One thing that has become increasingly clear over the period we have spent in ‘lockdown’ is that different people have had very different practical and emotional reactions to the restrictions.
Many have found it straightforwardly awful. Spending all day, everyday, in the same space, whether on your own (which can be lonely) or with the same small number of people (which can be irritating), is tough. For these people, the lifting of restrictions can’t come soon enough. They want to get out and about, to see people, to return to a more socially engaged and active way of life.
For others, fear of the virus has dominated. They may not have enjoyed the lockdown, but they never questioned or doubted the need to observe the restrictions. The very real horror of getting ill, of dying, or of someone close to them suffering that fate, took the lead, and for these people the relaxation of precautions should only happen when everyone’s safety can be guaranteed with near certainty.
These first two reactions are, it seems to me, quite obvious; so obvious, perhaps, that we may fail to notice that there are other reactions and other feelings going on. I want to write about these this week for two reasons. My first reason is that it will, I hope, help us to understand that our own perspective is just that – our own – and therefore to be more compassionate towards those who don’t share it. My second reason is that these less obvious, less public reactions are likely to play a significant role in shaping how things turn out as the restrictions are slowly eased.
A good initial example is a sort of stoical resilience in which the most important thing is to Keep Calm and Carry On. This ‘mustn’t grumble’ attitude lives on especially (in my observation) in those who have already survived worse things, far worse things, than the Coronavirus outbreak. I admire this tremendously, and I believe it will be an important part of making sure we get things right as we move into the next phase of the current crisis which, I am quite sure, will be every bit as difficult as the lockdown has been.
Then there are those who are socially anxious, agoraphobic, or even just painfully shy. For these people, the lockdown may have had an especially thick silver lining. A chance to get on with work without the irritating interruptions and frustrating distractions of colleagues; an opportunity to get ahead on domestic projects that would otherwise have been endlessly delayed; the possibility of keeping the hours that suit one’s own rhythms of life and work, rather than conforming to an externally imposed schedule; these things have been a real bonus for many, but one that comes with a shadow. People who found it a struggle to muster the courage to go out before lockdown may well find it even harder now. And while there are certainly some mental health problems that have been exacerbated by the isolation of the last few weeks, there are others that will surface more and more as the rules are relaxed.
It’s fair to say that others have sought to use the crisis more tactically than any of the previous groups, looking to gain some traction for their personal or corporate agendas. I am more able to perceive than understand or evaluate most of these. Even in the Church of England, where I have a slightly better claim to understand what’s going on, there are different ideas in play about how to turn the current situation to the advantage of one or other vision of the future. I know that it can be unsettling to witness these.
That’s why it seems to me, in all of this, that this mini-season of the Church’s year has come at just the right moment. In it we are reminded of our fundamental dependence on God’s Holy Spirit to legitimise and enable everything that we do as a Church. Recognising that we all have different feelings, different reactions, and different agendas, and responding to each other with compassion, wisdom and resolute faith – that is a tall order. We cannot fulfil this calling in our own strength, as the Ordinal puts it. So we pray for ourselves and for the whole of God’s Church, come, Holy Spirit.
May God bless you all,