I have been away on a very special retreat and am now off sick, but it has been impossible to ignore all the news coverage about COVID-19 – indeed there has been a fantastic group of workers here at St Barnacles who have worked so hard behind the scenes making sure we are following the appropriate guidance. I have also read many excellent articles looking at the social, scientific and spiritual impact of the pandemic, and there has been so much information to take in!
One thing I haven’t heard mentioned much is the simple fact we are still in Lent, in the season of the year where we remember Jesus choosing to isolate Himself for forty days in the desert. Having just spent three days not being able to do very much at all, it seems to me that there are two ways we can spend any time of enforced isolation.
We can amuse ourselves by:
– watching all the old box sets we have seen many times before
– playing our favourite computer games until we reach grandmaster level
– expose ourselves to endless daytime TV (believe me, I watched four hours of programmes about traffic police yesterday in a semi-comatose state – the roads are even more dangerous than I thought out there!)
– listen to our radio stations recycling the same stories again and again throughout the day (although we of course need to keep updated)
Or we can spend such time as we can manage in following Jesus’ example and:
– pray for God’s kingdom and God’s will to be done
– go deeper into God’s word
– reflect on God’s priorities for our lives
– deal with the temptations and sins that perhaps we would not otherwise confront
And we must not forget, Jesus’ isolation in the desert was only a season of preparation for a radical ministry of service to others, as He went about in the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the good news of repentance and forgiveness, and to bring healing to others.
We perhaps do not have to isolate in the same way as Jesus (but it would be good if we all followed His example more often). We can use modern technology to keep in touch, to develop networks of prayer and care, to spread the Christian faith, all from the privacy of our own room, and indeed over the next few days I will be experimenting myself with some new methods of making contact, as I am able. Coronavirus presents a huge challenge, but also perhaps gives us an opportunity to be a 21st century community of faith that shines brightly in a fearful and uncertain world. Watch this space!
By the way, you will have noticed I have not used the term “self-isolation.” I am not a mental health professional, but there are too many people who already struggle with a sense they are isolated – and not just physically – from others. It reinforces a sense of loneliness and can profoundly affect our wellbeing. As a believer, I am reminded however of the words of the Psalm which tell us that no matter where we go or whatever lies before us, we are never isolated from the presence of God.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.