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Enhancing the relationship with the Earth

In the Chart of Humanities, we collect the voices of experts from the Humanities for Health who told us about their guiding pillars at the time of COVID-19. We report here the testimony of June Boyce-Tillman, Reverend Professor, MBE, PhD, MA, LRAM, FRSA, FHEA, Professor of Applied Music and Artistic Coordinator for the Centre of Arts and Wellbeing at the University of Winchester, Extraordinary Professor at the North-West University of Potchefstroom (South Africa). 

Biological model

Over 70 years old, I am hunkering down, following government instructions. I have not been outside my house for two weeks. This  presents me with blessings and problems.  The temptation is to wear the same clothes everyday but then there is ZOOM and SKYPE.  What jewellery will work well? From a career as professor and a priest I have always been concerned about wearing the most appropriate outfit.  What is appropriate now?  Should I wear green for hope? More significant is my hair. It is long and I have always had it up to be ‘professional’ . Can I now have it down to supervise a student?  What about being part of Sunday service on ZOOM? Agonising new decisions!

I am concentrating on regular meals and beginning to cook a little again rather than having just purchased ready meals with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

I am not good at exercise as my main exercise was swimming and the public swimming pools are shut.  I have arthritis and walking is not easy although it is allowed.  I have developed my own swimming-like exercises in the bath.  To boost the immune system I take a hot/cold/hot/cold shower each morning.

Psychological model

I am an academic and have serval articles and writing projects on the go.  This is a blessed chance to get on with them. It keeps a relationship with the old world. I am trying to make a chapter on Women in Music Leadership be 6000 words long when at present is 9000. At least I am familiar with this world!

I have more time to search the internet for interesting ideas and follow leads that may produce nothing but are fascinating.  I am trying to play the piano every day; at the moment it is Mozart’s Fantasia of D minor . I am also researching community singing in church so I am enjoying myself with playing through favourite hymns from my childhood.

I am only listening to the news once a day and avoiding being overcome by the statistics and general gloom.

I retired from my job as a professor last year but have not really embraced it.  Now it seems more real – I can enjoy my conservatory for a half hour longer after breakfast and not feel guilty. Lying in the garden and listening to the wind in the trees and the birds is now permissible. Staying in bed a little linger and listening to the radio now works for me.

I am watching a lot of streaming of one kind and another (especially Wisdom posts, like Richard Rohr and church services) and listening to the huge range of music available now – everything from shamanic drumming to repeated chords that claim to improve my immune system, Yo Yo Ma playing Saint Saens’ The Swan and Bohemian Rhapsody adapted for the corona virus.  I am enjoying a great deal of the humour; Laughter is a great healer.

Social model

I do miss physical meetings and especially hugs but  my days are filled with acquiring a multitude of new skills.  I already had some SKYPE and ZOOM experience but with little understanding. However, I have taken a Eucharistic service by ZOOM for a local church and am delighting in new ways to do things; these often involve skilful friends carefully teaching them  I have enrolled on Instagram as well as expanding my Facebook skills.  I am trying to learn to stream on Facebook.

By means of ZOOM I have more meetings with my family at least every two days. I have contacted friends with whom I have lost touch – sometimes by old-fashioned telephone and am enjoying all their posts on Facebook and writing more affirming comments than usual.

Many more formal meetings are held by ZOOM and we are getting more skilled. I hope that we shall continue working this way – it saves many journeys and much money. Internationally it’s amazing.

Around me there are numerous community groups forming to help people like me, delivering food,  offering support in a variety of ways. I hope they carry on when this is over.

It is tempting to think that this event is isolating but I think I feel more connected, just in different ways.

Spiritual model

I feel as if I am in quite a beautiful bubble where I am; I have such gratitude for having a house and garden and remember how different that is from many others. I keep praying that our kindness to the earth will last beyond all this – a sky free of planes, where I can hear the birds singing so beautifully –  an air free of pollution, while the trees above me grow catkins and blossoms! My relationship with the earth has definitely deepened.  I was aware that because of the Christian relationship with heaven that I need to reconnect with the earth.  I lean against a tree and feel the connection to the sky with all the angels running down into the earthy roots where the worms and many other small creatures are doing essential work.

I have also time to reflect on my life and the meaning and purpose  – the strands and the principles and above all my relationship with the Divine – use whichever name of the Divine that is appropriate.  I have rediscovered the feminine in the Divine through the Virgin Mary and the Hindu goddesses. I pray that a protecting veil will stretch over the world – as in John Tavener’s Protecting Veil for cello and orchestra.

I reflect on the change that our world needs and whether we can learn more sacred principles that will underpin the new world that might emerge from this crisis.

  • To honour the environment
  • To give up the ruthless pursuit of economic growth
  • To narrow the gap between rich and poor
  • To find new ways to establish important and maintain significant relationships
  • To find time for prayer, reflection and also allow the body to recover from illnesses rather than just ruching on regardless
  • To take more time and live life slower

My son is an essential worker working in a hostel for men with complex needs with limited protective equipment and no way of isolating men who are unwell.  So different from where I am! His situation calls for prayers for all who are suffering and all who are bereaved and all who are anxious.

I often sing my song reminding me of God’s continuing care:

1. I will hold you in the hollow, in the hollow of my hand,

I will hold you in the hollow of my hand,

I will hold you in the hollow, in the hollow of my hand,

I will hold you in the hollow of my hand.

2. I will hold you in the sharing, in the sharing with your friends,

I will hold you in the sharing with your friends,

I will hold you in the sharing, in the sharing with your friends,

I will hold you in the hollow of my hand.

3. I will hold you with the ripples of the sea….

4. I will hold you in the flaming of the fire…

5. I will hold you in the flowing of the air…

6. I will hold you in the firmness of the earth…

7. I will hold you in the hollow of my hand…… 

What a mixture of feelings – some amazing and some anxious. A strange time!

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