During such unusual times, the cracks can show.
I saw a funny internet “meme” of what working from home was really like during this pandemic. The artist had used the image of the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci: the Mona Lisa. In the first picture, the Mona Lisa looked normal. In the second picture, the Mona Lisa had been altered to make her hair all frizzy as if she had just got out of bed. In the third picture, she had even worse hair and her eyes were noticeably “crazed”.
Also, during such unusual times, important things can become more clear.
Last week, at the Queensland Heads of Churches (held via “Zoom” on the internet), different leaders spoke about the common experience right across the denominations, of Christian people working together through this pandemic. The leaders spoke about increased Christian concern for the shut-in folk and for the neighbour. The leaders spoke about congregations making renewed connections with people previously missed.
During these times of isolation, we become acutely aware of our need to better connected with others. This past weekend, there has been a noticeable sigh of thanksgiving across Queensland, as people have taken up the slightly-relaxed rulings on travel and visitation, though we still have a journey ahead.
Almost 400 years ago, a famous English Church leader had become homebound and isolated for weeks and weeks because of a severe fever. Poet, politician and pastor, John Donne wrote a magnificent poem during this time of “isolation”. I know this poem off by heart and learned it years and years ago. Only recently, I found out about the profound context. John Donne wrote this poem from his “sick bed” at a time when he thought it would become his death bed (the use of the word “man” in this poem is Donne’s original usage and refers to all humanity).
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
(MEDITATION XVII from “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” by John Donne, 1624)
This poem speaks of “eyes focused outwards” to the need of the neighbour. This poem invites us to reflect on ourselves as people in “community” not just as “individuals”. Christians know that we are each unique beloved creatures of a loving creator, but we are also the “body of Christ”. The Sunday readings for “Good Shepherd Sunday” remind us that we are a “flock” of the Good Shepherd. We are not “islands” but we are bound together as the communion of saints by our baptism into Christ.
The poem by John Donne is a gentle reminder that every death in this current pandemic affects me. When Donne says, “therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls” he is thinking of the English village where the town Church bell is rung when someone had died. When we read the “statistics” on COVID19, we are reading about ourselves. Although Australia may have “flattened the curve” I am asked by my Lord to look to the needs of those others around the world who are facing the brunt of escalating infections and deaths.
“God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (1 Cor 12)
God bless your witness and your care for those in our world, surrounded by those who are sick and dying on account of COVID19.