Strange days indeed

By Tracey Edstein, 2 April 2020
Image: Jordan Bauer/Unsplash.


Nobody told me there’d be days like these
Strange days indeed

So wrote John Lennon in Nobody Told Me (1984).

It has often occurred to me that a visitor from another planet – or even just another culture – could be forgiven for thinking that in our culture, individuals are not all allocated the same period of time in which to work, recreate, sleep, pray, complete household tasks – and simply live!

“If only I had time…”

“When I have time…”

“When I get around to it…”

“Who has time for that?”

These strange days in which we are living – when toilet rolls have become trophies and nothing is certain anymore – can offer those who consider themselves time-poor a real gift.

Some will recoil immediately and think – what about those who are isolated already; who have families to support; who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19; who have mortgages and whose income is no longer guaranteed?

And those concerns are very real.

The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two Chinese characters signifying “danger” and “opportunity” respectively.  For all of us, COVID-19 is a very real danger. For all of us too, I believe, it can be a very real opportunity, although for some opportunity will be clouded by danger.

The first dimension of this is the opportunity to step back and take stock. In restricting our social contact; minimising such tasks as shopping and other errands; working from home if possible and withdrawing from regular activities such as church, gym, book club and so on, we have no choice but to reconsider almost every aspect of life.

This careful assessment of how we spend our days is a healthy exercise. It can lead, on the one hand, to greater solitude and on the other, to a heightened awareness of the needs of those around us.

There is a significant number of people in my circle whom I see regularly at Mass. While I may see them in other contexts in my small town, I know I will see them at Mass. Now I know I won’t see them at Mass. Some are older and live alone. Will they have what they need and will they still feel part of our parish community? There’s a challenge – and an opportunity!

There are neighbours too who may be missing their usual contacts through work or other activities. There’s a challenge – and an opportunity!

Some who are still working have the spectre of reduced hours – or no work at all – hanging over them. If you know people in this boat, can you support them in any way? Perhaps by delivering a meal or two, or arranging commercial delivery if you’re in a position to do so. Even the smallest gesture, such as flowers or a bottle of wine, shows that they are not forgotten.  Of course, all this needs to happen with social distancing kept in mind!

For some, the kindest way to reach out is simply to phone. The luxury of a good long yarn can be enjoyed by both parties and reflected on afterwards. Many of us are at home most of the time and there’s no risk of transmission of the virus by phone!

Most of us, I believe, have at least a mental to-do list. Now’s the time! I’ve heard people speak enthusiastically about gardening, reading, writing, baking, decluttering, family history, letter writing – as well as a good autumn clean. Even those who commute to work but are now working from home have gained some time – for some, two hours a day.

I’m writing this in Lent, and a traditional way of marking Lent is to give more time to prayer – perhaps a form of prayer that is different from your usual practice. For many of us, Eucharist is no longer available. There’s a challenge – and an opportunity!

These “strange days” that lack the usual rhythm of life may draw us into meditation – contemplation – music − spiritual journaling or spiritual reading. I am reading Timothy Radcliffe’s Alive In God: A Christian Imagination (highly recommended) to be followed by Jan Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection & Prayer.

Many websites with a spiritual bent are offering practical and creative suggestions to guide and support those who are missing their usual guides and supports. In fact the internet itself is a great boon, offering information, diversion, a safe means of communication and – for those so inclined – cat videos!

During these strange days, we are not able to hear the gospel – the good news – proclaimed in our communities. However, Jan Richardson blesses us with these words:

In every word,
with every gesture,
by every art,
through every means,
may you be
a living gospel
for the life of the world.

(from In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection & Prayer.)

Savour these strange days…


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