As I write this article, we are in lockdown due to the coronavirus, but hopefully by the time you are reading it, we are not; at least I hope some restrictions will have been lifted. Whilst the lockdown is global, its effect is played out at a highly personal, individual, level with a huge impact upon all our lives. For many that means big restrictions on movement and for others, an even bigger impact with the loss of work.
And there has been another impact too; that is the realisation of how interconnected we all are, not only locally, but globally too. How something, in this case a virus, can move between us paying no attention to international boundaries or even oceans. And then, once we are forced to respond to it, suddenly realising how much our way of life depends upon each other.
We are accustomed to the word individual as meaning separate or set apart; we listen to our music, make our choices, we follow our way. Yet the word individual comes from the Latin individuus where the original meaning is actually ‘not divisible’ and ‘inseparably linked together’ – quite the opposite to set apart. Now, it is quite common for the meaning of words to morph and evolve over time, but this change for the word individual is remarkable. It’s a change we might not have known about, however I had various conversations which suggest that people became very aware of how a modern individualism was so destructive. The early days of the virus getting here gave rise to panic buying and hoarding which had such a negative effect on our common life; yet as things progressed to the lockdown, so much mutual support came to the fore. I am not suggesting we needed the virus to make us understand, but faced with the virus, we faced both the best and the worst of our humanity.
The Christian gospel pulls no punches when it talks about selfishness and makes very clear that none of us know everything and by association, we therefore need one another. But this is no policy statement on social welfare; after all, many an atheist will acknowledge that we need one another. The gospel however speaks of self giving love; this is much more than policy pronouncements, delivery schedules or funding streams. Self giving love directs us emotionally to something much bigger than ourselves which is why the church says that God is love; an overflowing loving kindness streaming from the heart is how the New Testament puts it.
When the lockdown is over, I hope that we can recall how we are so dependent on each other and keep the good things that did emerge from something so terrible.
And finally; this is the last article I shall write for Littleport Life because I am moving to a new post in Buckinghamshire, part of Oxford diocese. Living in Littleport has been a pivotal experience for me in church and community life, so thank you for making it so.