Rev Lucy Winkett - 14/12/16
Thought for the Day
Tomorrow, the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid will announce spending plans for the part of the welfare state that is known as “social care”: the daily living support available to vulnerable groups of people in their homes such as those who are older or who live with fragile mental health.
There is a political consensus that the strain on the system is considerable; not least because we are living longer. Add to this the strain on the ones employed as carers; fifteen minute appointments with hardly time to get between one person and the next. It’s easy to get stuck in the politics of it; and the economic language of our public debate makes care somehow seem a zero sum game; there’s only so much to go around; so despite ourselves, we end up, difficult choices having been made, with 120,000 children homeless and vulnerably housed this Christmas.
But something of my own stuckness was softened by the comments this week of the theatre director Alexander Zeldin. His new play is now on at the National Theatre in London and soon to be on in Birmingham. “In this political moment” he said “it is important to feel life strongly”. He is not offering policy proposals but he is contributing to the conversation by amplifying the stories of people, in the few weeks before Christmas, who are in temporary accommodation. In one scene, a son is washing his mother’s hair in the kitchen sink with washing up liquid – and drying it with a filthy tea towel – that on one review night made the audience gasp. The scenes like this are made much more powerful by the fact that there is no special theatre lighting in this production. As the audience, we are in the kitchen, not watching people in the kitchen. The fourth wall that normally separates actors and audience has been dissolved.
In Advent, much of the theological imagery turns on the themes of light brightening the darkness and the anticipation of God becoming a child, vulnerable to the vagaries of human politics and power. Taking our cue from the play, it might be that we need to change the lighting when illuminating the stories of people who are vulnerable and in need of support, using neither a harsh searchlight, nor a sentimental theatre light, but the sort of light celebrated in the season of Advent: a kind light that reveals all of us in our own vulnerability, and deepens our recognition, despite our real differences and complex challenges, that we are in the same room.