Nearly Distancing

Nearly Distancing


You remember the joke of the man who built a pub on the moon?

It closed within a week.

There was no atmosphere! (Oh dear … sorry! Blame the isolation!)

Those of you who know me, know too well that I enjoy the pub. Apart from draught lager, which I am partial too, the attraction of the pub is its people. The pub, or give it its full name, the Public House, is a place to meet others. From the gregarious to the grumpy, the rowdy to the reserved, the loud to the lonely, the random stranger to the rampant regular, the oddity to the overbearing … there is room for all … and believe you me some of my haunts do have them all! (Freud would have a field day!)

Disappointed man leaving ‘The Clangers Arms’ car park.

This pandemic has highlighted our need for people. We are social beings. We were created by a relational God to build relationships. “Let us make humankind in our own image…” we are told in Genesis and then “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are born from the Godhead, the perfect community, and we yearn that perfect community on our earthly pilgrimage, till we return to it.

I am sure these days have made us get in touch with this innate aspect of our humanity… our need, our dependency, our desire for others. We are missing each other, we may be even experiencing the unfamiliar feeling of loneliness, we are looking forward to being united with those we love and can’t be with, we reminisce on those warm “together moments” that have shaped our past and our lives.

But it has also been a chance to deepen our time collectively with our immediate families and those in our households. I am old enough to remember the “winter of discontent” in 1973 where at 10 pm we all sat in the living room with our playing cards as a happy family, playing happy families! As the candles started flickering before they died in a little plume of smoke, we’d eventually finish by saying the rosary together and then reluctantly trudge to bed. Simple but salient times. Indelibly marked in my psyche as I recall the human warmth, the laughter, the love, the intimacy, the security in being together. If any good comes from these uncertain times, I pray for those things – that we return to experience and value human warmth, laughter, love, intimacy and security in being together. Yet oddly, there was a comfort in knowing everyone was experiencing the same thing, a strange solace in the reality “we are all in the same boat”, a deep-felt solidarity.

Crisis brings out the best and the worst of our human condition. As we approach Holy Week, we are confronted with the paradox of human nature. On Palm Sunday we will hear the crowds filled with joy and hope hailing Jesus as their King with “Hosanna, hosanna ” and, in the space of a week, the same crowd will be fuelled with anger and hate, condemning Jesus with “Crucify him, crucify him!” A week is a long time in politics, goes the adage…how true.

Our dark side has been all too readily documented…greedy shoppers, selfish non-essential motorists, clandestine house-party goers, individuals who see themselves as above the law, reckless egoists who ignore the big picture and fail to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

But as we approach Easter let us dwell rather on the attitude of the handful at the empty tomb and in the small crowd gathered in the upper room. Let us model ourselves on them and focus on the blessed side of our humanity. Let’s have before our eyes the sacrifices of our committed health personnel, the dedication of those essential workers keeping us fed and warm, the kindness of the neighbour checking on the elderly and vulnerable, the generosity of the shopper dropping donations in the food bank trolley, the smile of the stranger we pass by (albeit at two metres), the queues where people now talk to each other, the myriad messages of hope bombarding us on social media, the collective acknowledgement that we are all in this, together. Let us concentrate on ‘what could be’, the possibilities, the potentiality of our shared situation.  

As sons and daughters of God, social distancing is alien to us, it goes against our being. Yet as necessary as it is at this time, it makes us long for the social nearness which we have taken for granted, which is part of our DNA, which is our God-given origin.

As we approach the Easter Triduum, imagine the distancing the disciples were forced to make as their companion was taken from them, isolated in custody, condemned by the authorities, sentenced to death, nailed to a cross, brutally murdered and put in guarded grave in an “out of bounds” area.

Yet, in their isolation, their brokenness, their darkest moment … their faithfulness was rewarded, their relationships enhanced, their lives transformed. From fear-filled followers in despair to powerful proclaimers of hope … God’s love did not disappoint, God’s covenant was not broken, God’s promise was kept, God’s essence was maintained.

Yes, there may be physical, geographical, behavioural “out of bounds” at this moment but as we celebrate God’s boundless love at Easter may our own love also come to know no bounds. And as we relive Holy Week, I pray that, like the disciples, our faithfulness be rewarded, our relationships enhanced, and our lives be transformed… let’s drink to that!

Jim Clarke, s.x.