The Ven John Barton considers the merits of a dream of reassurance…

Jesus calming the storm of Covid-19

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Hylton leaving Leicester Royal Infirmary

The BBC ‘Today’ programme that was broadcast on Good Friday included an interview with Hylton Murray-Philipson, a survivor of Covid-19. He had been on a ventilator in Leicester Royal Infirmary, “reduced to the state of a baby”.

The programme presenter, Nick Robinson, invited him to describe memories of his time in intensive care. When he said one of the images he had, in a moment of great distress and struggle, was of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and he would like to think this was Jesus coming to him and helping him in his hour of need, Robinson suggested this was partly because of the powerful drugs he had been given, “which play tricks with the mind”.

Later, Robinson apologised and said he didn’t mean to demean anyone’s faith. But what he had said also betrayed ignorance. While it is true that pain-killing drugs can cause hallucinations, these side-effects are rarely pleasant. It is not uncommon for patients to become agitated, anxious, confused and even prone to violence. Their physical pain will have been reduced, but that may have been at the necessary cost of mental disturbance; the overriding experience being more like that of a storm, than of a sea being calmed.

Back in the 1960s, it became fashionable for some groups to promote the use of illicit drugs because of the temporary sensations they induced. John Lennon of the Beatles said he had “such an overwhelming feeling of well-being, that there was a God, and I could see him in every blade of grass. It was like gaining hundreds of years of experience in 12 hours.”

In his new book, ‘Morality – Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times’, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks chronicles the devastating long-term effects of leisure drugs. He includes cannabis, which he calls a ‘gateway drug’, because most of those who become serious addicts later, began with it.

So what was it that Hylton Murray-Philipson actually experienced, when he was at death’s door in that hospital intensive care unit? He knew the biblical story of seasoned fishermen, fearful of their lives because a sudden squall threatened to swamp their boat. Did he recall their alarm because Jesus, asleep in the stern, appeared to be unconcerned at the very moment when divine assistance was most needed? Did not his coronavirus-induced distress match theirs?

The Gospels relate that Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Is that what Hylton experienced, too? He says it was.

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do, I ought to do,
And what I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.