In January, when Boris sounded the firing gun for the start lockdown three, I came out of the blocks full of gusto. Like a veritable Rafael Nadal pouncing on to the court at Roland Garros I was ready for it. I had been boosted by seeing my parents at Christmas and had hit the New Year full of energy. I reasoned that having experienced two lockdowns already I could navigate this one pretty well.
My gutsy attitude seemed to put me at odds with most other people. Many people found the first lockdown a relatively pleasurable experience, whereas I found that very hard. My biggest struggle had been that our church was closed. With the Church open this time I had enough of a focus to energise me. I thought that being able to spread some positivity while others were struggling was a cool thing.
But no one prepared us for this bit, the ending. It is like the end of summer term at school, you have finished the serious work, the sun is blazing yet you have to be in class. The difference is that the school day ends and you can go and play. This situation is not ending, there is no home time bell at 3.30pm where you can go and socialise. And after getting our fingers burnt at Christmas no one want to think that the end of June will really be the end.
It is easy to see the strain wearing on people’s faces. I wonder if I look five years older than I did last March? I can’t tell, but many people do and I find that sad, people have struggled and this last stretch seems to be the most wearing bit. Some people have had the strain of having to work incredibly hard under difficult circumstances, others coping with unemployment and long term financial insecurity, others with the death of loved ones, some with illness and others with isolation. No one has been unaffected.
A Priest friend said to me recently how important it is for us to place our hope in God, not in vaccines. I thought it was such a great point. We have all been hoping that seemingly successful vaccine rollout would bring our confinement to a swift end. Even if it does hasten the end of our suffering it is misplaced for us as followers of Jesus to place our hope in anything, anyone, other than God.
In the 4th Century a group of hardcore nutters went into the desert near Egypt to spend their lives in closeness to God. These pioneers were the inspiration for much of the monastic movement we have seen in the last two thousand years. In the desert they were faced with solitude which brought many challenges. They discovered the greatest threat to their closeness to God was boredom, because boredom can lead to a spiritual deflation within us. This would have been a challenge and temptation that Jesus faced during his forty days in the desert.
But as we know, Jesus resisted that temptation and drew closer to his Father in heaven. That is our mission now, as followers of Jesus he calls us to be light to the world, we can only be that light if we draw closer to God in this difficult time. It feels easier to give in to boredom, frustration, weariness but like those early hermits it is exactly in this struggle that we will encounter God. Maybe for many of us, this Lent will be the closest we have come to the discomfort of the desert.
If we open our hearts to God, this time will be for us, like it was for Jesus, a time of renewal which will lead to the flourishing of God’s kingdom within us, our families and our parish community.