03 September 2021
Watching memes and advice circulating on social media about coping in our bubbles and staying healthy, it’s fascinating to reflect how simple and timeless much of the practical wisdom is, and how much we might learn from those in past generations who have done this before. In 1744, following an outbreak in London, John Armstrong wrote an epic poem called The Art of Preserving Health, which had four chapters of advice for staying healthy during a pandemic: Air (get outside), Diet (eat well), Exercise (stay active), and The Passions (look after your mental health).
What’s particularly striking in reading the literature of past centuries is the priority given to spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing. We sometimes tend to talk as though we have only recently discovered the importance of such things, when in reality, it is that we have forgotten the rich resources available to us.
Among those from the eighteenth century who stand out for the insight and depth of their writing is William Cowper. Cowper was a brilliant poet, who converted to Evangelical faith in the 1760s. For much of his adult life, he suffered from severe depression, and the poetry and hymns that he produced include profound and beautiful reflections on how God meets us in our circumstances and sufferings, even amidst the darkest nights of the soul.
As we enter another weekend of staying in our bubbles, I wanted to offer two extracts from Cowper’s writings to you, as prayers and songs that I hope you will be able to reflect on and be encouraged by. They centre us on God’s sovereignty, and how he is not only present in our sufferings but has already borne them.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sov'reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head. ...
Lord, who hast suffer’d all for me,
My peace and pardon to procure,
The lighter cross I bear for thee,
Help me with patience to endure.
The storm of loud repining hush;
I would in humble silence mourn;
Why should the unburnt, though burning bush,
Be angry as the crackling thorn? ...
Let me not angrily declare
No pain was ever sharp like mine,
Nor murmur at the cross I bear,
But rather weep, remembering thine.
As you (hopefully) find time this weekend to enjoy God’s creation, and give your bodies and minds rest, may you also seek to centre yourself on Christ – the source and bedrock of our spiritual identities and wellbeing.