WHAT CAN I DO? by Sue Russell
Yesterday Veronica Zundel posted about the value of a retreat. I had intended to post something about the delights of Penhurst Christian Retreat Centre too, and I knew that Veronica went there a day or two after I left some weeks ago. I went with Claire Dunn, and we both planned to use the time writing and editing (our own and each other's) as well as taking a step back from normal life in this warm, welcoming place set in the rural heart of Sussex.
We were blessed with crisp winter weather: hard white frosts every morning and red skies every afternoon, and when we weren't working we were walking, encountering pheasants, rabbits and deer. The staff were as kind as ever, the other guests interesting people from varied backgrounds. We got a fair bit of work done, and enjoyed the meals we hadn't cooked, the log fire and huge sofa, and the deep peace. We attended some of the prayer sessions and I found it touching that one of the other guests prayed for our apostrophes!
I did, however, then and since, experience some pangs of conscience. I already have a comfortable life. I can go out for meals if I am fed up with cooking. I have a dedicated writing space. I have no young children and can structure my own time to a large extent, allowing for commitments. I can afford to go on retreats. But I wondered if any of this was justified (I am speaking only for myself here.) None of us can fail to be aware of the appalling things happening in many parts of our small world, and I have noticed recently an upsurge in comments on social media by people who obviously feel as I do - horrified and helpless. Somehow it seemed wrong that I should spend a few days in undisturbed peace while others are battling for their very survival, their loved ones maimed and murdered, their homes bombed, their lives in shreds, their futures dark. Why, asked Claire, own more than one pair of shoes? Why have a dog? ( I do have a dog. And since returning from Penhurst I have bought two new pairs of shoes.)
I was pondering these things when my 25-year-old daughter expressed similar uneasiness. She is often in London, and she sees homeless people in doorways and wonders how she should respond. Her heart is battered by the conditions that some people labour under and she feels powerless to effect change. Perhaps to look at the world and acknowledge the power of evil is part of leaving childhood behind. So we chewed on this and I found myself defending the positive power of small acts of goodness, of remaining open to the suffering of others, of contributing what we can of money and time, and of using such gifts as we have to further the glory of God and the service of our fellows. Privately I wondered (not for the first time) how someone who is not a Christian (as she is not, at least not yet) can face the overwhelming reality of wickedness and suffering without quailing.
I do believe that every good act of ours can be magnified by God. As C.S. Lewis put it, 'Good and evil increase at compound interest. Little decisions are of infinite importance. The smallest good act today captures a strategic point which could lead to undreamt-of victories.' I showed my daughter this quotation and she nodded thoughtfully. Then she went away and found out how to volunteer for one of the charities helping homeless people over the Christmas period.
For us as writers, our power to promote forgiveness, truth and grace is potentially great. Not one of us can know where our words may travel or how our small acts of empathy and generosity may be used by God in his purposes of good. Unlike him, we cannot do everything - but we can do something.
While looking for an image for something else I found this photo (the beer does claim the attention, I know, but it was taken on a sweltering afternoon in Barcelona) and it made me smile. What was I saying about using our gifts? Not quite what I meant!
Sue writes as S.L.Russell and has written five contemporary novels from a Christian point of view. They are available as paperbacks and e books in the usual places.
The days at Penhurst were spent editing no.6, which should emerge some time next year.