Here we are. Friday 12th February in the Year of our Lord/the Ox/Corona 2021:
✔️Bread (choc & hazelnut croissant)
✔️Wine (big ol’ mug of tea)
✔️Fancy Clothes (sunshine yellow dress WITH POCKETS)
✔️Lipstick (glittery L’Oreal plum 255. For months, every time I walked past Boots I would agonise over the ‘I don’t need more lipstick and L’Oreal don’t have the greatest ethics BUT IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL’ dilemma. I gave in. Capitalism won again. BUT IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL. Je ne regrette rien).
✔️A deep breath
To your table
you bid us come.
You have set the places,
you have poured the wine,
and there is always room,
for one more.
And so we come.
From the streets
and from the alleys
From the deserts
and from the hills
From the ravages of poverty
and from the palaces of privilege
We are bloodied with our wars,
we are wearied with our wounds,
we carry our dead within us,
and we reckon with their ghosts.
We hold the seeds of healing,
we dream of a new creation,
we know the things
that make for peace,
and we struggle to give them wings.
And yet, to your table
Hungering for your bread,
thirsting for your wine,
singing your song
in every language,
speaking your name
in every tongue,
in conflict and in communion,
in discord and in desire,
O God of Wisdom,
Table Blessing by Jan Richardson.
Eat the croissant. Drink the tea. Remember/Lament/Celebrate/Give thanks (fancy clothes and lipstick optional)
So, here we are. 3 months of lockdown done and dusted. Is it me or have the fires of our global/national/personal/work crises gotten all the hotter these past few weeks?
How are you holding up? Excited by life opening up a bit in July? Daunted by the second wave it will undoubtedly unleash?
Anyone else just done? Done with the banana bread? Done with online study? Done with slowness and silence and solitude? Done with not being able to go out for drinks and dance until the early hours of the morning? Done with zoom? (Though actually, the Zoom is still strong with Friday Night Wine - turns out, I'm a pretty good yoga teacher). Done with your good hair days being wasted because you’re sat inside the house? Done with not having a haircut? Done with all your good clothes and heels languishing in your wardrobe? Yes, these are the most pressing issues facing the world right now.
Are you done with each week bringing a new revelation of something that has been cancelled/postponed/lost? Done with inequality? Done with the death and the unemployment and uncertainty of when it will all end?
Yep. I hear you. Please summon the Karen who knows how we can get refund for Jumanji 2020.
Take heart, turns out, we’re not the only ones who are done. Apparently there are three stages to dealing with crisis:
Emergency: energy levels increase as we tap into our unknown reserves to deal with urgent tasks.
Regression: we roll back to a less mature stage, we get tired, lose our sense of purpose, we retreat to an emotional comfort zone.
Recovery: we start figuring out how to move out of and beyond the crisis.
Welcome to the Regression/Ecclesiastes EVERYTHING IS UTTERLY MEANINGLESS stage of lockdown. Yay! Go team!
So, how do we get to recovery. I have no idea, but here’s what I’m trying to remember:
Remember how I said I loved creating routine and structure? Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!
Ha! I do. I love routine and structure. For a while.
And then, once that while of weeks/months/years has passed, I’m done. And instead of routine and structure being the trellis on which I grow, it puts limits on my thinking, it stifles my creativity and it frustrates my decision making. I love routine and structure, until I’m over it.
And Friends, Beloved Reader, I AM OVER IT.
The Great Big Future is unknown but my day-to-day is the exact same thing. Every. Single. Day. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.
The Calendar of Good Things is mostly pizza, Gogglebox and Sewing Bee these days. Although, I've somehow become a 1940s housewife because we got a new hoover this week and its all I can talk about. I now spend half the day wandering around the house admiring how beautiful the carpets look.
My life is routine. Resistance to wonder has been activated. But ultimate LOLZ because my word for this year is ADVENTURE. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?! (Like rain-e-ain on your wedding day)
I crawled over the start line of 2020 an exhausted mess. Having pushed the limits of my capacity through the Summer of Celebration and then on into Autumn and Christmas. Most Sundays I crawled into church wondering how on earth I’d get through the week ahead and begging God to revive me. God is faithful - I was given grace enough to make it through each day.
I realised focusing on adventure, in a year when I had none planned, would force me to slow down and approach life differently. No uprooting myself from my much loved Croydon people, no starting a new job, no big trips abroad, no living solely in the limits of my capacity. As the great Tsh Oxenrieder puts it:
Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place: a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. When I stir soup at my stove I drift to a distant island. When I'm on the road with my backpack, my heart wanders back to my couch and my favourite cup of coffee.
My equal pull between both are fuelled by my hardwired desire for heaven on earth. And I know I'll never find it. "Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees it takes off his shoes, the rest just sit around and pluck blackberries" unless the flickering bushes compel me to remove my shoes, traveling the world will never satisfy. Neither will the liturgy of normal life back home." From At Home in the World.
Its much easier for me to find God when I’ve chosen to test my limits in a wild adventure. My real challenge is in a comfortable and (mostly) predictable life where I don’t even notice I’m happily picking blackberries and ignoring God in the bushes on fire in front of me.
I knew I needed to find the adventure in the everyday but I never imagined the everyday would be confined to the four walls of home, Tooting Common and the supermarket. How much adventure is to be found in Zoom? And no, backgrounds of the beach/mountains don’t count.
So, here we are. Day whatever, of week whatever of the absolute write-off that is 2020. Resistance to wonder has been activated but I am fighting back. Turns out, wonder is a gateway to adventure. Turns out, wonder can be a spiritual practice.
I do the same walk every lunchtime. I’ve learned to consider the grass and the Queen Anne’s Lace and the nettles and the bluebells coming and going (I’ve also learned to ignore the giant rats). My phone is full of photos of flowers and trees and blue sky. I’ve learned to pay attention to the shape of the petals and the grouping of the leaves and the texture of the bark on the conker trees. Are they not clothed in splendour? Are they not wonderfully made? (I've also decided which trees will be the most fun to climb)
Turns out, there’s no room for monotony when my eyes are wide with wonder.
Do I know how the dimensions of the earth were determined? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Have I ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have I ever visited the treasuries of snow? Does the rain have a father? Who is the mother of ice? Can I hold back the movement of the stars? Can I ensure the proper sequence of seasons or guide the constellations of the Bear with her cubs across the heavens?
Questions from Job 38 (This is a poem. Do not come at me with your science and water cycles and laws of nature)
Forget the Enneagram, Myers-Brigg and any other personality testing, this notebook is the most accurate description of who I am:
Turns out, wonder is a part of life in all its fullness, learning to love the sky you're under and embracing the liturgy of the everyday.
May you come to see your ordinary-now as the great place God has you in, as the great moment God has given to you and as the great opportunity it is if only you’ll awake to its wonder." Strachan Coleman, Commoners Communion
What am I supposed to be learning right now? I ask God this question all the time too. Somewhere along the lines I learned to look for the lesson in challenging situations. I used to think it was a super mature way to approach something difficult.
Turns out, I most often use this as a way to bargain myself out dealing with something difficult rather than embrace mature personal growth - because if you can grab hold of the lesson in the midst of the challenge, then you get to jump straight to the conclusion with less blood, sweat, tears and late night existential crisis phonecalls to your committee, right? RIGHT?! Yes please I will take the conclusion without the process.
So, you know, seen as we have no choice but to deal with these Corona Times, can we all just get on and learn our collective lesson so we can complete the level and jump forward to the end? Thanking you kindly for your cooperation.
But also, recognising what we're learning does actually make it a bit easier to deal with.
What are you learning right now?
Me? I’m learning to live in the tension of hope and disappointment.
I'm learnng to walk in trust through the Valley of the Shadow of Corona, through every real and imagined scenario of even if, even when and even though.
I’m learning to surrender my security in planning and knowing what’s coming next and instead replace it with faith in a God who is always with us.
I’m learning that time is a false concept – because March was at least 72 days long, April has only been two and even though I eat all day I’m still hungry.
I'm learning that how you frame it shapes how you deal with it. Instead of I'm-stuck-with-the-people-in-this-house, its I-get-to-spend-time-with-the-people-I-live-with. Instead of my-hair-is-in-desperate-need-of-a-cut, its I’m-growing-my-hair-out (out of style, out of shape and all the way the floor apparently). Instead of why-has-God-let-this-happen, its where-is-God-at-work-in-the-midst-of-this?
I'm learning that I picked the perfect time to borrow the LOTR extended editions – if anyone needs me, I’m somewhere in Middle Earth for the foreseeable future.
I'm learning to live with all the things I don’t know – when this will end, how this will end, how much damage it will inflict across the world, when I’ll get to see my people again, if I’ll get sick, if you’ll get sick, if we’ll all make it through, if I’ll still have a job, why God let it happen, why God hasn’t ended it yet.
I'm learning how to endure in these Corona Times.
I'm learning how to abide in these Corona Times.
I'm learning how to choose joy in these Corona Times.
I'm learning to laugh and laugh and laugh because 2017 was all about endurance, 2018 about abiding and 2019 about joy. This should be my moment. I have spent the past 3 years preparing. I should be dispensing my hard-earned wisdom for you lesser mortals at the daily briefing. Instead, I’m super-chill-this-is-totally-manageable one day and then please-God-when -will-it-all-be-over the next day.
I'm learning that when I miss my Nan’s cooking I start listening to reggae.
I'm learning that I’ve reached the point of lockdown where I will quite happily spend a couple of hours watching Britain’s Got Talent and crying along with all the sob stories: “This is for my sick Gran/my mute brother/to make my kids proud/because I was bullied.” Those producers earn their money - they manipulate my emotions so well I don’t even care.
I am learning that despite thinking I dressed for me, turns out dressing for me actually means wearing pajamas 24/7.
I am learning that as much as I like to think I'm wild and free, I LOVE routine and faced with time unconstrained I will create a new schedule. Food, exercise, church, family, friends, Steph & Rachel’s Saturday Night Musical Sing-A-Long - my lockdown planner has a time and place for it all. DO YOU NEED HELP WITH A FRAMEWORK? I CAN HELP. I WOULD LOVE TO HELP. I WILL HELP YOU.
I am learning who my neighbours are – we sit by the front window to work for 8 hours a day. We know who is going by. We get worried when Checked Shirt Man and his family don’t go for their daily walk at 12.21pm. Are they sick?! Do they need anything?! Should we go over there and find out?!
I am learning that the invitation, lockdown or not, is still ‘Hey Rach, come take a walk on the wild side.’ And I just can’t say no.
I should be in the kitchen prepping a feast for all the fam coming over later. I should be facing the agonising decision of which of my fancy clothes to wear for Easter morning church – because just like Christmas, if I’m not overdressed on Easter Sunday is it even Easter?
And then on Sunday I should be celebrating with my people before Feast Round 2 at my Nan’s – roast lamb, rice n peas, curry goat, fried chicken and crunchy potatoes. ALL THE GOOD THINGS AND SECOND ONLY TO CHRISTMAS DINNER.
Instead, celebrations have to happen via zoom. Family are only a few miles away but in this lockdown life they may as well be across an ocean. And I’m probs having lentils for dinner. No roast lamb. No fried chicken and no crunchy potatoes [insert all the crying face emojis here].
in the context of, you know, a global crisis, this is not a big deal. But even so, I’m just a little bit broken hearted at this Easter in a time of Corona.
Good thing Easter isn’t actually about the food or traditions but instead the gateway to life in all its fullness. A life that promises peace and hope and blessing through every circumstance, including, as hard as it might seem to believe right now, through global crisis and escalating death tolls.
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5 v 4.
I never really understood this – how is it comforting when you’re can’t breathe, can’t think, on the floor in the depths of grief? But then I read this:
Maybe Jesus was simply blessing the ones around him that day who didn’t otherwise receive blessing, who had come to believe that, for them, blessings would never be in the cards. I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?" Nadia Bolz-Weber A Benediction
Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees [insert all the heart emojis here]. And somehow 'Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted' sounded more like hope and a promise.
I'm pretty sure we could all do with a bit more hope right now. There is grace here for all of us in this Easter in a time of Corona.
Blessed are those who mourn for you shall be comforted.
Blessed are the fundraisers facing gaps in charity income, for the funds shall come in.
Blessed are the furloughed for your days shall be filled with good things.
Blessed are the huggers for you shall receive allllll the hugs again.
Blessed are those for whom staying at home is not safe for you shall find security.
Blessed are those who are worried sick for you shall recieve peace.
Blessed are those missing sport for one day it shall return (My family have replaced all football discussions with random chat about cats. My father simply cannot handle this but I'm pretty sure its a just retribution for letting football monopolise family gatherings all my life).
Blessed are those trying not to freak out over how this will hit the developing world, for God will (please) have mercy and richer nations will look beyond their borders.
Blessed are the homeschooling parents for you shall figure out how to do long division.
Blessed are those making it through on the 80% for you shall receive all you need.
Blessed are the unemployed for you shall work again.
Blessed are those who plans and celebrations have been so unexpectedly interuppted, for there shall be space to re-make them.
Blessed are those struggling with the uncertainty of it all, for you shall find stability.
Blessed our are hospital caterers and cleaners and nurses and doctors and administrators and everyone else in the NHS that keeps it all going, for your people love you.
Blessed are the breadmakers for you shall perfect your sourdough (and when you do please let me know how because mine have always been a disaster).
Blessed are the small business owners for your customers will return.
Blessed are the stockpilers for you shall have peace of mind (and pasta for dinner).
Blessed are those having to remind their housemates that dogs are for life and not just for lockdown and even if that wasn’t true Battersea dogs home is closed at the moment so we can’t go adopt one right now anyway.
Blessed are the church leaders figuring out how to guide their people through a pandemic, for you shall recieve wisdom.
Blessed are those having to remind everyone to go on mute in group video calls for you shall have good audio quality.
Blessed are those having to teach their parents how to use new tech, for you shall receive patience in abundance.
Blessed are the tired and lonely and afraid, for you shall be filled with life-giving radiance.
Blessed are the please-can-life-just-go-back-to-normal-ers, for this season will pass.
Blessed are those praying for the first time in years, for God is listening.
Easter speaks hope that all these good things are possible.
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. Matthew 5 v 3 - 9 The Message
Friends, Beloved Reader, you’re blessed when you’re figuring out how to live through a pandemic, for God is with you.
Much grace and peace and virtual hugs this Easter x x
Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked.
"Come tell us what is saving your life right now,” he answered.
It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground.
I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could.”
From An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor.
It is the year of our Lord 2020 DCT (During Corona Times), consider the formal china swept to the floor - because if you can’t mess up your fancy table setting DCT when can you?
What is saving your life right now? (other than staying at home, obvs)
Saving my life right now is: Sunlight. Taking photos of beautiful things on the Boris sanctioned daily exercise of lunchtime walks. Exercising wonder. Reminding myself this is just for a season.
Abandoning all notions of being a part-time vegetarian – turns out, in times of global crisis, all I want is comfort food. Turns out, lentils are not comfort food and so, when the going gets tough, the tough eat burgers.
Psalms that lament. Psalms that praise. Psalms that start with lament and turn to praise. The clocks going forward meaning we had one less hour of this to deal with. Yoga. Cleaning everything in sight. Updates on the latest Isolationships. This painting:
Good music - praise be for the Quarantunes playlist - turning it up 11 and dancing for joy. Friends sending daily encouragement. Knowing God is present and at work even if it doesn’t feel like it. Online workouts with the gym crew. Not checking the news more than twice a day. Phonecalls with my people. Zoom calls with my people. Memes that perfectly capture life as we now know it DCT:
The Calendar of Thanks:
Virtual church – much love and socially distanced hugs to all my Grace and Streatham loves. Hope that this season will pass and we will live in the glorious future of life ACT (After Corona Times). The internet. Finding the flow of new routines and creating some order within chaos:
Knowing that, whilst they might not be the biggest issues right now, its ok to grieve the loss of: being with my people, routine, structure, any semblance of certainty, seeing horizons, the hustle and bustle of London, being angry with tourists reach the barriers before looking for their oyster cards, Easter weekend food.
Keeping track of every time a neighbour leaves their house so we can let the police know if they're not sticking to lockdown laws - we sit by the front window 8 hours a day, we see everything (shout out to No 243 who did a great job cleaning their windows on Friday).
"As surely as the sun rises, as surely as it sets, we anticpate your goodness, we anticpate the rest." Interlude - Torwalt
Knowing I have enough leave-in conditioner to last a couple of months (if black women ran the goverment you know for sure black hair shops would be in the essential business category). I may or may not have stockpiled.
Frequent phonecalls with my mum and sister – BCT (Before Corona Times) I called my mother on Sunday afternoons and my sister every few weeks. Now I talk to them most days. I don’t know why. None of us have anything interesting to say – we’ve all been sat at home.
Being extra. Yes, I put on my fancy Going Out clothes, spent the morning straightening my hair and putting on a full face of makeup just to sit in the house and order in brunch. Yes, on Wednesdays we wear pink and Fridays we wear formal business attire to the new office at home. And yes, I was the only one wearing a cocktail dress and fancy earrings for Friday Night Wine Zoom. Being extra is in my DNA and I make no apologies.
Contemplative prayer and the Lectio365 App. Eating a Malteaser everytime someone on TV says unprecedented (am rapidly running out of Malteasers - please send supplies).
God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.
Every morning I ask for the grace for the day and every day it is given. Break the bread. Pour the wine. Give thanks.