In the Methodist Covenant prayer we say ‘let me set aside for you’, and I preached on this in January. I unashamedly repeat the posting of that sermon here for this week and this time, and although the tone is more upbeat than any of us are feeling it does appear quite prophetic in places!
What could the Gift possibly be?
If you are struggling with social distancing then know that you are experiencing a natural psychological reaction to isolation. It can be explained in reference to the idea of the Ego as I read it in my very folk scientific way. Our egos are well developed to provide a covering for our delicate selves; as we encounter the world it is our egos that we live ‘behind’ as we project who we are into the world and on to the world. When we are isolated we no longer need to do that and we can loose our sense of identity and have a reaction to this withdrawal. It is of course a well practiced spiritual discipline to ‘withdraw from the world’ and now days this is having a revival. The withdrawal gives us time to peal back and chisel off some of the layers of ego that are our constructed worldly facade and to humbly and thankfully accept the reality of who we are in our solitude.
HOWEVER it is really important that we recognize how hard this is and also are compassionate with ourselves. Our egos are our friend, they protect us from psychological damage but when they are unobserved and attacked they react powerfully. You may be feeling anger, frustration, fear and irritation, I know I am. I am bouncing backwards and forwards between the urge to control, to ‘get busy’ and complete lethargy! I am cross…… so it is probably just as well that you aren’t seeing me at the moment!!!!!…. and I am mentally standing on sand. I could profess spiritual superiority in the calm assurance of God but that is not how it feels. I, like so many of you, have lost the rhythm, purpose and the egotistical nourishment of my life and I am searching for firm ground on which to stand.
This morning I sat in St Helens Church, and next week it will be St Peters and then St Marys, I played music and listened to the birds. It was empty and really full. This morning for me it was full of ghosts…. young men killed in their prime when the world went mad and wiped out nearly a whole generation, and their grieving parents who erected the plaques…. writing ‘God is Love’ on them.
Once a young man rightly and passionately challenged me about about the imagery of guns that we have on the plague in our sanctuary and I said that he was absolutely right, and at the same time somehow wrong. The plaques and the guns this morning reminded me that we are human, fail and broken, foolish and vain and out of control.
As we face this crisis now, it was a complete joy to sit in a sacred building that understands and holds all this human mess before God. The ghosts are not forgotten, they speak to us now. They speak of choices, opportunities, of history and of the future. They give perspective and meaning.
As we slow down and have ‘nothing better to do’ so we will also begin to see and hear again. The William Morris inspired window was a joy to behold, fresh and shining in the morning sun, its colours exquisite.
As I reflected on the enormous busyness of all that we have done in our churches I have to say that I am beginning to see that this withdrawal from the world could be a Gift.
If your ego and life are crashing around you please know that I fully understand the anger with which those words will be received. BUT remember that there is no doubt that we have been literally killing ourselves and the planet with our hectic and stressful lives for a century and it will hurt us a lot less in the long run if we allow this enforced withdrawal from the world to bring healing.
BECAUSE….. In the end our screaming egos come up against the cross…. death and rebirth is on offer, can we see that? Can the Crucifixion be real to us?