Peace be with you!
A Reflection on the Sabbath in a Time of Lockdown.
Guest blog by Green Christian member Revd Dominic Doble
‘Fast’ is one of those magical English words that has a number of different meanings. It means both quick and static, but also immorality and forbearance. In recent months, the world has been shaken by a virus crossing the species barrier presenting in humans as a deadly variant of the common cold. There is disagreement on the appropriateness of the speed with which politicians have acted, many different countries have – or have not – been brought to a standstill by their respective responses to Covid 19.
In England today it is not unusual for individuals to be stopped in their tracks by sickness or some other tragedy. Sometimes a community is affected. It is perhaps unique for us to be caught up in something global, even if the poor, the resident alien, the outcast suffer more. As communities we have all too quickly found ourselves in uncharted changed circumstances. For many this is a season of active anxiety and responsibility not rest. Nevertheless, it is natural to have times of busyness and times of recreation. We, for the most part, sleep at night and work during daylight. Animals lie up in the heat of the day or the cold of winter, deciduous trees cycle nutrients and conserve resources by shedding leaves in winter.
Experiences for individuals and communities will differ, but there are some things we reportedly have shared. Air quality and insect life has increased fast. Levels of exercise are up with people meeting their community (at 2m distance) and exercising in their environment. Food growing and cooking is up. Clothes shopping has slowed down in contrast to rising levels of creativity in art, dance and writing. Household, if not mental, clutter is being sorted, shared and will – hopefully – be recycled. Friends, families and neighbours are video chatting and partying. New neighbourliness is evidenced by errands being run and teddies appearing at windows. Clapping has begun as a token of public appreciation of the NHS and the value of agricultural pickers and other ‘unskilled’ workers is increasingly being recognised. Sadly, anxiety and depression, substance, ‘domestic’ and child abuse have risen too.
Here the pandemic grew into our awareness during Lent and Easter, liturgical seasons respectively of lament and celebration, death and life. Seasons of rest and activity are built into scripture too. From: ‘there was evening and morning the first day’ in Genesis, to the instructions in Leviticus to leave land fallow every seventh year and to return it to its original owner every Jubilee year (Chapter 25). Draught animals must be cared for (Deuteronomy 25). Crops on headlands are to be left for the poor and foreigners (Leviticus 23). Terms of loans must be fair (see Exodus 22 on pledged garments). Trade must be equitable using honest weights and measures (Chapter 19). Within Judaism, God’s located good life of presence, behaviour and benefit is all of a piece. It covenants all creation of which we are an integral and dependent part.
Whilst with Corona virus withdrawal has been forced upon us, fasting is valued as worshipful when voluntary. However it is expressed, it demonstrates that we believe God will provide so we needn’t exploit natural resources, others or ourselves. Within some traditions the sacred life in creation, upheld by Francis and his wonderful Canticle of the Sun, is regarded with wariness, as tantamount to idolatrous pagan witchery. In others, it is to be used up in this dispensation to be discarded like filth when God comes again replacing it with a new order. In my view the inevitably catastrophic unjust growth agenda of the Christian Colonialist West is not sufficiently challenged by such puritan or triumphalist attitudes.
As we collectively continue our journey with the virus, led by our elected decision makers, our attention inevitably turns to the future. Alongside pubs, cinemas and hairdressers, churches will soon be allowed to work out how to operate once again. I am reminded that whilst they were in lock-down for fear of an existential threat in a state of grief and confusion the risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ (John 20: 19). Whilst stuck fast indoors we must fast from toil, consumption, privilege, cynicism and waste. As the gate opens life for us, we are shocked that what we thought was dead idealistic hocus-pocus has, in fact, been alive with us. We have experienced it and lived it. Or at least enough of us have that we find ourselves with a realistic challenge. So let us with speed seek to withdraw such that godliness may prevail. May our attitudes and actions so support fellow heirs with all creation that God’s will may be done in earth as it is in heaven!
‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength’ (Isaiah 30).
For further reading:
‘Hope Against Hope’ by Bauckham and Hart
‘The Work of Love’ edited by Polkinghorne
‘Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living’ by Spencer and White
‘Wilding’ by Tree
The Revd Dominic Doble is a married Church of England minister in the
south west, with a background in environmental land management and an
interest in music.
Do join our Radical Presence course where we look for God’s word in these times
Previous: Prayer and care for our planet