“What are you reading at the moment?” a friend asked. “Er… Winnie-the-Pooh, a few magazines.” I’d had a sort of comfort food mentality when it came to books in a time of crisis. But, spurred into action, I’ve now selected from my bookshelves something more meaty and challenging: Charles Dickens’ HARD TIMES – which seems an appropriate title for current circumstances.

HARD TIMES was published during the Industrial Revolution when life for ‘ordinary’ people was harsh, squalid and desperate. Dickens, righteously indignant at oppressive and depressing conditions, highlighted the lowlights of living in Coketown with the likes of Mr Gradgrind and Mr Bounderby. G K Chesterton said that HARD TIMES ‘may be bitter, but it was a protest against bitterness. It may be dark, but it is the darkness of the subject and not the author.’

Hard times have plagued humanity (often literally) throughout history. Novelists can point out life’s sorrows and joys, its darkness and light, influencing readers to think – and maybe behave towards their fellow human beings in a more responsible and compassionate way. Reformers of the time – such as Lord Shaftesbury – saw, spoke and acted on injustice and inhumanity. ‘True courage is cool and calm,’ he said. ‘The bravest of men have the least of a brutal, bullying insolence, and in the very time of danger are found the most serene and free.’

Serenity may not be top of your emotional output at the moment. Where can we find serenity in hard times? In Jesus’ last lengthy conversation with his disciples, he concluded, ‘… trusting me, you will be unshakeable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I have conquered the world.’ Hold that thought – in your hard times.

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