This week I offer the third in a series of reflections on the lessons of the lockdown. I began a fortnight ago by writing about the painful privilege of prayer. Last week I explored the role of places and objects in our spiritual lives. And this week I want to share a few observations about the way that being in crisis brings out both the best and worst in human beings.
At one level, that is the most commonplace and trivial of observations. In war time, in times of famine, or in a time of plague such as this one, we see human nature through a magnifying glass. Extraordinary acts of courage, kindness and compassion sit side by side with baffling displays of cruelty, cowardice and complacency. These patterns, I say again, are well known and easily recognised.
What is perhaps a little harder to see is that all of this emerges from a tension between love and fear. Saint John taught that perfect love drives out all fear, recognising that this is the fundamental spiritual conflict within every human being.
Times of crisis are frightening. They raise our anxiety levels, which is fine, if unpleasant. They also tempt us to allow fear to become the leading principle in the governance of our lives, which most definitely isn’t fine. Fear of infection, fear of illness, fear of death, fear of other human beings… These are the things that, in the reverse of the process observed by Saint John, choke our capacity for love. They tempt us to defend ourselves, our families, our tribe, our institutions and to see others as a threat.
But a crisis also provides opportunities for the opposite. People are suffering and they need our help. In our own parish, as well as across this city and nation, Christian folk have been busy and active in activities to help and support the most vulnerable. In all this, they have remembered Our Lord’s injunction that whatever we do for one another, even the least in our midst, is a service to Christ Himself.
We have seen this tension between love and fear, between the best and the worst of human nature, played out at local, national and international level throughout this crisis. As a church we certainly have plenty to fear. But we are called to a radically different posture. The commandment to love one another doesn’t come with an exemption clause for times when it seems like there may be higher priorities. On the contrary, it is in times like these, when our faith is tested and we are tempted to entrench ourselves against all that threatens our sense of safety and identity, that the call to allow the perfect love of God to drive out our fear is most urgent.
May God bless you all,