By Chris Chapman, Tutor in Christian Spirituality
Coranavirus has come amongst us, and we are in a state of shock. For a moment we feel we have adjusted, but then another news item, a further restriction on movement, or the realization of just how much change we are dealing with sweeps us off our feet again. How do you adjust when what you are adjusting to keeps moving?
It reminds me of going swimming in Whitstable, close to where I live. I feel comfortable swimming just so far out, so though I have freedom of movement through the waves, when I want to, I can put my feet down and feel the beach below me. But the tides there quickly shift, taking me further out than I imagine. Then when I put my feet down there is only sea beneath me. I swim further in; but just as I am beginning to relax I find again there is no foothold for my feet. I have to work again to touch ground…and then the tide sweeps me out again and I can find no footing.
Many of us are living with loss. Jobs have gone, projects have been cancelled, places of meeting are now closed; contact with loved ones has been reduced to a phone call or a blurry online image. There are fears that break into our day’s consciousness and our night’s sleep: ‘Will my business survive?’ ‘How will I find the money to support my family?’ ‘Will my mother be alright?’ ‘What happens if I get the virus?’ For some ‘social isolation’ is all that it says: no contacts… no connections with people. There are small daily inconveniences that bring home the reality of what is taking place: the struggle to find eggs or pasta; the closure of the shops that provide the very thing we need. For many the experience is disorientating. ‘Where has my life gone?’ ‘Where is my comfortable routine?’ ‘What do I do now?’
For those of us who are Christian this might feel like a Lenten wilderness – and this time an all too real one, not of our choosing. We are doing without so much we once took for granted. This wilderness is a wild and untamed place that tests what it is we live for and reveals our hidden anxieties and needs. And – as Mark’s account of Jesus in the wilderness tells – where the wild beasts roam the angels also wait on us [Mark 1.12-13]. This time is also unfolding unexpected gifts:
- More of us are exercising now that we are limited to one time of exercise a day!
- In solitude we might begin to discover that even as we face ourselves, we also face the kindness of God.
- In fresh awareness that we cannot fully control our lives, we sense the invitation to rest our all in God.
- Those who have lived driven lives start to wonder what it is they live for: what is it that really matters?
- Perhaps we are beginning to have more moments in our day when we are simply present to what ‘is’: the sheer beauty of a spring day, the wonder of birdsong.
- Those who share a household spend more time in one another’s company. The challenges are real, and so are the opportunities for growing closer.
- The Earth is breathing more easily now we are consuming less. Do we need everything we counted as so essential?
- In a time of physical separation, we are seeing afresh the importance of connection. Volunteer helpers sign up to support the vulnerable. We are beginning to take more care of one another.
Do we want to just go back to what we once counted as ‘normal’? Do we want to begin to do things differently?
Holding it all together
How do we hold together the struggles and the gifts of this time? A 3 letter word to be careful of is ‘but’:
If we say, ‘yes there is loss, fear and difficulty but God is with me’, we might underplay or deny the very real struggles and feelings we experience.
If we say, ‘God is with me, but look at how my world has fallen apart’, then before we know it, we might begin to ‘lose’ God and be left only with our fears.
Instead of ‘but’ use another 3 letter word: ‘and’:
‘I feel afraid and lost and God is with me.’
‘God is with me and I feel afraid and lost.’
‘And’ enables us to hold all that is real within this experience together, without denying any of it.
After all, the Paschal mystery we are soon to celebrate holds together the cross, the tomb and the resurrection. All are real – and often all are together in one place.