The Good Samaritan: a reason for arguing the Christian response to COVID-19 was correct?

Aime-Morot-Le-bon-Samaritain Source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
The Good Samaritan, by Aime Morot. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo credit unknown.

Studying philosophy means trying to look at questions from every angle, and attempting to test conclusions against everything relevant.  Preferably one stops short of actually going mad, but as most of my friends will tell you, I personally didn’t succeed!  😛

In this case, particularly, when everyone else is telling me my conclusion must be wrong, and I have struggled with it myself (it’s hardly an easy answer), I have kept questioning and considering.

And I still come out with the same answer: that is, that we have got it wrong, and that in locking Churches and denying people the Sacraments, we have betrayed three times: God, the people of the Church, and the people of the world: the former in treating Him as if He was not the primary means of Life; the people of the Church in excluding their part in the work of God, and in showing a lack of reciprocal commitment to them; and the world in not bearing witness to the fact of a more fundamental life than that which a disease can destroy.

The good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) logically comes in for some real scrutiny in this context – something that could be used to argue that I have in fact got the priorities wrong – and I think it is an interesting one to examine, as it may be that it is often read at present by way of putting the second commandment before the first.  (I am referring to Matt. 22:37-40 and its analogues in reference to the first and second commandments, by the way – not to the Old Testament ten).

I should be clear that the case for using it to defend the response of shutting Churches and denying the sacraments is my own, as is my conclusion that this case should be rejected.  I haven’t yet heard anyone try to use this parable to justify what has been done, but, again, considering what might speak against your conclusions by way of testing them is part of doing philosophy well.

I do not find the Good Samaritan convincing as a argument for denying the Sacraments on the grounds that there remains some risk of infection that cannot be negated even from the perspective of receiving an intincted Host at arm’s length through a window while both parties wear a mask.

The argument for saying that it should justify this, is the argument that this indicates that a person should be willing to sacrifice even their worship to the corporeal good of others.  I think it is probably problematic, however, for several reasons – both to do with the parable, to do with what is the truest service to neighbour, and to do with its lack of real analogy to the situation (sacrificing others, as opposed to sacrificing yourself).

The position of the debate in the Gospel can be read against taking even the straightforward reading as a exultation of the second commandment over the first.  That is, both the questioner and Jesus seem to have have agreed about the first commandment “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all our mind” and are debating a particular detail of the second “and your neighbour as yourself.”

Though the subversive overturning of “who is my neighbour?” is probably straightforward in itself – “go and do likewise” – the nature of the text suggests a symbolic reading which actually points to, rather than away from the Sacraments.  The “likewise” may point beyond the original “love your neighbour as yourself” towards “love each other as I have loved you”.

The man who is set on by thieves is going from Jerusalem to Jericho: this probably has a symbolism rather like that of the prodigal son going to a far country and feeding the pigs: i.e. he has sinned, and the result of this sin is disaster.

It is not clear if we are told which direction anyone except the man is going in: however, in the translation I have here, both the man and the priest are said to be going “down” the road, which would suggest the priest would also have been going towards Jericho.  This may be significant, as it suggests that while the notion that too great an emphasis on ritual purity may be relevant (avoiding a possible corpse), the specific priority of the temple worship probably does not come into it if the priest is going towards Jericho (i.e. away from the temple).

The bandages, the oil and the wine may be sacramental images (the Baptismal garment, the oil of anointing, the Precious Blood), the ass may represent Christ’s bearing our sins and their consequences in His Body, the Inn may represent the Church in which Christ’s care (that He has paid for) is received*.

I am never sure what to make of these extremely symbolic readings; however, when it is a matter of considering a deeper meaning (a lot of powerful narratives can be meaningfully read on both a straightforward and a symbolic/allusion level: it is part of their power), and not standing outside the general tenor of the Gospel narrative, I think there is some reason to at least take them seriously.  And if so, it can actually be brought in as much to argue what I have been saying for other reasons: that is, that the Divine Life and care for the Divine Life is more fundamental, as to argue that we should sacrifice the worship of God entirely to care for neighbour (instead of regarding it as part of how we care for our neighbour, accompanied by the corporeal works of mercy.  Both can be distorted into selfishness, but neither are selfish in themselves**).

This in itself, while I think it does matter and is significant, in that it would suggest the reading of the parable may not be as simply focused only on the corporeal works of mercy as it looks at first glance***, seems to only confuse the issue.  This may be partly because I am not a theologian, and cannot write with much confidence when it comes to scriptural interpretation (there’s a lot of difference between knowing about a subject, and understanding how to apply the processes which are used in it).

I’ve written at length already (see quite a lot of previous posts in the same categories) on the second reason: that is, that our primary service to the world should not be adopting its priorities but witnessing to the Life of God.

The final reason I’d suggest that the parable of the Good Samaritan does not justify the decisions made is impossible to put with real tact.  What I would say instead to people is simply: I write as a sinner and conscious of my own failings of faith, and I do not write to accuse, but to seek reconciliation.  That cannot be done except in acknowledging the reality of the situation and the experience as it has actually been for me.  Trying to ask people to understand why their sympathy is upsetting and does not mean much is always difficult, but it is the only way through when it is the reality.

The reason is this: the Good Samaritan sacrifices himself, not other people.  He has compassion, he puts the man on his animal, he takes him to an inn and he pays the innkeeper for his care.  The COVID-19 decisions, involving the refusal of the Sacraments to all but clergy households, has involved one group of people sacrificing another for the purported good of third parties***.  It’s more equivalent to a situation where the Samaritan was journeying with a severely wounded relative on his donkey, and assisting another wounded friend along by foot.  Upon meeting the man set on by thieves, this Samaritan pushes the wounded person off the donkey to abandon them to death and the powers of darkness in the road, puts the person set on by robbers on the donkey, and forces the other wounded person to take them to an inn and pay for their care.  He then carries on alone, missing their company, lamenting their difficulties, and praying for them, but quite confident he has done the right thing in saving the man lying by the roadside at their cost!  It is not surprising that such sympathy is not likely to make much difference to what the person left to die in the road thinks or feels about the situation…

Of course, within Catholic order, which I do still hold despite all this, it is not the priests’ fault that they cannot share the fate of the non-ordained in enforced excommunication, for even if they were to decline to celebrate the Eucharist and receive (which personally, I would not advocate), they have the choice, while we do not.  This is among my reasons for suggesting that we can only be consistent by point-blank refusing to go along with secular orders that people should be actually deprived of the Sacraments (as opposed to changing what we are doing to take a lot of extra precautions).  If the non-ordained are equally the people of God, it follows that the duty of stewardship from the clergy in taking them the Sacraments has to be fairly absolute.

So, for various different reasons, my mind on this point is not changed by the contemplation of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Having talked about the issue with regard to the clergy-laity relationship, however, I would like to finish by re-emphasising that I do believe that our primary betrayal is of God, not of the people.  That is, it is in turning from Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, to seek life chiefly in “professors’ models“.

Cherry Foster


*Except for the comment on ritual purity (I’ll find a reference if anyone wants to ask me for one) and the comment on possibly pointing to the New Commandment (which is my own), this all comes from The Orthodox Study Bible; St Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology 2008.

**It could be argued that we have become infected by a tendency to regard religion as a private matter: it would make more sense from the Christian tradition of thought to defend religious freedom by emphasising that all must come freely to God, than by making out that what we do in worship, we do entirely for our own benefit.

*** And our own supposed protection, which I would argue is a worse argument, because (a) the notion that someone can be done good by being denied Christ – the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the one thing necessary – is absurd, and (b) we are grown up.  It should be up to us, as individuals in conjunction with our own spiritual advisors, in our own circumstances, with our own knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses, our particular calling, and the way God works with us, to make decisions as to whether to receive the Sacraments in such a situation or not.  To systematically deny us that capacity to choose on such grounds is to deny our capacity to come to maturity in faith.


N.B.  If the use of “we/our” in this text, as in “our primary betrayal” is confusing, given that I am speaking primarily as someone who has suffered the situation rather than being part of doing it, this “we/our” is a collective use, which I feel to be appropriate in context.  I am not ordained.  I have to date been left completely without the Sacraments for more than 14 weeks, despite (to the best of my knowledge) repeated requests to the contrary made on my behalf, so my experience is that of a lay person who was previously a daily communicant.

However, I am part of the whole mess of faithlessness that created the situation where such decisions could be made, and there is a manner in which it is meaningful to use “we” even when there can be no personal responsibility (as in “we [the British] were involved in the slave trade in 1700”).  The question of collective/non-personal responsibility is a very complex one – some linguistic confusion is perhaps accurately reflective of this?!

An academic and an administrator walk into a bar…

An academic and an administrator went into a bar and got talking…

The administrator asked the academic a question about their discipline.

The academic said, “oh, that’s really simple,” and she summarised it in one crisp sentence.

The administrator looked blank, because the academic might as well have been speaking a foreign language.

“Oh these academics,” she said in the office the next morning.  “I felt I was about an inch high.”

A few days later the administrator and the academic met again.  This time, the academic was complaining about the difficulty she was having filling in her tax forms.

“There’s forty pages,” she said, “and it wants all sorts of random figures from different pieces of paper, none of which I can find, and it uses all sorts of terms that don’t really make sense, plus quite a few which don’t seem to match with my situation at all.  It’s just impossible.  And they penalise you horribly if you get it in late.  I’ve been up all night wrestling with it, and it’ll probably take me several hours more.”

“What,” said the administrator, “you mean the income tax form?  They’re easy.  I just ran through mine in half an hour.”

The academic looked blank.

“These administrators,” she said to her colleagues over coffee and integrals the following morning…


Cherry Foster

The Denial

What is the Eucharist?

Rembrandt, the denial of St. Peter source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
The denial of St. Peter, by Rembrandt.  Source:Wikimedia Commons; Photo: credit unknown.

According to Thy gracious word,

In meek humility,

This will we do, O dying Lord,

Will not remember Thee.

Thy Body, broken for our sake,

But risk of death shall be,

Thy Precious Blood will we forsake,

We’ll thus remember Thee

Gethsemane we have forgot,

We’ll not that conflict face,

Thine agony is but Thy lot.

Leave faith to the nut-case.

When to the cross we turn our eyes,

We jeer at Calvary.

O Lamb of God, our sacrifice,

We won’t remember Thee.

Thee we ignore, and all Thy pains,

And love to us who hate,

For nought of Thee in us remains,

Who prize Thee at no rate.

And we shall die – who seem to think

To leave Thee is to live.

Ere we in endless waters sink,

O, turn us – and forgive.


Cherry Foster (Pastiche of James Montgomery)

To be sung as a Communion hymn to the tune of “Reductio ad Absurdum”?

(Let it be noted beyond doubt, I am not serious: I would be delighted to find that no one else was either…).

Petal-art for Corpus et Sanguis Christi 2019 beside an outdoor altar.


Author of Life Divine,

Who hast a table spread,

Furnished with poisoned Wine,

And sweet plague-ridden Bread:

Thou art not now the way to live,

Professors’ models we shall give

More credence as the way to live.

We know now more than Thee,

What appertains to Life.

Thou art not necess’ry

When faced with earthly strife.

So strengthened by our human ways,

So strengthened by the world’s masked ways,

Let us go forth – and sing Thy praise!

Cherry Foster (a pastiche of Charles Wesley’s hymn)



Resurrection_(24) Photo credit Surgun source Wikamedia Commons no copyright
Resurrection – this icon shows Christ bringing Adam and Eve up from Hades. Photo credit: Surgun; source: Wikamedia Commons




N.B. Lest I cause confusion: I do not in fact mean this as an insistence that people cannot catch things from receiving Communion.  That is an interesting question on which I have no strong opinion, except that I believe we should take all legitimate precautions when receiving, by way of not putting God to the test.  What I am sure of, is that from the eternal perspective which we are supposed to be learning, receiving Communion can only ultimately bring about death rather than Life (for ourselves or others) if we are unfaithful (possibly not even then).  Nor would I reject science’s help – for which I am in fact extremely thankful – as long as it does not demand a loyalty beyond that which can be given to any human thing.

And remove cap?

When health and safety defeats its own point

I have a certain amount of trouble swallowing tablets, and a tendency for them to make me feel sick, with the result that I sought out a soluble form of an over the counter medication I take on a comparatively frequent basis.  However, I didn’t appreciate the fact that it fizzes (whether for cosmetic reasons or for some medical reason) and the pharmacist suggested, that, instead I take a dose of the suspended liquid formulation usually intended for children, which is slightly less horrible.

I do not have the slightest trouble opening normal childproof bottles, such as the caps on the top of bleach.

I spent ages trying to get the cap off this medicine bottle.  By ages, I mean that I spent some time on at least three different nights trying to remove the cap, before (on all but the last occasion) giving up and resorting to the fizzy formula.

It took a pair of scissors, a pair of pliers, and a hacksaw.

The instructions say, “shake the bottle for at least ten seconds and remove the cap.”  Nothing more.

There is a diagram on top of the bottle suggesting it should be pushed down and then screwed round.

I tried this.  It had no effect at all.

I cut the bottle seal by slipping scissors up inside the edge.

It went round and round, click click click, but went nowhere.

I forced scissors up under the lid and cut a slit in the cap.  It took a lot of uncomfortable force, but it was possible.  I broke the outer cap off.

The bottle comes with a syringe, and it says that there is a hole to put this through.

But what I had exposed looked like a sealed, solid plastic knob.  It certainly had no hole in it.  Nor, apparently, was there any way of getting it off.  Had someone sold me a bottle wherein the machine had made a “mistake” and failed to create a hole?  Or was it designed like this?

Eventually it came to this evening, wherein I simply could not stomach the fizzy formula on top of bread and marmite.  I cut a groove in the side of the inner cap with my hacksaw.  This was awkward and not as safe as I would have liked because there was no way of holding it that could avoid cutting towards my hand.  So I tried to wrench the knob-like cap off with a pair of pliers without cutting all the way through, and eventually succeeded.  And came through to the stated hole, etc.

So presumably it was designed like that.

Health and safety, or cause of danger?

I kept imagining a parent trying to hammer their way in with a beloved and sick child screaming in agony in the background.  Tried to imagine trying to be careful with the hacksaw and my hand under that sort of stress.

That sounds to me more like something that should be forbidden as a form of torture under the international code of human rights, than used as a health and safety device!

Moreover, a bottle that takes a hacksaw and a pair of pliers rather defeats the point, because the bottle is liable to end up in a state wherein the lids are completely not secure (in fact, my outer cap just comes off, but the inner one may need pliers again), or left off due to the difficulty of getting them off again.

Overdoing it defeats the point.

And seriously, “and remove cap?”  That might well take the prize for the most inadequate instruction I’ve ever seen…

Cherry Foster




Equivalent to “caused by the intervention of aliens?” A philosophy graduate’s ramble on “psychosomatic” as encountered in Western Medicine

Equus_quagga_boehmi wikimedia commons photo credit Hans Hillewaert, copyright attribution
Source: Wikimedia commons; photo credit: Hans Hillewaert

I lay alone on the narrow trolley in a side room in a doctor’s surgery, the door partly open, half fainting, dizzy, sick, frightened, more unable to see than usual.  I couldn’t sit up, and when I tried to wriggle – the necessary technique for raising blood pressure – I felt worse and kept kicking things, and was afraid of falling off the trolley.

Outside, I vaguely heard a voice say, “Is she all right?”

And another voice, cheerful, scornful, “Yeah, she’s just mental.”

How do you know?  You haven’t checked.

Besides, “mental” is most certainly not “all right.”

To this day, I remain puzzled by my reaction to blood tests.  Orthostatic hypotension?  Granted, I spend my life trying not to faint, but I’ve never been found to have that particular problem in any other circumstance.  However, while the mild symptoms of pre-syncope can be difficult to distinguish from other conditions, there is no mistaking it when it gets that bad.  When they finally got me up into a wheelchair, I pretty much fainted again, and had to put my head down: a typical and particularly annoying part of the reaction is that when I am finally able to get up I usually have serious problems again a few minutes later.

Whatever the reason for my body reacting to blood tests like that, it consistently has done so to a greater or lesser extent through several years.  To assume a disorder is psychological, because it is not immediately obvious what the physical cause is, is like attributing every medical problem that isn’t comprehended to the intervention of aliens.

Most people with complex problems have had them dismissed as psychosomatic at some point.  And when I say dismissed, I do not mean the doctor saying, “look, one possibility is that this is caused by something going wrong with things in the brain you don’t have voluntary control over.  I think it is worth referring you to a psychiatrist to see if that’s right and if it can be treated.”  I mean people behaving as if you were doing it on purpose and deliberately wasting their time, doctors blanking you out without answers, assuming what you say about the symptoms isn’t really true, assuming that if you have any sort of mental health condition any physical symptoms without obvious cause must be caused by it, assuming that if what you say doesn’t make sense to them it must be psychological – and therefore, not worth any medical effort.

For instance, I have a sight problem which behaves bizarrely and has no obvious cause.  Nothing is wrong with my eyes (fairly conclusively) and nothing shows up on an ordinary MRI (this doesn’t prove either a positive or a negative when it comes to the possibility of a neurological cause).  However, there are at least seven contraindications to hysteria: (1) age of onset too young (by current medical orthodoxy at least), (2) lack of sudden onset, (3) unintelligibility (conversion disorder usually mimics a socially understood condition), (4) failure of treatment for underlying mental health problems to affect the condition, (5) the experience is wrong – if it was conversion disorder, I’d expect to be able to see but not able to make use of my vision for any conscious task: it’s actually closer to being the other way around, with more wrong with the unconscious use of vision than conscious awareness, (6) this experience fits the pattern of a particular type of neurological fault, and I did not know this until I described it to a researcher into vision, who did not find it odd at all, and (7) I flinch when someone unexpectedly touches my face when I should have seen them coming.  On balance of probability the primary condition is neurological.

The same lack of obvious cause goes for most of my symptoms, and I find it extremely difficult to communicate with doctors as a result – because among other things I am often talking to people who don’t seem to believe what I’m saying is possible.  That is, I spend most of the time expecting people to switch off, assume I’m not really telling the truth, and as a result of this, it isn’t easy to actually tell the truth.  It isn’t easy to say, “yes, my wrist hurts, and so does pretty much every other joint in my body.  Oh, I can walk ten miles – it’s just that everything really hurts afterwards.  Especially my shoulder.  And I also find it difficult and uncomfortable to eat, and keep making myself really sick on tuna sandwiches.  And I keep falling over when I try to turn round.  And I keep losing my balance when I’m standing up.  And my feet won’t come up properly when I walk but if you press down on the top of them they are completely sound.  And I can’t tell properly when I’m thirsty.  And my vision is like looking through a waterfall anyway, but I keep getting things which look a bit like an migraine aura, such as little flashes of light.  Oh, and I can’t comprehend anyone speaking when there is background noise.  And I can’t control my voice properly.  I never get the volume right and either I’m inaudible or I shout.  But they tested my hearing and there isn’t anything wrong with it.  And this shoulder is going really crazy and hurts twice as much as usual but there is no loss of flexibility.  Yesterday it was my right hip that was doing that.  Though I did lose flexibility that time: I couldn’t actually put my toe in my mouth as a result.  And I have short term memory problems and I’m really struggling with that.  And mild tinnitus.  And noise hypersensitivity.  But only to some types of noise.  And mild photophobia.  And I have all these weird hayfever/skin allergies.  I used to be able to detect feathers in a duvet by my physical reaction to it, but that one seems to have gone off.  And I keep getting these random sensations – like stabbing pains, and pins and needles, and like insects walking all over me.  And I tend to sit with my feet turned in and they’re rather an odd shape (they are, but probably nothing pathological – though it worries me because they hurt).  And I seem to have a fatigue problem – I seem to be exhausted after doing nothing very much.  I get really tired trying to sit up.  I can’t maintain a good posture at all.  And I usually get presyncope when I stand up.  Or if I roll over to sleep on my back.  And I have chest pain.  On both sides in slightly different places.  And everything that doesn’t actually hurt is really uncomfortable.  Oh, and surprise, surprise, I’m rather depressed and anxious.”

Kudos to my current doctors: they did ultimately work it out.  HSD/hESD or similar.  A genetic fault in a protein that’s found all over the body resulting in complex multi-systematic issues.  And the fact that they thought (probably rightly) that I have problems which are psychosomatic didn’t cause them to stop looking for a physical cause for some of the other issues.  But most doctors have completely switched off before I get to the tuna sandwiches.

It seems to me that there is a set of layered problems when it comes to “psychosomatic” and its kindred phrases.  The first is the way people tend to attribute anything they don’t understand to “psychosomatic” problems, by which they often really mean “unreal”.  This was very apparent with the episode I had after that blood test, where the nurses kept going on about how they needed the room for another clinic.  Um, yes, what do you expect me to do about it?  Get up and faint properly on the floor so you have an excuse to call an ambulance?!  This attitude leads to a failure to investigate symptoms properly.

Secondly, “psychosomatic” is a sort of wastebasket taxon.  It isn’t something that is diagnosed because there are symptoms characteristic of it and none that aren’t.  It is something that is assumed whenever what the patient says doesn’t make immediate sense, doesn’t fit the patterns of the common causes of such symptoms.  The more so if you are depressed or have a history of mental health problems.  It tends to be assumed that the mental problems are causing the physical ones, not the physical ones the mental ones, and this is further confused by the fact that with something like HSD/hEDS, there may actually be structural differences in the brain that give you more of a tendency to depression.

For example, I do actually have seizures, distinct from the fainting, which probably are caused by complex post traumatic stress disorder.  It is impossible to be completely certain that it isn’t atypical epilepsy or one of the rarer causes of fits.  But, in this case, contrary to my visual problem, there is positive reason to think this phenomenon has a psychiatric cause.  (1) I have a clearly diagnosed condition which is well known to cause catatonic seizures.  (2) The seizures match the biologically expected pattern: i.e. they are rigid, wavy flexibility, locked-in fits, which usually happen only when I’m both emotionally stressed and also trying not to faint.  A lot of vertebrates have a last resort predator defence of some form of catatonic state.  It seems to be a way of avoiding eliciting a further hunting response from the predator, and of causing the predator to release their grip, allowing escape.  In CPTSD, the threat response system in the brain misfunctions (for instance, memories do not process properly out of the amygdala), and this seems sometimes to result in this catatonic state triggering in a disordered way.  Because low blood pressure is something that could also result from having been significantly wounded by a predator, it is logical that it should be part of the set of conditions that caused this mistaken response.  (3)  Doing things that should help, such as getting up and walking gently about, and reassuring myself that I’m safe, and trying to control any other symptoms like flashbacks, or simply leaving the situation, does seem to help.  As does treatment for the underlying disorder.

However, this is the same logic that would be applied to any other health condition.  It isn’t, as I said before of most things attributed to psychosomatic problems, like attributing what is not understood to the intervention of aliens.  It is using the same process of scientific logic as is usually used on illness to work out what it is wrong with the body.

Psychosomatic illness?  Yes, in that the cause of the problem is psychiatric.  Physical illness?  Yes too.  My body is misfunctioning on the mechanical level in a tangible way.

The third problem with the way in which psychosomatic is used in modern Western medicine is that it tends to be “diagnosed” by doctors who are not sufficiently expert in the field to tell the difference between a physical problem they don’t understand and the real physical symptoms caused by a psychiatric illness.  This is in part due to the extent to which mental health is not really treated with sympathy or given its fair share of resources.  Conversion disorder should only be diagnosed by doctors with the right expertise, just as much as something like EDS, heart conditions, or rare forms of throat cancer.

By the time I was agitating for a diagnosis of what was wrong, I was sure I had problems over and above the CPTSD.  This is mostly because the problems were getting worse while the CPTSD was, in its clearer manifestations, getting better.  It no longer made sense as an explanation.

I went to the appointments regarding the possibility of connective tissue disorder prepared to deal with the dismissive response that I’d previously had from a neurologist, which fortunately I didn’t get.  There are at least a lot more things that can actually be observed than there are with neurological problems: for example, that I am hypermobile can be seen by anyone who knows what they are looking at.  They don’t have to rely on my description of the experience.

My plan in case of blank dismissal was to say as calmly as possible: “does this mean you think that what I have actually got is conversion disorder?”  And if the answer was affirmative, to ask why they thought that.  And if they gave an answer amounting to “because I don’t understand it” to protest that this was not really an adequate reason.  Then, if I could not persuade them to look more deeply, or if they did have a positive reason to suspect a psychiatric cause, to finish with, “then could you refer me to a psychiatrist?  Or at least strongly recommend that the GP does?”  This would prevent the situation stagnating, of carrying on with a vague dismissal, but no clear knowledge of the real problem.  Whether I would have got anywhere, given the lack of resources for mental health, I have no idea.  I’ve also come across quite a few people saying that they were still having their physical symptoms dismissed despite a psychiatrist saying they didn’t have conversion disorder.

However, it would have been an attempt to put whatever the illness was back on the map of scientific medicine, taking it out of the realm of aliens.

Cherry Foster



Receiving Communion in an Epidemic: the practical side

I’ve written at some length in previous posts putting the view that the Church* should never refuse people the Sacraments in response to an epidemic, regardless of the situation, but that we should take a lot of precautions.  To refuse to allow people to receive is to accept a secular view of life and death, placing a risk to earthly life over the Divine Life given to the world in Christ’s Body and Blood, and is to insist that God should provide grace and deification by means other than those He chose to give us.  Not to take precautions is to put God to the test and to disregard His gift of earthly life.  I want to write now on what this might actually look like – firstly with regard to the reception of the Precious Blood, and secondly, with regard to how we might continue to receive when it is reasonable to suggest it might be preferable not to gather.

Firstly, the issue of the congregation receiving both the Broken Body of Christ and His Precious Blood.  The statement that sharing the Chalice in and of itself is dangerous puzzles me, as I’ve always thought they had done research on this point before, and found that it was not.  However, once one is into social distancing, it might be quite hard to receive it without people breathing over each other (in any case, it is probably better to offer an alternative anyway once people have serious concerns, as it is preferable that everyone feels free to receive fully and completely, as Christ Himself gave).

I do think it is preferable to share the Chalice, and I think there should be very good reasons to suppose there is a problem before we stop, but if there are real reasons not to do so, I think it would be a lot more reverent to turn to some other means of receiving in Both Kinds, than to deny the laity full participation in what is their offering as much as it is the priest’s (yes, we have defended Catholic order for certainly as long as I have been involved with the idea that the laity are as much part of the offering as the priest).

There are three ways I am aware of in which the Precious Blood can be reverently received without sharing the Chalice.  That is, intinction by the priest**, the use of individual cups, and the use of spoons.  There may be others.  Intinction by the priest is, I think, probably the best thing to advocate as a solution within the Church of England, but I will briefly discuss the other two methods first.

Receiving from spoons is what is done in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and I have in fact never seen it done.  I believe the Consecrated Bread is put into the Chalice, and then both are given by the priest on a spoon.  It is possible to use separate spoons, and boil them between services, but I am not sure how close it is necessary for priest and recipient to get, which may be a problem.  However, the method does have the advantage that it is not necessary for the recipient to touch anything with their hands.  I was quite paranoid, at the start of the epidemic when still in Church, over the issue of receiving the Host from my hands, thus touching my face after touching things like door-handles.  I took to slathering them with hand sanitiser a few minutes before receiving, which probably works ok***.  However, I would have been glad to avoid it if there was a better option.

I’m inclined to feel that receiving on spoons is sufficiently contrary to our tradition and what we are used to that it might be quite hard to adjust – which can disturb people’s worship and their capacity for reverence and spiritual growth.  This adjustment is potentially a concern with any alternative: I think in that case it is necessary for people to listen to each other as they go, and try to work out what people are actually saying – and to weigh the real reasons for doing something unusual with the extent of the problems it is causing – including spiritual difficulties, which should be accepted as real and important if we believe the relationship with God objective.

Receiving from separate cups is forbidden in the Church of England, for reasons that I haven’t yet been into, so I am not going to comment in theoretical terms, except to say that if it is the possibility of irreverence that worries people, it is surely more irreverent to deny people to receive fully than to receive in separate cups.  My main interest in the method is the potential it has for increasing social distancing, as it seems to me that if we used separate cups, which the priest put down on a linen covered table for people to pick up, it would be possible to put the Host down on top of each, and have each recipient drop the cup into a bowl of clean water after reception, lessening the touching of the same surfaces by different people.  On the other hand, most of this can probably be achieved by Intinction via priest as well, so if there are those who seriously disapprove of separate cups for some reason, there isn’t much reason to specifically advocate it.  (I would not, incidentally, encourage anyone to use separate cups while it is forbidden, but, if they wish to do so, to go and argue in synod etc. that it should not be disallowed).

Intinction via priest is, I think, probably the best way to try to go in the C of E.  It is something that is done in the context of hospital reservations, so it is reasonable to suppose it is allowed (though in the C of E, one never really knows)!  I have two comments about this.  The first is: if the fear with intinction by the priest is that it will result in the Precious Blood dripping all over the floor after the Host is dipped in the Chalice**** there is at least one way around this.  There are vessels which are used to give a drop of the Precious Blood to someone who cannot swallow solid food.  Using one of these would allow precise control, so no more is placed on the Host than it can absorb.  Secondly, if people still feel that receiving Communion brings people too close to each other, the Intincted Host could potentially be placed reverently down on an appropriate vessel to be picked up by the laity.  I realise this isn’t ideal, but if the option is excommunicating the vast majority of the people of God, surely it is still better?

This brings me on to the question of receiving when it is not a good idea to gather.  My feeling is that going this far is acceptable, so long as Communion is taken to everyone who requests it.  The logistics of this are obviously going to differ depending on place and what is going on.  There may, for instance, be times when, for example, celebrating Mass in gardens for less than ten people at a time would be realistic.  However, what I’m writing about here is mostly the sort of things that might be done during a more extreme lockdown, in the assumption that the lockdown has at least a reasonable medical justification in regard to infection risk, however much it may ignore other considerations both medical and otherwise.

Firstly, I would suggest that as many people as possible are employed in the task, to reduce the contact of any one person with too many others.  There are quite a few laity deployed normally to take the Sacrament to the sick.  Moreover, it should be possible to divide people into groups so, for instance, a person who goes to people who think they have the infectious illness never goes to anyone else (I believe the medical profession have done this sort of thing).

Secondly, I think the first thing that should be considered is normal home Communion using the same precautions which would be used by a carer who needs to go in to nurse and assist the sick and disabled.  That is, that the priest should do that liturgy as normal, using an Intincted Host (why not?  It matters to many of us who receive to receive the Precious Blood – that people should care about a gift He died to give us is a gain to the Church, not a loss).

However, in the case of certain services such as the Triduum, which are not really amenable to this, I would suggest streaming the service online and then sending people Communion, perhaps while broadcasting relevant music.

If normal home Communion, with the minister reading a short liturgy with the people involved is reasonably deemed a significant risk, I would suggest that people receive instead through a minimally open window or door.  Minister and recipient could both wear a mask until the window is closed.  With COVID-19, it might make sense for people to receive at arm’s length across a garden gate, as it seems to be pretty much non-transmissible outdoors, but this would mean not having the solid screen provided by reaching out to receive around a window or door.

Alternatively, it might be possible for each household to be provided with, or provides themselves with, a corporeal or other way of covering a table such that it is a reverent resting place for a pyx containing the Sacrament.  This table should then be put by an unfastened door or window, which the priest (or other person licensed to take Communion to people) can push open in order to place the pyx down.  The door or window can be closed, and the household can then receive from the pyx (while the minister watches, if necessary – though this might not be possible in every circumstance because it requires either an accessible window or a glazed door).

Either of these ways of doing things could be preceded by an online service or by distributing service sheets to people to use themselves prior to reception (there’s a liturgy called, I think, Communion by extension, which is quite a good one to adapt for this sort of purpose) .

Ultimately, the exact details of what people feel should be done to reverence the Sacrament in the process of unconventional reception of it, or what they feel should be done to try to avoid risk of infection, is likely to be different.  What I am really advocating is an attitude of problem-solving: that is, that instead of giving up, we should regard the worship of God and the reception of what He died to give for the life of the world, as something that should not be stopped or denied to any portion of the people of God.  We are failing in our witness to Christ, by placing earthly life before the Divine Life.  It is possible to do otherwise without resorting to an attitude of reckless disregard for human life.

Cherry Foster









*Where I am (at least to the best of my knowledge) it is the Church that has been responsible.  There are (as far as I know) no police blockades outside Church doors, no spies following the clergy about watching for violations of epidemic precautions.  It is their hands that have turned the keys in the locks, they who have declined to carry out their normal ministry in response to orders and threats.  As I write, incidentally, I, having been a daily Communicant for nine years, have been left with no access at all to either Communion or Confession for more than ten weeks – and this looks like it could easily continue for a similar length of time yet.  I am in a state of spiritual agony, to say nothing of struggling with temptations against faith itself (how far the latter is a result of the extent of the spiritual distress, and how much it is to do with the fact that what has been done seems to be a complete denial of everything I have been taught, it is difficult to tell).  There seems no sign of any possibility of this changing at least until I am able to receive the Sacraments in their fullness again – if by then it is possible for me to do so.  There comes a point in starvation where it is impossible to eat again due to the effects of the starvation.  As it matters in theory, in the need to be authentic to our theology, it matters in practice, for the sake of the Life of the individual Christian in Christ, and through that, for the Life of the World.

**Intinction by individual members of the congregation seems to be thought to be more dangerous than simply having everyone drink from it – but for the priest to put a drop of the Precious Blood on the Host from a vessel designed for that purpose cannot carry the same difficulties.

*** I have no strong opinion, incidentally, on the question of whether it is possible to actually pick up infections from the Body and Blood of Christ in their physically real element.  On the whole, I would be inclined to think one probably can: it seems reasonable to suppose that if Our Lord had had a cold during His earthly life, others would have caught it from Him in the normal way, and that seems to me to be as close as one could get to the circumstance.  But it doesn’t seem to me to matter very much because (a) even if one can’t catch anything from the Consecrated elements, one could catch it from one’s unwashed hands or from liturgical vessels, (b) I think any risk that cannot be reasonably negated ought to be taken in faith, knowing God has a much longer range perspective than we do, and has given these gifts for our healing even if it doesn’t look like it in the short term, and (c) thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test.

****It would surprise me if this was in fact a problem, but it is a concern I have heard raised over the priest dipping the Host in the chalice for the laity.  It would presumably be possible to do the experiment with unconsecrated elements?!


Posting the Zebra

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses…

Nokota_Horses_wikimedia commons photo credit Francois Marchal copyright attribution
Source: Wikimedia commons; photo credit: Francois Marchal

but remember it could be an okapi:

Okapi wikimedia commons Photo credit Daniel Jolivet copyright attribution
Source: Wikimedia commons; Photo credit Daniel Jolivet

In other words, start by assuming a sprained ankle, but don’t assume someone is lying or has conversion disorder because the symptoms don’t make immediate sense!

Why the Zebra?


May is Ehlers-Danlos syndrome awareness month, but as far as I can make out the same problems apply to many other rare, or even just confusing, conditions.  The genetic connective tissue disorders seem to be a particular issue, due to a combination of comparative rarity, multi-systematic issues, and comparative invisibility.  They produce effects no one expects to see.  The human body is held together by the proteins in connective tissue, so a genetic fault in the formation or transport of one of these proteins produces multi-systematic symptoms of widely varying severity wherever that protein isn’t able to function in the required way.

For example, I have neurological visual impairment, severe working and short term memory problems, severe sequencing problems, relentless joint pain (which I thought everyone had until recently), hypermobility, functional joint problems, headaches, significant fatigue, swallowing and voice control issues (causing problematic dietary issues), tendency to fall, gait problems, difficulty balancing on chairs, difficulty maintaining adequate posture, mild gut/abdominal organ problems, proprioceptive issues, sensory hypersensitivity problems, depression, anxiety, fatigue, paresthesias, palpitations (thankfully demonstrated harmless on scans), unusual proportions (makes it harder to find orthoses that work), fainting, temperature control problems, and probably a few things I’ve forgotten or haven’t been investigated yet.  While there is no ruling out co-morbidity at this stage (i.e. that some of these things are in fact caused by a second condition), as far as current scientific knowledge goes, all these problems can be caused by the one syndrome.  Combined with all this, I have a degree in philosophy (which took me eight years), I can walk ten miles (if I’m prepared to put up with the resulting pain and fatigue), I do complicated needlework, and I will climb over a fence if a gate can’t be opened.  It’s not simple.

There are a lot of real things which don’t seem logical at first sight.  The extreme complexity of the human body results in an equal complexity with regard to what can go wrong with it.

Cherry Foster

P.S. And here is a zebra if anyone was expecting one 😛 🙂

Equus_quagga_boehmi wikimedia commons photo credit Hans Hillewaert, copyright attribution
Source: Wikimedia commons; photo credit: Hans Hillewaert

What is it with the UK benefits’ system and letters?

I am long term disabled and am on a time unlimited award of the rather cumbersomely named “Income Related Employment and Support Allowance”.

It is the 14th May.  Today I received two letters from them, both dated the eighth of May, and involving eight sheets of A-four paper in all.  The latter three of these sheets seem to contain exactly the same text, except one significant difference in date.

The one I opened first informed me that from the 4th June my Employment and Support allowance would be X amount due to a change in “money coming in”.  Uh, what?

The one I opened second informed me:

“We cannot pay you Employment and Support Allowance from 7th May 2020.  This is because of: a change in money coming in.

“You are not getting any more income-related Employment and Support Allowance.”

After a brief explanation of why not, it immediately continues:

“From 11th June 2020 your Employment and Support allowance will be X a week…”

Are you confused yet?

To add to the confusion, the financial information on the last sheet, informing me what they think my income is and what I should be entitled to, is identical except for the date on which payment will reassume.  Neither explains why they think I currently have a higher income.

The only recourse if I want real information would be to ring the helpline, which would, from previous experience, likely result in my sitting for more than half an hour in a queue only to get through to someone who may have no idea what the answer is anyway, though they are better with this type of query than with some others.  Besides which, being severely dyspraxia (a major part of the reason I am on benefits in the first place) on a bad day it is not really possible to either dial the phone-number right or get through the security checks with things like NI numbers.  I’m quite capable of giving my date of birth wrongly, though I haven’t done that for a while.  Add in depression and my other problems and pursuing this sort of thing is impossible.  (I am one of the lucky ones: my family picks it up when I can’t do it).  Moreover, no-one can spend hours of energy pursuing confusing letters, and also put this time and energy into things which may help them move into work, let alone people with conditions that involve fatigue problems.

My guess is that these letters are a result of the fact that I have an unpredictable payment every now and again from a family trust, and that they have deducted an amount of money equal to this extra payment last month or something.  But it would be seriously helpful if they told you that, rather than coming out with machine generated jargon which tends to be fairly unintelligible and doesn’t say what you actually need to know to manage your money well (i.e. what the change in your income has been).  All of this is typical – it isn’t an aberration, and I have had much worse from them (suddenly requiring several years worth of back statements from several bank accounts, with indisputable mistakes in the dates involved, for example).

Could I perhaps suggest that one cross-party reform to the benefits’ system that is overdue is that of employing a few competent administrators to write intelligible letters to claimants about what is going on and why?

Cherry Foster