How do we live in a world where everyone has become a threat to us? Covid-19 has made this a question that we may now be asking ourselves. Everyone around us is potentially carrying an infectious deadly disease, including ourselves. This can leave us feeling fearful of others and them fearful of us. Covid19 is a real danger and it is important to follow the government advice to protect our loved ones and the community around us, but where does fear, isolation and social distancing leave us?
It is hard not to feel discomfort when someone dives into the road to avoid passing you in the street or the strangeness of queuing 2 metres apart in the shops. People are walking around with all manner of weird and wacky PPE covering their faces. Discarded gloves seem to be littered across the streets and subtly imply that our neighbours are protecting themselves but will not even use a bin to protect others.
Worse than this suddenly and acutely we are confronted with sickness, grief, devastation, anger, loneliness, financial insecurity, addictions, disappointments, mental health issues, helplessness. All these things already existed but this situation has pushed them to the surface and doubled the weight of them. As the crisis hit, we needed each other more than ever, yet we had no choice but to be physically separated.
If I have seen one thing from the Church in this season it is the strength of our unity. That despite our physical distance we have remained together by loving and supporting each other. Boldly and creatively reaching out into the community as best we can when there are so many barriers to doing so. We may be fearful and confused but we are growing in compassion.
It would be easy to believe that Covid19 has brought a new darkness into the world, but I do not believe that the darkness has gained more power. Many problems we now face are not new or unknown. The scale of what we see is not just the rise of more suffering but also the fall of the normal everyday things that we protect ourselves from suffering with. It is a time to take notice of how the world is hurting but also a time to acknowledge that often we have chosen to hide from that pain.
‘He (Jesus) didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles but waded right in and helped out “I took on the troubles of the troubled” is the way the scripture puts it. Even if it was written in scripture long ago, you can be sure it is written for us. Romans 15v3 MSG’
Although the phrase social distancing is a new one, the world was becoming increasingly isolated before Covid19. Families and friends were sitting together with their eyes fixed on individual screens. Commuters were crammed into trains brushing shoulders but not lives. People were masking and protecting their realities with perfectly edited selfies and social media profiles. Technology like self-service check outs were increasingly allowing us to make small choices to avoid the inconvenience of interacting with others.
Covid19 has perhaps, given us a physical view of an already existing spiritual reality. People withdrawing from the potential threat of everyone. Isolating in their own little bubble, surrounded by their hoarded goods. Allowing themselves to be numbed with multiple ways to entertain and distract themselves. Desperately trying to make connections with others without any form of vulnerability. Standing side by side but with unseen walls and chasms dividing them.
As the restrictions ease people will begin to emerge, they will survey to see what remains and what has been lost. They will find that the Church is still standing, but they should not find us as Christians hiding behind its walls with fake smiles, trying to look strong by pretending all is well. We should not hide that we too have battered limbs and tear stained faces. They should see that like the rest of the world we are exhausted and overwhelmed and yet still we roll up our sleeves and position ourselves to care for and comfort those around us. It is this that will help people to see and understand the power of the hope that we have.