Fr Philip's article in the recent edition of the Ilkley Gazette can be read here.
One of the most difficult aspects of the coronavirus pandemic for us all has been the necessary separation. That separation has come in many different forms, but in the broadest sense we have been separated from so much that we knew as our “normal lives”. The sharpest expression of that separation has been the deaths and bereavements many families have suffered. However, for nearly all of us there has been separation from loved ones and family members, our places of work or leisure, from our circles of friends and the common interests that we share.
We have been thrown into a strange, and for many of us, disturbing condition of being “betwixt and between”. With many aspects of our normal lives suspended or frozen, we have had to discover new ways of being connected. We have had to adjust quickly to living with new and frightening uncertainties. In the midst of this, though, we have discovered a deeper appreciation for others, possibly new interests and hobbies, and many have expressed a renewed desire for a deeper sense of community and connectedness. It has been possible in this strange and suspended condition to learn many new things about ourselves, though none of this denies there is a very real cost.
When will life get back to normal? There is much talk of a new normal. The search for that re-incorporation takes many avenues. Some get angry, frustrated, look for people to blame and lash out. The human desire for scapegoats is very deep. Some argue for a rush back to normal as economic need is acute for many. Others argue for deep caution and care. Will the “second spike” be more deadly than the first? It is easy to proclaim certainties from the side-lines when the responsibilities are not ultimately ours. I don’t envy those who lead in this situation. My view is that they need our prayers.
Human communities of every kind create rites of passage which enable us to journey from one condition and place in life to another, such as weddings, funerals and graduations. These rites of passage encompass this three-fold pattern of separation from normal life, a unique “betwixt and between” time when we celebrate or recognise what has changed, and our re-incorporation into normal life. For those of religious faith, these rites of passage become places in which we discover and learn new truths, especially about the divine influence upon our lives. Within these times, we all naturally use strange rituals and symbols to express our deepest feelings and desires.
The present pandemic has led to separation from our church buildings. New rituals, such as “clap for carers” have been created to express our deepest feelings. However, the churches have still sought to place themselves at the centre of all this disruption through our prayer, our service to the most vulnerable, and our sharing in our community response. For it is in these moments of deepest crisis our faith and its expression are fundamental to hope for all human life.