On March 24th, my family instigated a new daily ritual. At some point every evening, we gather together, and take it in turns to choose a coloured pen. We then mark that day on our kitchen calendar with a coloured tick (or another symbol). In this way we have created a visual record of the journey through the days that we’re making together in lockdown. At the time of writing, this little ceremony has been conducted in respect of 34 days (there’s been the odd day when we’ve forgotten, so had the pleasure of entering two ticks on the next occasion).
Our days have, by and large, assumed a new pattern. Mine includes livestreaming Morning and Evening Prayer via Facebook on Monday to Thursday, followed immediately by taking Pippin out for his first walk of the day. Matt, as NHS Digital’s Director of Communications, spends most of his time in the dining room, on Zoom call after Zoom call; Jack continues to monitor social media and write news stories in his role as diocesan communications team apprentice; and Kate divides her time between finishing her final university assignments and reading immersive fiction and a wide range of non-fiction alternately. In the evenings, we gather to watch TV together (series including The Librarians, and the highly enjoyable Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix, plus several of the excellent National Theatre productions). We are in contact with the wider world, but our immediate horizons have shrunk in both space and time. Our home and garden provide our immediate focus, and we can’t see much further than the end of the day.
But there are already signs that this won’t – can’t – go on for ever, and that we will soon need to start raising our eyes once again to wider horizons. As Boris Johnson returns to work, the question on everyone’s (well – the media’s) lips seems to be ‘How much longer?’ It’s a complicated question, not least because it begs so many others. How do we decide when to start to come out of lockdown? What do we need in order to make it possible to start coming out of lockdown (eg testing – what kind, and of whom)? What does ‘coming out of lockdown’ mean – what will be permitted, and what won’t?
All of these are wrapped up in a bigger question. What kind of post-pandemic world will we find ourselves in? And the even bigger question we need to ask is – what kind of post-pandemic world do we want to build?
I know that my instinct is to want everything to go back ‘to normal’. To treat these last few weeks as an unsought-for interruption to normal life, to be got over as fast as possible so that I can get back to what I know and am comfortable with. But I’m not convinced that that’s the right response. Partly because it’s simply not possible. Whatever post-pandemic life looks like, it’s going to be very different for some considerable time to come to what went before. Social distancing is almost certainly going to be required for the foreseeable future, and that’s going to continue to affect many areas of our lives – shopping, socialising, worshipping… But even if it were possible, I’m not sure that it would be right to aspire to ‘business as usual’. Life before coronavirus was far from perfect for many, and the lockdown will have hit many of those people particularly hard. As we contemplate ‘life after lockdown’, this is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves what kind of life we want it to be. At the personal level, I’m thinking about what I’ve missed (seeing friends and family in the flesh) and what I haven’t (traffic jams and often an overfull diary). But I’m also asking myself what as a nation, and as a planet, we have and haven’t missed. The ‘economy’ (which ultimately means the finances of individuals, businesses and nations) will certainly have taken a massive hit. But did we have the balance wrong between, say, the imperative towards economic growth and the toll exacted from people and planet to generate it? Who benefited in practice? Is there a chance here to find a new balance, between productivity and regenerative rest; between ‘progress’ and its cost?
In John’s gospel, Jesus uses a number of vivid images and metaphors to describe himself. ‘I am…’, he says, memorably, ‘…the light of the world’, or ‘…the way, the truth and the life.’ One of the less familiar images is ‘…the gate.’ He goes on to say, ‘Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.9-10) As we think about what life after lockdown looks like, it’s worth asking ourselves what is ‘abundant life’, the life that Jesus came that we might have? In what does it abound? Perhaps if we start to filter our post-lockdown priorities through Jesus ‘the gate’, we will be better placed to decide what really matters, and to shape the world accordingly.
With every blessing