the world, that life-long personal commitment to link our active faith or humanism to the actual, often complex and painful issues of our world, and to the joys and sorrows of our shared human condition. It is this important linking which resides at the heart of a great international and visionary movement such as the Iona Community. The daughter of a Methodist minister she was a psychiatrist, poet, writer and environmentalist. As a psychiatrist she felt that propelled by her Christian faith she could make best use of her skills by working with the dying, and became one of the first psychiatrists to work in a hospice setting. She distilled her many years of hospice work in a book Facing Death (1984) and the second edition (1994) included some of her poetry, perhaps unusual in a medical text. For many years she explored the relationship between religion and death and the control of life and death. Throughout her life she wrote poetry, often exploring grief, loss and death such as in her collection Long Way Down (2017). But she also wrote positive, purposeful poetry, which she used to bring awareness to causes such as fair trade and environmentalism. Her own home was as green as possible, and after a pioneering retrofit her home’s carbon footprint was reduced by 78%. For this she won an Ethical Award in 2006.
The human race is to be seen as one great network of tissue which quivers in every part when one part is shaken, like a spider’s web if touched.
Words for today by the novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
No man is an island. John Donne(1572-1631) metaphysical poet and priest.