Fear Not, Little Flock

The Cotswolds, July 2019

No joke—we were supposed to be spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

We made the plans months ago, as soon as the date was settled for my Awards Ceremony in Oxford at the end of March: we would visit beloved friends in Northern Ireland and catch our Rabbit Room chum Andrew Peterson in concert. We were arranging to meet up with Ross Wilson, my Hutchmook UK session partner from last summer and creator of the magnificent C.S. Lewis sculpture, “The Searcher” in Belfast. From Belfast, we’d hop a ferry over to Scotland, and drive down into the Lake District, holing up for a few days in a cottage once owned by Beatrix Potter (yes, really). And thence, on into Oxford, where four years of study (five, if you count the year-off thanks to the house fire) would culminate with what my course director described as “full University panoply,” held in the famous Sheldonian Theatre.

To be honest, I’ve been dreaming of that moment for six years this March, ever since I submitted my application on the first day of spring, then sat down on the violet-studded grass in the backyard with my puppy, Bonnie, to contemplate what I’d just done. Of course, the opportunity itself was the real treasure, the work and the knowledge I’d wrestle out of it the real reward. Nevertheless, I am a person of ceremony and celebration—anniversaries, milestones, finish lines, and the like are all very important to me, and acknowledging them in tangible ways brings them down from the realm of the acknowledged into the sphere of the experienced. It’s the same reason my friend Laura keeps a bottle of champagne chilling in her fridge at all times, just in case something extra wonderful happens on a Tuesday. It’s why I cook way too much food for an anniversary dinner for two, or have been known to carry a silver tea service or an antique platter of roast chicken out into the middle of a pasture for a picnic.

To say that I was looking forward to that event is like saying I kind of like Christmas a little bit.

On Thursday, the University cancelled the ceremony—not postponed or rescheduled but canceled. The finality of the thing was such a blow it was hard to get my mind around what it all meant—not only for our trip, but for our whole world. It’s hard to believe that this time last week, I really thought I was getting on a plane for a special holiday in the UK—or even that acquiring basic household supplies would not be a problem. In the cascade of cancellations that followed, however, the magnitude of the situation came into clear and overwhelming focus. This was not just my problem, or even my country’s—this was an ache felt from one side of our beautiful, broken old earth to the other.

To be perfectly honest, it took me a minute to get from, I’m young and healthy to I could actually bear a fatal disease to someone I will never know. Once that reality sunk in, however, the small sacrifices of self-limiting behavior seemed trivial. I have so many friends in high-risk areas who have already curtailed their freedoms willingly for the good of total strangers. As Joy Clarkson put it, this virus doesn’t play fair. It strikes our most vulnerable, those already compromised by age or illness. To think that by simply staying home we could aid the war being waged against it—or, at the very least, lend relief to those on the frontlines—well, that was what my Daddy would call a no-brainer.

But it’s far from easy, particularly for many of you whose lives have been hopelessly complicated by school closings and telecommuting, not to mention the interruption of basic things, like a well-stocked grocery store, playgrounds for pent-up children, date nights, and doctors’ appointments. Which is really the main reason I’m writing here today—not to air grievances or wax eloquent about things you’re already living, but just to say I’m thinking of you, I see you in my imagination, I hold your fears and your frustrations in my heart and I’m lifting them up to God in prayer. This is one of the few times in history that the whole world has hurt together over the very same thing, and while it makes our world feel wonderfully small, it can also make it feel terribly scary.

I want to make space for you, not only in my prayers, but also here, and in my Instagram feed, to know, however isolated you might feel, that you’re not alone. One of the lovely paradoxes of this thing is that, while social distancing is being encouraged, and, in some places, enforced, we still have the resources and the opportunity to connect with one another in meaningful ways. I was talking to my sister about it this afternoon, and we both agreed that loneliness is the curse of the modern age, but that this unprecedented and wholesale seclusion might just be the very thing that would give people enough time (and perhaps enough boredom) to tackle it head-on.

From the first moments after Philip and I decided to self-quarantine, I was flooded with a resolve to invest this time with creative intention, to dig deep into the disappointments and fears of the situation, longing to plant something beautiful, useful, and hopeful in the ground this crazy virus has cleared in all of our lives. All that to say, I want to acknowledge that, for most of us, “cleared ground” can look more like a minefield than a garden bed right now. Meals must still be put on the table, people cared for, laundry done, grocery stores braved—all in the midst of unfathomable inconvenience. And this is not even to mention the question of how to love people from a distance. What about the homeless, and those in prison? What about the nursing homes and the hospital workers and the small businesses? {Deep breath.}

It’s no coincidence that the word ‘pandemic’ sounds so much like ‘pandemonium’—sometimes my eye telegraphs that to my brain when I see it in the news.

But we have a secret—a treasure the world cannot give and the world cannot take away. Christians pronounce it upon each other every Sunday, all over the world, and priests proclaim it confidently over the dying: the peace of Christ.

My peace I give you.

These are the words that have been thrumming over the noise in my head the past few days.

I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I come to you today with this sole gem in my hands, and it is vastly, immeasurably, unconditionally more than enough. It is not a magic bullet, or some kind of Christian spell to fairy-dust our fears away. It is, plain and simple, the truth, whether we feel like it or not. A foundation safe enough to build a life upon. Christ gives His peace to us, not as an ephemeral greeting, a desire or a wish, but as a sacrificial reality—a reality which He spared no expense to secure for us. Our most earnest, creative, beautiful, loving human attempts to bring peace are always going to fall short if they don’t point towards something beyond, something that doesn’t depend on circumstances and does not flinch in the face of our feelings.

Christ gives His peace to us—which is to say, Christ gives Himself to us, in what St. John calls “unfailing love and faithfulness.”  

“Fear not, little flock,” Jesus says elsewhere, and I never cease to be surprised by the tenderness of His tone in the face of human confusion and frailty.

Looking out at my own little flock, grazing complacently in the sudden gift of late afternoon sunshine, I catch a flicker, an imperfect splinter of that brooding, divine love. They are afraid of many things they ought not to be (and unafraid of many things they ought). They have no idea how much time and thought we give to secure fencing, appropriate medications, healthy pastures, free-choice minerals, well-seasoned hay, vitamin drenches and free-choice mineral “buffets.” They have no idea how instinctively I watch them from the house, counting them subconsciously every time I see them file back to the barn, or how bodily I’d defend them should anything try to harm a tuft of their wooly heads.   

The trust I occasionally see in those liquid brown eyes of theirs melts my heart. They know I love them, I think—they just cannot fathom how much.

This is a time for great love, to neighbors, friends, strangers, and it is a time of great opportunity. We’re living in the midst of history-making events, even as we sigh over what movie to watch next, or which audiobook might satisfy a household of disparate tastes.

But may I suggest that it can also be a time of great gentleness, for ourselves as well as for others? The disappointments and challenges you’re facing right now might be shadowed by a worldwide suffering, but they’re still valid. I think it helps us glimpse joy in difficult situations if we’re honest about what makes us sad.

I’ve bent your ear over my disappointment. I’d be honored to hear about your hopes deferred, if you care to share them in the comments or via message. I really do care, and I’m sorry.

I’m praying for you—all of you. And I’m thinking creatively about how we can keep company as we weather this storm.  

I’ll be back soon.

Under the Mercy,


Radcliffe Camera, Oxford


  1. Thank you, Lanier, for these beautiful, comforting words. I believe we’re all a bit stunned at what is happening, but I also believe that the world in general has been ignoring or neglecting God. Could this be God’s way of getting our attention? Thank you for prayers and loving thoughts. I’m in the process of moving to another state, so it’s a little harrowing at the moment. You have my prayer health and safety as well.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Lanier, I appreciate your words and your story. I’m so sorry your graduation has been cancelled. In the last 48 hours my work and social life have slipped into the Covid-19 abyss so quickly that I’m still trying to take it in. The reality is that none of us know what is going to happen next. It’s slightly stunning. But it’s good to know we’re not alone. We have each other and Christ. Thank you for the kindness and wisdom of this post. May God bless you and Philip. Love from me in England. x

  3. Your words are always so comforting and so wise, Lanier. I have missed hearing your voice and hope you will post more often. These are times that once again will surely try men’s souls. And I am so sorry to hear the well-earned and important milestone of earning your Oxford degree will not be met with the solemnity and celebration you (and all the others who have slipped into this sudden crevasse) are so deserving of. It seems so unfair that it cannot simply be postponed!! Love the photo of the Cotswolds and hope you will post some of your darling flock… their faces are so gentle and sweet. That beauty and peacefulness is the perfect balm for this world of hurt.

  4. Dear Lanier,
    so lovely to hear from you again! And I am so sorry for the deep deep disappointment you have suffered, in not being able to suitably celebrate such an occasion. Your words were balm to me in a difficult and anxious time. All I have to offer in return is the possibility to which I am clinging – that as the world perforce has to stop and contemplate, creation is being given a small breathing space from pollution and being trampled under machinery. The skies were clear over Beijing last month.

  5. Dear Lanier,

    My students at my college are in much the same situation as you. It’s hard to give up longed for milestone celebrations. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feeling. I know you are an Elizabeth Goudge admirer. I just stumbled across her A Book of Comfort, in an antiques store last week. I am finding it as the title advertises.

  6. Your “sole gem” shines, like the phial of Galadriel, even more brightly in the dark. Thank you, dear soul.

  7. Thank you Lanier. Our oldest son graduates this spring, and he was going to go to England as a graduation present–he’s long-dreamed of living in England, and so the cancellation of this trip was just one of several disappointments for him his senior year. Not life-threatening, but still so disappointing. I’m sorry you aren’t able to go and celebrate; your trip sounded wonderful! Here’s to hoping next year we can all regain what we’ve lost this season!

  8. Dear Lanier,

    I can hardly think of anyone who would have enjoyed a real Oxford graduation more than you would have! And to think there is no postponement or means to to replicate it; I am sorry for your sore disappointment. Knowing your penchant for celebration, I trust that you find some way to mark it (no pretence that it will make up for your disappointment, but an acknowledgement and honouring that you have walked the good road of your studies and have reached your destination). Congratulations!

    It’s taken me a week or more to comment. Though I initially cried over the simple kindness of your offering to carry readers’ burdens in prayer, I’ve continued to struggle to know how to talk about the weight of a personal disappointment in this season. Suffice that I am tucked away in my home now – two days in, of a fourteen days quarantine. All is well for now, and having made the necessary heart-wrenching decision, and acted on it, I am at peace. Blue skies and lush greenery outside my back door, and the fact that my single rose bush is in flower, not to mention that a lovingly baked fruit cake and a small, roasted leg of lamb were awaiting me (a welcome home gift from a dear friend), are the simple mercies that lift my eyes to the One who bestows undeserved mercies, even against the backdrop of undeserved suffering, and to rest in the quiet hope of the day when He redeems His own.

    As for prayer requests, you’ve already mentioned medical workers in one of your recent Instagram posts. If you think to add my son, Peter, and his wife, Lauren, to your prayers, I’d be grateful. They are a paramedic and a public health nurse, respectively, and together with so many in their field, they march bravely into what most of us long only to flee. I couldn’t be prouder or love them more for their courage, but I also long for God’s protection over them as they do their ministry of care.

    As you remind us, we are ‘under the Mercy’ – thanks be to God.

  9. PS I’ve just seen your latest Instagram post, Lanier and it seems you have, indeed, planned a small celebration of your graduation (hand clapping!) As always, you have laid a beautiful, festive table. The violets in their tiny, silver vase seem somehow especially appropriate in their modesty – just lovely.

    1. Thank you, Judy, and thank you for celebrating with us! 🙂

      I want you to know that I am praying for your dear ones on the front lines, and for your mamma-heart, as well. Thank you so much for letting me know. The peace of Christ to you and yours. xx

  10. Thank you, Lanier.

    It was a sweet treat to listen to you and Sally last evening. Your story is so familiar to me, and yet it remains a source of encouragement. In addition to your conversation being a gift to others, I’m sure it was a delight and a blessing to both of you, to spend that hour chatting together.

  11. Yes! From an old farmhouse in rural Australia I was heartened by your spoken words with Sally, and have been pulsing with the glory of an image you shared:
    A flaming Christmas pudding in your kitchen once wholly alight? Holy light! such divine art; a scene of triumphant redemption! Thank you! Hosanna, Jesus.

  12. Lanier, you have truly changed. I think…I think that you have become an extrovert, have grown into an adult, and have become Establishment, joined the Public mindset, for better or for worse…and you have shared some photos from your early years that reveal that your family always *was* Establishment, though with a deep and charming difference, and I think…”this is normal for her. She has grown up and become like her people.” You have a public voice, and speak as one who has left the inner glimmers and the secret bowers.

    For I *know* that five years ago, or perhaps seven, you would not have been so politically correct or considerate of everyone else who may be suffering to have written what you have here, but would have called out and rejoiced in the silver lining of enforced solitude and blissful quiet, and would not only NOT have tried to keep communications going for everyone else’s sake, but would have rejoiced in the gift, and have shared photos of a heretofore-neglected stack of antiquarian hardbacks by an armchair, with a Rockingham teapot beside it, and would have spoken of the joys of finally being able to slow down enough to dig into them…and would have said…”See you at Christmas! Happy reading!” (smile)

    I copied this poem into my journal last month, and it was NOT about you, but I thought how you would love those final two lines as I do, and I wrote: “And I think this is what troubles me about Lanier…she used to whisper her secrets in a secluded bower-blog…”

    The Fear of God (Robert Frost)
    If you should rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere,
    From being No one up to being Someone,
    Be sure to keep repeating to yourself
    You owe it to an arbitrary god
    Whose mercy to you rather than to others
    Won’t bear too critical examination.
    Stay unassuming.
    If for lack of license
    To wear the uniform of who you are,
    You should be tempted to make up for it
    In a subordinating look or tone
    Beware of coming too much to the surface,
    And using for apparel what was meant
    To be the curtain of the inmost soul.

    (Because the “curtain of the inmost soul” melts away like rice paper…or likes elves into the forest, when exposed to the gaze of others, and we are left without it, either for use as apparel or curtain…Marigold and Sylvia…so the opposite of “tell your story.”)

    Having said all of that, I am SO VERY SORRY about your Oxford ceremony! So very sorry. I am the opposite about ceremony…rejoicing in my degrees/diploma and skipping the ceremonies, but I know it is painful for those to whom they matter to miss them, and I’m sorry. I have come to think of life, in one respect at least, as a toy tap-and-turn workbench: when God hammers something out of our life, especially when it is something that we love terribly, it pops out onto the other side, into eternity for keeps. If we should take a crowbar, resolutely fasten it onto the head of the thing and pull it back through to this side, well, it disappears from eternity where He wanted us to have it forever. Many saints have said that we either have things here or there, not both…it can’t be true of every single thing, like family love, for instance, but…I think it is true of some things. There was also a little Catholic tale of a boy trying to raise a prize pumpkin and he lovingly fed and fed the vine with milk, and there was no fruit all summer. Then, right before the county fair, his neighbor showed him the gigantic pumpkin that had been growing on the other side of the privacy fence all summer, where the vine had crept through a gap into the neighbor’s yard, like the fruit of our efforts often doesn’t show here. And so, what He takes or allows to be taken here goes over to the other side. To keep forever. I really do believe that.

    Stay safe. Blessings…

  13. I remember stumbling across your blog years ago and happened to be able to stumble across it again today. So thankful for your words. We were scheduled to be in London/Ambleside/Edinburgh in April. It seemed to be a trip predestined and divinely orchestrated and funded. Now we wait to see when the sea parts so we can try again. We remain healthy and hopeful and pray for restoration.

  14. Having just learned Auf, Auf, Ihr Reichsgenossen and certain you had quoted the verse, “Look up, ye drooping hearts, today!” (a delightful “Auf, ihr *betrubten* Herzen,” in the original) in an Advent post (didn’t you? I found nothing…), while searching, I discovered your utterly beautiful home portfolio by Brian Hall. So stunning. Light clothes, light theme…Town & Country. Your “lifestyle book” is more than half written, for it would be easy to write prose around those photos and publish it as a lovely hardback. ‘Twould be easier yet to write a fairytale around them…or poetry?…all so lovely. I laughed out loud at you pointing Bonnie Blue on her way. My favorite photo, though, your library duet. My favorite feature in your home, the capacious, sturdy top shelf on the library wall, overrunning doors and windows, well-loaded with ancient hardcovers. My favorite wish, a photo of the day before the shoot: The Shampooing of the Creatures (a la The Blessing of the Animals). Seriously, all so perfectly gracious, so well-done…a pinnacle, while being truly representative. They ring true. Perhaps the photographer could visit at Christmastime, then it could be a Christmas book. No, wait…a book entitled Southern Solstices, half light and airy–these–half deep and rich…like a British Christmas fruitcake…deep, dark, and rich, with snowy white fondant frosting in startling contrast.

    You have written so little about Oxford. It would be delightful to hear of your favorite course, your favorite professor, your favorite person, your favorite place, your favorite experience, your most meaningful lesson learned. Oxonian Cameos? Or perhaps they go too deep to share…

  15. Thank you so much for your words. I needed them so much today. That gentle reminder of the Creator and how he loves us. From Georgia,USA. God bless!

  16. Dearest Lanier, I’m not sure how I missed the original publication of this piece, but I found it today, when I most needed it. Thank you for sharing not only your disappointment with us, but also the encouragement of the peace of Christ. I continually need to be pointed in the direction of His love.

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