Coping with Coronavirus: 1

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There is much to come to terms with in these strange and difficult times in: the risk of illness, shortage of food (even if that proves to be only temporary), loss of work and money, loneliness, helplessness, and fear of death. This is not life as we have known it in recent decades. It is like suddenly being at war.

I was born just after the WWII, in the post-war bulge. I didn’t live through the war but, as a very young child, I lived through post-war rationing, and with the raw and painful memories of the war of my parents and grandparents.

I hope that the spiritual resources in the great religions of the world that will help people to get through these difficult times. The tradition that I have been brought up in is Christianity. It certainly has valuable resources, though I recognise that there may well be similar resources in other faith traditions as well. 

Through the coming 12 weeks of isolation (It may be longer), I want to write a regular series of blogs, reflecting on what we are going through. This is the first.

Last Sunday morning, the small church in Cambridge that I attend, St Clement’s, had the unique privilege of having Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, as the preacher. He preached a sermon of great spiritual depth that, despite having no notes, was eloquent and well organised, as he always is.

One of his themes was the sense of loss of control, or helplessness, that we feel when faced with this pandemic. As Boris Johnson says, in due course science will come to our rescue, and enable us to bring this pandemic to an end. But for now, there is a limit to what we can do. That is unfamiliar and concomfortable.

We can, and should, reduce social contact, so as to reduce spreading of the infection. And we can, and should, shield the elderly and vulnerable such as myself. However, we are so used to having control over health and illness, life and death, that it comes very hard to find ourselves in such a helpless position. 

Listening to Bishop Rowan opening up this theme last Sunday morning reminded me of a book I had been reading in the previous days (Divine Healing: The Formative Years, by James Robinson) which identifies the 1860s as the decade when illness changed from being a ‘mystery’ to being a ‘problem’ that we wanted solved. Much of the time, we believe that we have largely got things under control. However, a pandemic like this makes us realise how superficial that is. We are not remotely in control of this virus, and that is very hard to accept.

Nevertheless, it is probably a salutory wake-up call for us to realise that there can be an infection, coming apparently from nowhere, against which we have little power. It feels like an ‘Act of God’. I don’t see it as punishment from God, though it could jolt us out of some of our complacency

More about this shortly.