Here I am sitting on my sofa on Palm Sunday 2020 in the midst of the most seismic global events in recent history. The Coronavirus pandemic is ravaging bodies, disturbing minds, shutting down societies and turning economies and government policies on their heads. Who would have thought that a Conservative Government would sanction the biggest state intervention in monetary stimulus since World War II, with no limits! They are literally giving money away.
As individuals and families we are in the middle of a crisis we are not in control of and responses have varied from out and out panic and stockpiling; anxiety, fear of all the “What if’s…”; a calm, measured pragmatism – qualities lauded by the Queen in her speech to the nations of the UK; opportunistic exploitation for profit but also altruistic, self-giving acts of kindness and service that are expressions of love.
One of the effects that will touch all of us in some way is grief. Grief over the loss of loved ones who did not survive or who are permanently changed by the virus. Grief over the loss of connection with family and friends. The loss of freedom of movement, a sense of agency and choice in our own small worlds. Grief for the life you had, the job you lost, the business that went bankrupt, the opportunity to excel in your exams, compete in the Olympics, enjoy the Edinburgh Festival or Wimbledon. The loss of the familiar rhythm or hectic pace of life that forms the soundtrack of our lives, only now to be replaced either by more solitude and silence (if you live alone) or a different set of challenges to keep children occupied and yourself sane.
Commentators forecast a world wide depression worse than the 1930’s, the end of globalisation and an economic model that has dominated western economies since WWII which has contributed to widespread inequality and a plundering of the earth’s resources. (see Jeremy Lent analysis – brilliant summary).
All changes, whether positive or negative, carry elements of loss, even if you have chosen to make those changes, even more so if you have no control. I’m not a expert but am aware that there are often a number of stages of the grieving process which include –
Denial & Isolation- “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,”
Anger – we are not ready.
Bargaining-“If only I/we had…..”
Depression– sadness, regret, guilt
Acceptance – a calmness
At this point my losses are mostly not significant – I haven’t lost family or friends to this disease – some are experiential losses – not having lunch on my favourite beach with my dog, meals and coffee with friends, painting in my studio and since the gallery in Llanelli town centre had to close, being a practical agent for change in my world (my agency now takes the form of more fervent praying!). I’m grateful for the help from the Welsh Assembly Government that will enable the gallery to re-open at some point, but mindful of the financial impact on the 13 artists and makers that are part of the collective. What I am certain of is that He is near to all who are broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
As well as acknowledging the losses, feeling our way through it and receiving His comfort I see an opportunity to reflect, evaluate – do I really want things to simply go back to how they were? I don’t think so. Its an opportunity to focus on what really matters and re-imagine a different way of being, living. You may have to go to the bottom of the garden (or the bathroom if you haven’t got a garden) to get the space to reflect and feel but my sense is it will be worth it!
I sense an intensifying presence, movement, openings, shifts, systems breaking, heaven’s sound bites of Kingdom values poking through in the media – whether that a BBC journalist Andy Verity writing about how “the Covid-19 crisis is turning everything – environmental, social and economic – on its head”or Sir Keir Starmer talking to Andrew Marr acknowledging that nurses, cleaners and bin men have “been treated as the last but they shall be first.” The nurses, care workers and shop assistants and other essential workers who are literally keeping us alive and fed and putting themselves in harms way demonstrate in practical ways the Love of God and ways of Jesus. Thomas J Oord defines love as “acting intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall wellbeing” (Thomas Oord: The Nature of Love). They are humanity reflecting His image.
As part of my reflections I have been asking myself, “How do I reflect the image of God into this world at this time?” and I am challenged by N T Wright in this –
“Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion…The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even–heaven help us–Biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically-rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way…with joy and humour and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom. I believe if we face the question, “if not now, then when?” if we are grasped by this vision we may also hear the question, “if not us, then who?” And if the gospel of Jesus is not the key to this task, then what is?” (N T Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is).
I am still exploring what that looks like from this vantage point in time but my sense is that it will include providing a creative context for people in Llanelli to re-connect, share stories, explore their experiences creatively to help them process their grief and find a positive and fulfilling way forward.