Only yesterday, it seems, we held socially-distanced Carol Services and Christingles; today it’s almost Lent. Where on Earth has all the time gone? I’m not alone, I feel sure, in wondering that. I’ll certainly not be alone in feeling that we’re being swept along in a whirlwind of events and emotions.
A Year in the Company of Coronavirus
It’s near on a year that we’ve lived in the company of coronavirus and all that this has brought us – not just its appalling medical effects but also the measures we have had to take to try and contain its spread.
In our communities we’ve seen the suspension of community groups and gatherings, closures of amenities and the imposition of social-distancing, face masks and, currently, a complete lockdown and inability to leave our homes except for essential reasons. In our circles of families and friends we’ve experienced to the full what this lockdown has meant for each of us: loss of jobs or incomes (at least in part); loss of company and meaningful human contact; loss of freedoms; restrictions on choice. When so many of our human instincts, ways of living and being were taken from us, many of us have come to realise just what it means to be human.
We now realise just how much our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing is dependent on being with one another. Sadly, too, there will be a number of families who have suffered greatly as a direct result of having come into contact with the virus – whether significant ill health or the distress and sorrow of losing a loved one. The virus is appalling, as much in its seemingly random choice of victim as in its dreadful symptoms. We hold all those who have been so affected in our thoughts and prayers.
Turmoil in the political world, and in nature
As if to turn the knife, we’ve also been living amid the turmoil of the political world. The final emergence, through the nervous negotiations, of a trade deal with the EU; the extraordinary events surrounding the US presidency – the storming of the Capitol Building and the unprecedented second impeachment of an incumbent president; the loudening background noise and influence of either far right or far left.
The final straw, of course, has been the turmoil brought by local flooding. After such a year, for some people to have endured the distress and trauma of having floodwater enter their house early on Christmas Day (of all days) feels like the final kick in the stomach. In the maelstrom of a world that has become almost unrecognisable and events that have been so extraordinary and disorientating, we search earnestly for some sense of balance to our life.
Lent and the spirit of perseverance
During Lent, Christians take the journey with Jesus into the wilderness to reflect afresh on their identity in Christ and how they live out their life in response to his love. We consider once again what our discipleship priorities must be, as well as resolving afresh to place our Saviour’s example front and centre in our life and how we live it out.
In a previous contribution I mentioned just how much authentic Christian love and care many people in our communities show and share with others, as they serve their neighbours and communities. I’m ever humbled by their examples. It’s safe to say, however, that we hardly seem to need another deliberate period in the Church to be reflecting on where we find ourselves and how much Jesus shows us in love, life and response to those we love or live amongst. These months have felt like one very long wilderness period for all of us.
The one characteristic which we learn the most in Lent and which will stand us in good stead into the future is the one which we’ve already perhaps learnt: perseverance. During last term, in my weekly video reflections for school assemblies, I spoke each week on this very theme – about the importance of simply keeping going.
I’ve watched my two children learn perseverance in the throes of this pandemic, as they’ve grappled with not seeing friends (new and old) or family, getting to grips with home-schooling, online teaching, new technology and ways of doing things – all whilst dealing with new ideas, emotions and feelings. Those of us with children I’m sure get a tear to the eye whenever we think about just how well our children have coped in spite of everything. All of us, however, have had to do the same: face new situations, new ways of living and being as we find ourselves ever more hard-pressed. Every week when I recorded my video for school, I always told myself (and them) that the advice and guidance I shared with the children was advice I needed to keep giving myself as an adult; we never stop learning.
Learning Lessons Afresh
Sometimes it’s really hard to just keep going – whether we’re eight or eighty. Never have we had to learn lessons afresh like this.
In my own Lenten journey, my inspiration will always be the footage of our doctors and nurses working in intensive care units up and down the country. Exhausted, stressed and distressed, juggling the traumas they see at work with their life at home, but still somehow every day they have been giving wholehearted, loving care and attention to every patient they come across, in the hope that their efforts will once again enable a fullness of life for those people.
When we feel worn out and feel we can go no further, perhaps we can use this Lent to take time to be still: to simply ‘be’, to reflect and to ready ourselves to ‘go again’ with the gift of each day and each blessing we receive.
Christmas reminded us that a light has dawned which the darkness cannot overcome; Lent and Easter remind us that new life is just around the corner.
Revd DAVID SMITH
of the Raveningham Group of Parishes
and the Waveney Benefice