The car crash-coronavirus analogy again – and the reception of the Precious Blood

The withdrawal of the Precious Blood from Anglican congregations due to coronavirus seems to lack consistency when it comes to the way we handle different types of risks.

At time of writing, the death count among those positive for coronavirus in the UK is published as 21*.  And without a miracle, it is clear that the number of deaths is going to rise, though hopefully we will come out of this and find fewer people have actually died of it than of the seasonal flu.  (This doesn’t mean I’m not aware this particular epidemic presents some peculiar challenges not involved in the case of the flu).  Taking sensible precautions against infection has a role in helping the death count to stay low.

The hope that the numbers will be statistically low does not mean those deaths do not matter.  I am sorry for people’s loss, and I will be praying for those who have died of it and for all others who have died in the last few weeks (of whatever cause), that they may rest in peace and rise in glory.

However.  1,784 people died on the roads in 2018, and those deaths are not less important.

When driving a car, you don’t drink too much alcohol, you fasten your seatbelt, and you refrain from using a hand-held mobile phone.  At least, I hope people do and don’t.

Do people say: “is my journey absolutely necessary?” or “It is incredibly selfish for anyone to make a car journey because it might put others at risk.”

No.  We take sensible safety precautions and we don’t hesitate to make the most trivial of journeys.

But when it comes to the Precious Blood of Christ, who resigned His equality with God to be born Incarnate, to live, suffer horribly, and die, in order to give us that most precious and unbelievable gift and the life and love that is received through It, do we take sensible precautions – make perhaps a few careful changes to exactly what we are doing – and carry on receiving?

No.  We say: “it isn’t necessary for validity.”  “It’s selfish to ask to go on receiving because it might put others at risk.”  We treat Him as if receiving Him in the completeness of His gift was an emotional indulgence – was more of an emotional indulgence than a car journey for a Saturday afternoon trip to a tea-room.

How can we respond like that if we believe what we say?

Cherry Foster

 

 

N.B.  I would ask anyone responsible for the policy or for implementing it to appreciate that this is a cry of perplexity and anguish, and an appeal to rethink the importance of what is being denied – to Him, as well as to us – it is not an accusation of deliberate hypocrisy.  I come out as INFJ on Myers-Briggs: I genuinely tend to be both coldly technical and passionately emotional at the same time.

*Lest I spread alarm and despondency: this is as yet a tiny fraction (0.018) of those known to have it in the UK, and as they are testing the more serious cases (i.e. the people more likely to die), the number of people in the UK who have got it who have actually died is almost certainly comparatively tiny.  Not that deaths don’t matter.  Just that it is not a cause for panic.

A Coronavirus Statistic in Proportion

 

Car Crash, source wikimedia commons, copyright to attribution
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday I went to a hospital appointment on the bus.  With hand sanitiser in my pocket and trying to sit where I was less likely to be coughed over.

I took the same level of precaution when travelling a couple of days after Christmas.  While I’m not medically a person with high risk, the fatigue side of my disability tends to mean minor infections incapacitate me in an annoying way.  And the mental consequences of quarantine are not necessarily minor.

I picked up an abandoned newspaper, which was – among other means of spreading alarm and despondency – trying to make a thing of the fact that more than 1000 people had died of coronavirus in Italy.

I am sorry to hear that – it isn’t good, and I’d rather people didn’t die and others didn’t have to mourn their loss.

However, the average number of excess winter deaths per day in the UK (five year average ending 2017, which was the most recent I could find) was more than a 1000 (3).

The highest number of influenza deaths in a single week in the UK (5) in the year 2017 to 2018 was 14,010 (3), i.e. about 14 times a thousand.  (The influenza that year had an unusually high mortality, however).

And 1,784 people were killed on the roads in the UK in the year 2018 (4), with 26,610 killed or seriously injured.

Coronavirus?  Fasten your seatbelt.  Take sensible, evidence-based precautions.

But don’t panic.  There is no reason to expect a zombie apocalypse.

Cherry Foster

 

  1. Retrieved from the Wikipedia article as I know no Italian.  The reference given is^ “La popolazione legale del 15° Censimento della popolazione”. http://www.istat.it (in Italian). 19 December 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/2011censuspopulationestimatesfortheunitedkingdom/2012-12-17
  3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/excesswintermortalityinenglandandwales/2017to2018provisionaland2016to2017final figure 3.
  4. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/reported-road-casualties-in-great-britain-annual-report-2018; first link
  5. The population of Italy at a census taken nine years ago (2011) was 59,433,744 (1), of which between one and two thousand is a tiny fraction.  In a census taken in the same year, the population of the UK was 63,182,000 – a little higher (2), meaning that the Italian deaths from coronavirus are similarly slightly higher proportionally to all the UK statistics quoted here.  Not being good with typing long numbers correctly, I haven’t tried to work out each figure as a percentage of the population to remove the approximate nature of the comparison – I’d probably make mistakes – but the figures to do it are here if anyone wishes to try it.  If you do, I’d be really interested to know what the answers are.

N.B. I am having trouble with links 2 and 3: the reference is what is in my address bar for those pages, but there seems to be something about it which I don’t understand.  However, searching for the relevant phrase should bring up the pages.

O Pelican

For the sake of giving expression to the intensity of the grief involved in the withdrawal of Communion in Both Kinds, and for the sake of anyone else who is suffering.

By the way, I do also appreciate that the clergy are making what they honestly think is the best decision under difficult circumstances, and I really appreciate the sympathy of those who have been sympathetic; however, I feel the perspective expressed here on that decision is also valid.  As far as I can make out, the evidence suggests that even actually sharing the chalice holds no risk of spreading anything.

 

O kind, self wounding Pelican, wherefore

Hast Thou withdrawn from us Thy breast?

Why forsaken dost Thou leave Thy young

Perishing for thirst of Thee within Thy very nest?

 

O stewards of His mysteries, where are your eyes?

That on remotest chance of sparing earthly life

Unwitting tempt your sheep toward the spirit’s death

And will not hear their anguished pleas for Life.

 

O Pelican, I would not have dreamed to say to Thee,

“Give me Thy Blood,” I said, “Do not deceive,”

And yet Thou gavest me Life and all Thyself.

Yet Life not given could not thus have grieved.

 

O Pelican, why hast Thou thus replaced Thy love

With mechanical rite of mere valid sense?

Why hast Thou withdrawn Thy covenant complete?

The outward sign of inward grace defence.

 

O Pelican, Forsaken One, remember, heal and spare,

For valuing what Thou gavest we bear uttermost contempt,

From valley of the shadow with despairing breath we plead,

To whom Thou hast promised no test beyond their strength.

 

Cherry Foster

To those suffering from the withdrawal of the Chalice – You Are NOT Alone

Pelican iconographic picture wikimedia commons copyright to attribution
A pelican wounding its breast to feed its young on its blood: a common image of the Eucharist. Photo source Wikimedia Commons; Photo Credit: Andreas Praefcke

I have spent today in the sort of tears that someone would expect upon the death of a close relation, as a consequence of the withdrawal of the Chalice over the coronavirus panic.  And I am unlikely really to be all right, or to feel other than utterly bereaved until Communion in both kinds is restored.  (If by then I have not learned to loathe the Eucharist and all that appertains to it due to my engagement with the Eucharist being the inadvertent cause of such overwhelming suffering – yes, I do endure that temptation).

While like most, if not all, people in my denomination, I believe it is valid to receive in one kind (i.e. only the Host), I value the Precious Blood intensely.  That is a good thing.  But it means valuing it whether or not it is convenient, or whether or not there is a crisis.  The Eucharist is the centre of my life – as it should be.  To suffer any diminishing or incomplete receiving of the gift is utterly devastating.

It is very difficult to tell, but I personally believe (and I am certainly not alone in believing) that the current response is a massive over-reaction to the reality of the current situation, which I find difficult because it causes me to feel that people are making nothing of my suffering.  To be caused to suffer like this because there was a real, known chance someone would die otherwise, is very different from being caused to suffer so intensely on the very remote off-chance.  Moreover, even in situations where it is appropriate to withdraw the sharing of the Chalice (i.e. when there is good quality evidence it is actually a risk), this does not have to mean withdrawing Communion in both kinds: there are at least three other ways of receiving that probably wouldn’t hold any risk of contamination*.

So to anyone else who feels it as deeply, and is distressed, and is being criticised for this by people who don’t experience it the same way, I can’t say anything that would be really comforting, any more than I could be comforted myself by anything other than a change of policy at least to return to Both Kinds, even if the Chalice was not restored in the normal manner.

But if it does anything to take the very slightest edge off your grief: You are NOT alone.  There are others of us who feel this with the same intensity.

Cherry Foster

 

 

See also my post “In Both Kinds?” for some more technical comments about the importance of receiving in both kinds.

*Using a set of gilded spoons and disinfecting them between people; using separate cups (which I believe the C of E objects to, though I’m not clear why); and for the priest (who should have scrubbed his hands anyway) to intinct the Host for each of the congregation (which I believe was actually the suggestion in the guidelines during the swine flu panic, though I’m not aware of any church that actually implemented it).

Edited to add: actually, does anyone know why the C of E objects to using separate cups?  After all, we usually use more than one chalice, and no one seems to object to the use of separate Hosts.  And it would be reasonable to argue that no reverent use of his gift in its fullness is less reverent than refusing part of it. (See the Church of England Book of Common Prayer, Oxford University Press, Page 305 – which cites the grief of spreading a feast only to have the guests refuse to come).

Not that I personally have any particular attachment to any specific alternative, only that one should be found.

Afar Off

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child!

My father, I have sinned, I pray you hear…

My dearest, thou dost live that wast defiled!

 

Rejoice, mine own returns from what was vile!

I am not worthy, scarce dare I draw near…

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child!

 

Prepare the calf, high let the feast be piled!

I have done that which must your spirit sear…

My dearest, thou dost live that wast defiled!

 

How hast thou suffered in the lonely wild…

For nothing I have done could be held clear…

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child!

 

Thou has come home no more to be beguiled.

Thy love o’erwhelms me… Oh, my father dear!

Bring forth the robe, a ring, some shoes; my child,

My dearest, thou dost live that wast defiled.

 

Cherry Foster

 

Prodigal_Son wikimedia commons, copyright to attribution
Stained Glass CHS Cathedral. Source: Wikimedia Commons; (Photo credit unclear).

How to assist a disabled stranger without killing them…

All right, that is an exaggeration, but it isn’t as much of an exaggeration as I’d like it to be. I am incredibly grateful to live in a society where the main danger of having a disability is being accidentally knocked under a train by a person who was “only trying to help”, rather than that of being attacked and killed by someone who wants a disabled person’s body parts to use in a magic spell.

However, it is also true that as a culture we lack “manners” for offering and declining/receiving help in many situations, to a point where it is a serious problem, causing actual danger, loss of functionality or confidence, and mutual social resentment.

Here are some (obviously somewhat limited) suggestions about how to offer assistance without doing anything damaging or inappropriate.

Stop.  Think.  Ask.  Respect.

 

Stop:

Don’t panic. Disability is a fact of life, not an emergency.

 

Think:

Take your mind off the disability and note something else that is human about the other person. Are they wearing a wedding ring, a university hoodie, or the latest fashionable hairstyle?

Do they look as if they want help, or are they just getting on with life?

Is offering help at this moment going to make things harder rather than easier for them? If someone has visual impairment needs, wait until after the station announcements. If someone is in a wheelchair, do not move the wheelchair ramp they are trying to go up in order to be able to stand where you can speak to them!

 

Ask:

This stage is about establishing whether or not the person would actually like help.

If you think the person might want assistance and you are able to render it then:

Try to avoid rushing headlong towards someone – this can come across as threatening. We cannot read your minds either! You might be coming to offer help – or you might be rushing towards us with a knife…

Respect personal space generously.

Ask verbally if they would like help.

Never randomly grab or touch someone or their mobility aids without interacting with them first*. At best it isn’t appropriate – it leaves them with no polite way out of the situation if you get it wrong – and at worst it is extremely dangerous – as when someone has poor balance and they end up being knocked off the platform into the way of an oncoming train.

Open ended questions such as “would you like assistance?” are often best. Imagine your work colleague is swearing at their computer, or that you are a shop assistant not sure whether a customer wants to browse or wants to be served. This avoids the awkwardness involved in saying “would you like me to help you across the road?”, followed by an utterly blank face and the words, “What? I wasn’t trying to cross the road”!

Avoid starting with questions or statements which assume the other person wants help. Examples would be “which bus are you trying to catch?” and “I’m going to help you around this sign.” Make sure possible answers to your question include a polite “no, I’m fine, thank-you”.

Don’t pester. Repeat the question once in a slightly louder voice, if you think they might not have heard it, and if they ignore you, then leave them alone. They may need to concentrate and demanding their attention will make things worse.

 

Respect:

Remember, people with disabilities have the same autonomy as anyone else. They are entitled to decide to walk down the street without assistance – and get their feet wet in the puddles or whatever – no matter how stupid the person offering the help thinks they are being in refusing!

If the person says “no thank-you” to help, say something like “have a good day” and leave them alone at once. Don’t press them. I understand why people do, but the harassment value of that can become a problem, particularly when we’re talking to the 6th person to offer help in 8 minutes! In that type of situation, we need to be able to say no thank-you quickly and get on with what we are doing, without having to spend ages arguing about it.

If the person says “yes” to help, try to do what they ask as much as possible.

If you aren’t sure what they want you to do next, questions like “how would you like to do this?”; “do you want to take my arm?”, “would it help if I held your stick?”, are generally completely fine. People tend to get good at explaining what they need done.

 

Cherry Foster

 

 

*With visual impairment, I think this problem arises partly because it genuinely is appropriate to touch a person with VI with whom you are interacting more than you would someone fully sighted. This is because it is a way of using a different sense to compensate for the absence of vision.

However, while it is appropriate to use touch more when interaction has been established, in my opinion it is actually less appropriate to try to establish an interaction with a person with VI needs by touch, due to the fact that they may not know you are there.  (Unless they are also deaf – I have no idea what it is appropriate to do in those circumstances, as none of my “ask verbally like this” stuff can be assumed to work in that case. In the UK, people who are also deaf will often add red stripes to their white cane to alert people to the need for a modified response).

A letter to a hospital

Non-judgmentalism includes not judging when the issue is moral standards we believe in.

[I wish to raise a concern] about policy stated in a notice in the waiting room which I felt raises legitimate concerns about whether the paramount priority of patient care is being maintained.

The notice said that the hospital would not allow patients to refuse treatment from a particular member of staff on racist grounds, and that any refusal of treatment on such grounds could be considered refusal of treatment altogether.

I was horrified to find that any patient of yours refuses to be treated by a particular person for such reasons. Racism is very wrong, and its ongoing presence in our communities is rightly a deep concern.

However, I was more horrified that a hospital would consider responding to the problem in this particular way. Granted, patient care requires politeness and mutual respect, and I think it is quite reasonable to insist that no one responsible for their actions uses certain types of language within the hospital. But this is different from removing the patient’s autonomy to ask for a different doctor irrespective of whether their reason is good or bad.

For one thing, it creates a practical problem, at the minimum being a cover for incompetence, and at the worst, an abusers’ charter. Suppose a woman (or a man) believes that a doctor (or other member of staff) is using medical access to her body as a cover for groping her sexually, and that doctor is of a different race.

Such a policy puts her in a situation where if she requests to be transferred, but cannot prove a complaint, she is liable to be accused of racism if she requests to be treated by someone else. This may prevent her receiving treatment or trap her in a situation where the price of treatment is submitting to abuse. In cases where a person is not happy with the doctor’s competence, playing the race card to block their access to another doctor is likely to be even easier, as such concerns are often instinctive rather than analytical. The only way of preventing this is not to regard the patient’s possible reasons for making the request as a relevant factor.

I would also ask whether refusing someone treatment because they are being racist is really any different, in theory, from refusing a pregnant woman treatment because she refuses to marry the father of the child. The precise similarities and differences of the two cases are interesting, but the question is worth asking. It is usually argued that it is right for medical practice to aim to be non-judgemental about moral issues.

I appreciate the awfulness of racism, and the fact that the policy is a natural reaction to it. However, I think in the case of a hospital, it is necessary to stop at insisting that people must not be verbally or physically abusive, and not to reduce the autonomy of patients to make choices about who treats them.

 

Any thoughts, further arguments for this position, counter-arguments to it, or experiences of (probable or indisputable) racism in such circumstances, or of being accused of racism, or being unwilling to make a request for a different reason for fear of being accused?  It is hardly a simple question.

Cherry Foster