The other day I saw in a newspaper a photograph of a very busy Grafton Street – it looked a scene from the shop-till-you-drop Christmas shopping madness. There was a caption underneath with the following three questions:
When can we expect normality to return ? When our freedom returns, will it be by degrees – or all at once ? And what kind of country – what kind of world – will be waiting on the other side ?
Then followed a list of all the various aspects of “normality” – the life we lived up to a few weeks ago.
This led me to start wondering about what exactly is the freedom we have lost. As I sat down to write – lo and behold, along came an email from a very good friend of mine – and I dare to draw from that well of wisdom !
This period of lockdown, I read, gives us a wonderful chance to take stock of how our normal lives have been. For many years there has been an obsession with doing more – being more productive – working 24/7 – eating lunch while reading emails [with little concentration on the food entering our mouths!] But what was the hurry ? Who/what was directing our thinking – making us feel inadequate if we didn’t step up to the demands of this unnatural lifestyle ? Was this 24/7 “normality” a good and balanced way to live ? Even the Lord – we are told – rested on the 7th!
So – back to my question about our lost freedom …….. I know that we are being called upon to lockdown for the common good – but [in some way, at least] has our present freedom not been a release from the above sort of life which we had come to take for granted – and, in some ways, to which we had become enslaved – locked-down to it ?
Look rather at what we have now been given, in spite of – and perhaps even thanks to – lockdown! Families are now free to BE together – to share meals – play games – take exercise – make socially-distant visits which now have come to mean more than just dropping-by. Inventiveness has also come to the fore – and well done to Dan’s Family for sharing the Family keep-fit demo (you all seem in better mood than at the dreaded “homework” table!)
And along came another friend to help – in the person of a little-known Welsh Poet, William Henry Davies. I doubt if his name would figure in many of to-day’s poetry anthologies – but he was “on” for the LC way back in my time! I recall a poem of his which starts: What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare – no time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows ……. no time to see, in broad daylight, streams full of stars, like skies at night …….. I could go on – but suggest you look at the full poem yourself [and he’s certainly worth a google – even if only to marvel at his sometime very “different” life as a tramp and hobo – but always a poet!]
Isn’t it true that – freed from the frenzy of our normal lives – now we do have a little more time to STOP ….. and BE – freed from DOING ?! And enjoying it all ! ….. and sharing the enjoyment with our Family !
Another aspect of our changed lives has been disappointment at not being able to go into a church – something so long taken for granted by some – and even written off as irrelevant by others. But surely for everyone – believer or non-believer – young or old – rich or poor – what is hard to accept is the sight of the Teach pobail [in Irish the people’s house] closed to God’s people by this invisible enemy – covid-19. Not since Penal times has such a trial been visited on our country. The invitation was/is always there to Come and see ! – as Jesus said to His first Disciples.
So are we perhaps beginning to discover how precious is the freedom we have to accept Jesus’ invitation to Come and see ? Perhaps we will appreciate this gift in a more profound way when our invisible enemy will, please God, have been assigned to history. Will we remember it – when normality returns to give us back our 24/7 ? Really!
During these days of Holy Week we celebrate the most extraordinary lockdown of all time – in an extraordinary act of freedom. Faithful to the mission given to Him by the Father – Jesus, who alone did not have to experience death – gave us the greatest gift of all by not clinging to His equality with God – but, by emptying Himself to assume the condition of a slave – became as we are – and humbler yet – even to accepting death – death on a Cross.[Phil.2:6ff]
In these strange times – as we live out our own being confined-to-barracks – let us contemplate that greatest ever lockdown – three days in a tomb – which brought us all the greatest freedom ever – victory of Life over death!
Jesus’ invitation remains – even if we occasionally drift away. Now it is for us to accept it – and return to see !
Fr Michael Sheil SJ