BY the rivers of Babylon…

By this point, some of us of a certain age will be singing along.

These words are taken from Psalm 137, and a later sentence in this Psalm reads “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

It feels that we are in a strange land, so much of the familiar has been taken away.

READ AGAIN: Oxford deserted: in pictures

For all of us, of all backgrounds, “How do we keep singing good songs in a time like this” is a good question.

For the Christian churches, and I know that much of what I say will be shared by all faith communities, we are remembering that our fellowship is about people, not buildings.

Buildings are useful and important, but the word ‘church’ is to do with ‘people’. It is the people that matter.

Oxford Mail:

And so we are looking out for those in need, those whose isolation may lead to anxiety, loneliness or a shortage of essentials during the coronavirus crisis.

We are phoning, emailing, texting and simply doing our best to keep people connected.

READ MORE: Group of men ignore lockdown to play catch

As the church we believe our fellowship is not only with one another, it is with God, and so we are streaming resources, prayers and services, suggesting readings, meeting electronically on group chats.

And we pray for the ill and the dying, and those who are grieving.

Several times in the Bible the intentionality of ‘calling to mind’ reasons for thanksgiving and encouragement is commended, the implication being that without that intentionality our minds may become too preoccupied with the negative.

We are to be realistic people of hope, ultimately, the light shines in the darkness and will not be overwhelmed.

A key part of our role is to support as best we can our core emergency and charity services who are doing so much to underpin our community and to look after the vulnerable.

The needs of the homeless continue, as do those who use food banks, as do those with underlying medical or social issues.

READ MORE: Blenheim Palace staff on furlough leave due to coronavirus

We directly help but also make connections – churches tend to have contacts with many different agencies, and sometimes it is helpful to put people in touch with each other.

We do all we can to support and encourage our schools and families in these unusual times.

This is the season of Lent in the Church Year, when many Christians take time to reflect about their faith, values, behaviour, praying and learning.

Jesus’ time in the wilderness is remembered, that unexpected and enforced time when so much felt stripped away.

Oxford Mail:

Perhaps this year Lent feels for some especially layered, and indeed frightening.

JRR Tolkien knew Psalm 137 well (but missed the Boney M version) and these two quotations from The Lord of the Rings sum up his faith and hope, that the song can indeed still be sung in a strange land.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

READ AGAIN: Are Harry and Meghan moving to Oxfordshire?

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.

“The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.

Oxford Mail:

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”