Many of us have taken our first tentative steps to move beyond our original restrictions and stretch our minds as well as our bodies. For some of us it has been the sheer wonder and delight (and possibly nervous excitement) as we have taken our first short sojourn outside our homes for several weeks. The move from cocooning to ‘cocooning plus’ may be tempered by an uneasiness about the numbers around us as we try to navigate among unfamiliar crowds and a mental checklist of do’s and don’ts. For others, it has been the joy of being able to stretch our horizons past the original 2km to the seemingly luxuriant 5 whole km. A world of new adventures and opportunities await as we find ourselves almost giddy with the possibilities.
And yet, these very small changes are full of significant risk. Relative security and safety of routine have become comforting and assuring. Suddenly the shackles have loosened and there is a new risk and challenge – Deep dissatisfaction. The almost daily reminder that serious sacrifice is needed to ‘flatten the curve’ may all too quickly become irritating as we taste the first hint of freedom. Certainly it would already be very hard to go back to full lockdown. Our focus is already fixed on further horizons, almost salivating at the prospect of a whole 20km radius that lies before us in the not too distant future. But of course, the ever-present unsettling fear raises its head and we watch with anxious wonder the daily statistics (and maybe even reflect on the human loss and suffering behind them), searching for any hint that even this small change in our routine may reawaken the beast of Covid-19 (it hasn’t gone way, you know!!).
Journalists and all aspects of our media (both responsible and less so) hunt for stories and angles that try to capture and even shape our emotional and psychological response. After all, surely there is a limit to the newsworthiness of a small number of people sitting suitably spaced from each other, surrounded by glaring yellow signs and selected camera positions and questioners. Every tit-bit of tension has been gleaned from this model of communication, so already focus has shifted to potential significant tension among medics and politicians, thrown together by crisis; could there possibly be fracture and division?
Our news cycle has already broadened its horizons, but sadly nowhere nearly wide enough. How many of you have heard anything beyond what is happening in Ireland, the UK, the US, Europe and possibly China? Some of you may be aware of huge problems in refugee camps and slum areas where it is next to impossible to socially distance and self-isolate. How many of you have heard that an even deadlier virus continues to rage in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its near neighbours? Believe me Covid-19 will seem like child’s play when it’s compared to the horror and devastation of Ebola which is now rampant in parts of the D.R.C. The situation made all the more hazardous and horrendous by the deluge of flooding that has recently struck parts off that war-ravaged country.
If the local church is the hope of the world, and I truly believe it is; then our sisters and brothers right across the world are all too often the only barrier that’s left between complete isolation, annihilation and hope, as small church communities struggle to feed the starving, help the helpless and bring hope to people who rightly feel abandoned and forgotten. While we struggle with the emotional and psychological trauma of lockdown, they are still trying to cope with meeting their insurmountable physical needs. And yet, for all that, their spiritual response so often outshines our own. While we may be starting to struggle with theological angst and questioning – ‘Where the hell is God in all of this?’ they are focused on ‘being the presence of God in all this hellish reality’. I will not insult their efforts by romanticising their cause, but I will say this, we need to broaden our own horizons way beyond five or even 20 kilometres in these coming days. Our human family is dying of so much more than a relatively small coronavirus ; it is dying of hunger, of thirst, of treatable illnesses, of opportunistic politics and wars; and most significantly because of the decisions we are still making, even now, the ramifications and consequences of which are literally killing other people, especially children.
How far will you walk (metaphorically) today – to play your part in standing in the gap on behalf of your sisters and brothers? I wish you unsettling Shalom (Peace).