My friend and fellow columnist in this part of the paper, Rev Steve Stockman, wrote a poem for his blog called Tether's End, which included these lines:
We are at Tether's End Question upon question Distanced too far apart Too much isolation We are at Tether's End Months of dismal headlines People dying every day Friends risking on the frontlines.
These words seemed very relevant as we approach the end of this year, which for some of us can't come quickly enough. This has been a year like no other. As we look back on it, we must acknowledge that it has been an exceptionally challenging one for so many of us.
For some - maybe many of us - it has been the worst of years, though I must also acknowledge for some of us it may have been a good year - perhaps because of a marriage, the birth of a child, a graduation, or a new job, to mention only a few things.
Looking back over the last few months, it is inevitable that, with so much stress, anxiety and uncertainty in the air, our tempers may have been frayed at times and words and deeds were said and done that some of us may now be regretting.
Yes, let's face it: some of us during the months of restrictions were at Tether's End.
So, what do we do about it? We can add to the burden of guilt we may now be carrying by self-condemnation, or we can take a different approach, such as turning to God and handing over those painful encounters and asking forgiveness and, if at all possible, seeking forgiveness from those hurt by us. We also might need to forgive ourselves.
In the spirit of this column, which is about keeping faith during this pandemic, I now want to consider the suggestions of two Church leaders: one Pope Francis and the other the Bishop of Connor, Right Rev George Davison.
In the case of Pope Francis, he encouraged a solidarity with the poor and those in need when he suggested another way of seeing the restrictions: "Instead of complaining in these difficult times about what the pandemic prevents us from doing, let us do something for someone who has less."
Today, which I know as St Stephen's Day, we here in Northern Ireland face into further restrictions and all that brings.
Such a lot has been written about the limitations on our freedom, especially over the next week. Having said that, a lot depends on how we view these next number of days.
Right Rev Davison, in his Wednesday Wisdom video on the Care 4 Clergy Facebook page, suggested to clergy that they might find if useful to view these days of restrictions up to January 2 (at time of writing) as a "gift" and an opportunity to pause.
Bishop Davison suggested this in the light of all the busyness clergy face running up to Christmas Day, a busyness which can even rob the joy and meaning out of the Christmas season.
While the Care 4 Clergy video was primarily directed to those in Christian ministry, the reality of pressure leading up to Christmas is relevant to so many people. As this year comes to an end, may we take to heart Steve Stockman's wise words:
At Tether's End
We need tolerance and grace
Tenderness and compassion
A comforting embrace
At Tether's End
We need a radical humility
Others always above ourselves
The Spirit of like-minded unity.
Fr Martin Magill is parish priest of St John's, Belfast
Apt Bible readings
Some Scripture suggestions for the week ahead:
Monday: Matthew 11:28-30
Tuesday: Genesis 2:2
Wednesday: Mark 6:31
Thursday: Isaiah 14:3
Friday: John 14:1