Jess asked this question some time last year, and it has haunted me ever since. Prompted as it was by the strictures of our current woe, one possible answer was “social interaction.” Although many of us, working remotely as we are, do have plenty of “contact” on a daily basis, talking via Teams, Zoom, or some other remote platform is just not the same. Indeed, reflecting on a telephone hearing I attended on one matter, I am struck by how awkward it was because the Judge and counsel could not tell when each had finished speaking (I was a silent participant on mute, merely there to listen).
I suspect we all vacillate between stoicism and acknowledging our emotions. On the one hand, many of us do not feel entitled to complain. Those of us who have been working remotely since March last year, without being furloughed, have had work to keep us occupied and salaries to keep us provisioned. Those of us in good health (perhaps immune from having contracted the disease earlier) are faring better than those at risk, those suffering from the disease (or slowly recovering), and those suffering from other medical conditions. Remote working also has the benefit of avoiding the expense and time lost in commuting (not to mention all the annoyances and infection risks caused by crowded vehicles and compartments in an age where the social contract is dead or on its deathbed).
Against such a backdrop, our elders and ancestors would tell us to “count our blessings”. All good things come from God, so Scripture tells us. Accordingly, we should thank Him for all the good things that He showers upon us – whether we deserve them or not. Those of us who do not espouse a sacramentalism of the kind found in High Churchmanship can also be thankful for communion conducted in our homes or via Zoom and other such platforms. Jesus lives in our hearts by His Spirit and is present where only two are gathered in His name. Even for those who are sacramentalists, missing the eucharist as conducted by a priest, they can know Christ’s comfort through prayer. If we are to put any stock in the revelations given at Fatima, we should also consider that times such as these might be intended for the purification of our faith. Even without relying on those revelations, such a conclusion can be drawn.
But we are social creatures. We miss being present “in the flesh” and the comfort that comes from touch and other senses. While we are physically apart, we cannot offer those physical tasks such as childcare that help those whom we love.
We in this community are blessed. We were a virtual community before this crisis hit, and so we were able to continue as such. We have offered comfort and support to one another amidst depression, insanity, upheaval, and all the other turmoils of these times (for which I am thankful). I am grateful to Jess for her compassion, to NEO for someone who understands and respects my political and patriotic beliefs, to Audre for her good humour, and to Scoop for his respect for my eschatological convictions (which have a great deal of meaning for me). Chalcedon is also worthy of special mention because, among his many other good qualities, his time in various churches means he understandings something about where each of us stands and can therefore empathise with us. This is important in a multi-denominational community and also important in the context of debate and enquiry where we find ourselves asking questions and seeking answers (and sometimes not receiving them).
These days, I have a lot of questions. Sometimes I think, perhaps drawing on the Book of Job and the early chapters of Romans, it is not given to us to have all of those answers. When I taught Philosophy, I covered the soul-making theodicy of John Hick. While I would not necessarily offer a blanket endorsement of that system, he does make a number of interesting points. Part of our answer to “What are we living for?” is probably, “To grow a soul, to become human as God intended humanity to be.”