So this is it. Lockdown. And how are we finding it so far? Incredibly difficult, I suspect. Not taking away from those people who have health concerns or who are otherwise high risk, I can’t imagine how hard that must be. But for a great majority of us we are facing a different challenge. We know rationally that we are probably not in any great danger, yet some-how we are still lying awake at night, at least some of the time. We are still feeling fear.
I had a friend whose child went through a phase of asking what her second favourite of various things was. Children do this a lot, they expect you to have a favourite colour or a favourite number, which most of us don’t beyond the age of about eight. A second favourite is an even bigger challenge. ‘What’s your second favourite magnet?’ She was asked. Then, more challenging still in the presence of her husband, ‘who was your second favourite boyfriend?’.
But apparently, what most of us do have, hard-wired, is a second biggest fear. Our first biggest being death, pretty obviously. Our second? Public speaking, apparently. Or anything that leads to embarrassment or shame. What is at the route of this is loss of identity, and it stems from a very ancient time within ourselves when this would have amounted to death anyway. Because it would have meant expulsion from the tribe, isolation. Which would have inevitably meant death. So, we are facing our two biggest fears, which is essentially one fear, and we are facing them largely alone.
Except we are not alone, we never are when we are in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place we go to hear two voices in particular. Some of us might be slightly familiar with it at this time of year, but this feels like Lent SUPER, or Lent MAX. Extreme Lent, if you will. Robbed of all those things that normally make up our lives and our sense of who it is we are, stripped bare of our identity, we are so vulnerable to who we listen to. Because someone will always want to step in and tell you who you are, or tell you what the answers are.
I read somewhere else that the three temptations, the three lies the devil tells in the wilderness, are that you are what you have, you are what you do, and you are what other people think of you. You are what you have, as in, turn these stones to bread or have enough toilet roll. You are what you do, as in, save yourself, or magically get this whole situation right and save yourself of your family. You are what others think of you, as in, the whole world will worship you, or admire your clever Pandemic opinions on social media or your touching rendition of a Leonard Cohen song from your balcony. All empty promises, feeling ever more empty as the supermarket shelves empty, and one more meeting is cancelled everyday, and those likes and hits just can’t take the place of hugs and smiles.
But you will indeed be tempted to jump at it because the feeling is just so damn unpleasant isn’t it? The unravelling. I know that at the start of this lent, before I knew we were going to be in a global pandemic situation -cause lets face it, no-one expects a global pandemic situation – I found myself thinking that I had already been in lent for about two years. For various reasons I had been in a prolonged period of feeling like I didn’t know who I was, or rather, so much of what I thought made up my identity. And I found it written, in one of my prayer journals, simply It Feels Like Dying.
Which in a way it is, it was. And one way or another, whatever we believe, we are all people of the resurrection. We see dying and renewal all around us all the time. Cycles of withering, and decay and growth and hope. Not without painful and difficult bits, but inevitable and constant. Sometimes we must face physical death but much, much more often we must face the death of bits of ourselves, shed snake-like skins, prune wilted blossoms, some of which fall away easily to the wind, but many others kick and scream and cleave to us all the way.
Because there is another voice in the wilderness, whatever you want to call it. I believe it is promised to us, the voice that indeed lead us there to speak tenderly to us. Saying you, only you. There is part of you that is eternal once all the rest of this has passed away. And that is the part of you that I love beyond your imagining.
And so my hope for you in this difficult time is that you hear even the smallest echo of that voice, just a glimpse of the face that loves you amidst all of this. Those of us who are lucky enough to have people around us who love us might catch it in the eyes and words of other people. People who long to be close to the real us if we would only let them. Now is the time to let them. But more than that, I hope you find what only comes in the deep silence you find when you fall off the edge of everything else. That is, the truth of your own astonishing preciousness. The lies you have been listening to your whole life about who you are and what you are worth probably won’t be vanquished without much tears, mess and swearing, but I wish you the joy and the peace and the freedom of discovering yourself on the other side of it all, unravelled but strangely whole, and completely beloved.