Thinking about the parable of the wheat and the tares, it occurred to me that as a society and civilzation we are all in the tares.
Our search for that right to happiness which lies underneath and above the various ‘liberations’ we have had, seems to have led to the discovery of more chains upon us. As a woman I am liberated from patriarchy, but if I object to being described as a “menstuator” or as a “person who bleeds” I am trangressing against the rights of transgender people. As “rights” multiply according to our identity, we face the question of what binds us together as a society? Here in the UK, since Brexit, that has shown that what unites one part of us also digs a gulf between that part and another part. Yes, 52% was a majority, but when 48% feels desolate, saying, in effect, “tough” does not help, any more than the 48% banging on about it helps. There seems to be no health in us.
And then, on cue, comes Covid19, so there is, literally “no health in us”. The idea of “following the science” was a good sound-bite, but since “science” is no more capable of deciding how a government should proceed than it is of telling us what the purpose of life is, we simply end up more divided. In the public square it’s the most clamant voices we seem to hear.
Some, me among them, have adopted the tactic of cutting ourselves off from the public square; I don’t actually want to know. That’s not because I really do not want to know, it’s because I despair of knowing. The bias, this way and that, of the media seems so obvious that even I can spot it. I’ll do what Voltaire recommends in Candide and literally cultivate my own garden.
But no woman is an island. My other half does not have my luxury. I can stay at home and dig for victory and fill the house with the smell of freshly baked bread. My skills as a seamstress are sufficient to literally make do and mend, and I was never much of a one for shopping – except for books. But my other half does not have this luxury – there’s an important job to be done, Zoom meetings to attend, and trips to London when necessary. In that sense, I am not an island.
But even the community to which I have been closest since recovering from my breakdown – the local church – has changed. For months none of us could attend. For those, such as myself, who know that receiving the blessed sacrament is a critical part of our spiritual growth, even offering it up was not sufficient; the want of it hurt, and there were times I longed to receive communion so much that I would stand outside the church near to where the blessed scrament is reserved and pray. On reflection, that probably didn’t help my neighbours think I’d got better; but I didn’t care.
Now we are back, but separated out and masked. I can’t give or receive the kiss of peace (I know some of you are no doubt relieved, but I love it, so there), and I can’t linger for coffee, biscuits and a chat afterwards. I don’t know about you, but wearing a mask for an hour or so is wearing; but them’s the rules and I obey. I object more than I thought I would to receiving on one kind only – it’s the residual Protestant in me – but am so grateful that I just accept it with gratitude – it’s so much better than lockdown.
Yet, even in my seclusion, I hear if not wars and rumours of war, I get rumours of an escalation in numbers of cases of Covid. In the spring the weather was bright and even if I did not feel like walking, I am fortunate enough to have a garden in which I could sit and sip tea and say my Rosary. I felt then, for those who lacked such luxuries. I feel even more for them now.
Maybe it’s attrition? But with the weather wet and dreary, my spirits go in empathy – the poet’s pathetic fallacy no doubt, but more than that.
Individualism is not enough. It never was and never could be. The very word church comes from the Greek word for an assembly. However much our salvation is personal, its working out is communal. Here we work with the local foodbanks, and as it is school holidays, we work on getting free school meals to those who need them. Some complain that we should not have to do this, that the State should. I have no problem with the criticism of the State, the Government seems a disgrace to me, and not just on this. But as a gathered community, we work where the Lord has placed us, and I, like others, find some relief from the depression settling on us by being able to work as Christ wants us to, with others to bring relief to those who need it.
I am conscious, however, that this is material relief, and I don’t in any way downplay the importance of it. We are fortunate to be among the “haves” and it is our duty as Christians to gove freely. But part of me wants more. As I see hopelessness descend on so many, I wish I could do more to share the faith that, along with my other half, gets me through all of this.
I have found great comfort in this set of prayers from my Church and highly recommend them; the pattern for daily prayer is one I follow and it brings me comfort when I need it. The other prayer I find helpful, apart from my daily rosary, is the old eastern orthodox prayer which C451 taught me years ago and to which I return before bedtime:
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the living God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.
May the Lord bless us and keep us all.
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