A time to recover

19 October 2021

A time to recover

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.

Ecclesiastes 3.1–5

This ancient text has many resonances with this time of Covid, I’ve thought of it many times before writing this piece. As the same writer says elsewhere, in fact at the beginning of his reflections — ‘What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. (1.9)’

Life is more than survival, and death is not an end of it, we are all affected when others die and those who remain — friends and relatives — live to tell the tale. I nearly wrote something like this article on 23 March (Covid memorial day), thinking to use the more pointed and sadder title of ‘a time to die’. It was not the right time.

I have been inspired by a project I came across recently which had ‘Recover’ as one of its phases. It seemed so gently inspiring and radically encouraging, compared to trite politicised phrases such as ‘Build Back Better’, or ‘the new normal’.

We cannot get back to normal as if nothing has happened, religion is one of the few forces in society which, sometimes, forces us to slow down (yoga also comes to mind). If I was in government I would be urging a day of reflection and exploring what could be done for people’s wellbeing, I don’t see it on our current government’s agenda. Really caring for people is religion’s trump card, done well it is also informed by and infused with a dose of reality. Mortality is reality, though it often seems to be denied. Denial is always about not facing up to reality. What do society and community look like when so many have died? Government does not ask this question and our Prime Minister would have us talk about spurious wage increases instead. Not everyone is ready for this conversation, even though this is one thing that we are all in together.

So, where are we? It’s worth saying, incredibly, that we are still living, and dying, through a pandemic. It is not over, despite all the relaxations of restrictions. Life has, in many ways, returned to normal, though two of the groups that I worship with have not returned to physical meeting yet. I might be less reflective if they were.

What does it look like to be a society which is partly emerged from what could be seen as the worst of the pandemic (without knowing what lies ahead)? We may yet find out and it will be part of the conversation when I am able to worship with friends in the real world again. As ever, we need more space for conversation (not something that government, or our political system, encourages) for listening to each other. We can ask ourselves the important questions, meaningfully — ‘How are you?’, but also ‘Who are you now?’ I haven’t given it much thought myself, yet. But with the ‘Recover’ prompt these descriptions came to mind — cautious, bereaved, recovering …

We are a nation, a world, the human family, in recovery. Unlike most religious people I don’t see religion as having answers, or even owning them. It is great at asking questions though! Something that I have caught from Jesus, who asked questions all the time, now why did he do that? And why do those who claim to speak on his behalf offer so many answers!

Recovering is about not rushing, it takes a long time, maybe it never ends. We talk about people being ‘in recovery’, even decades after they have, through strong commitment, left some situation behind them. In our recovering state we check in with ourselves, if we are not interrupted by the voices which tell us to get back to normal, get back to the office. Nothing is more transformative than being with ourselves (yes, that is why Jesus asked people lots of questions when they were over-focused on him at the expense of themselves). We remember, perhaps — ‘love others, as you love yourself.’ There is some work (the therapeutic kind) to do first.

A large part of recovery is about hope, hope for something better, something to live for. This is also not an area where politics excels, we are offered, particularly recently, empty promises — ‘oven-ready’ Brexit that doesn’t deliver, except when it brings chaos and shortages! In a time of recovery we may want something different even more than we want something ‘better’. After shock and bereavement things cannot go on as they were, government sees this dimly, but they were never focused on real meaningful transformation for everyone. ‘Levelling up’ is just another empty promise failing to fill the gap where actual recovery should be.

The things that point to real transformation are often paradoxical — ‘the first shall be last’, ‘the sound of one hand clapping’. Recovery is no different — the outward cannot function without the inward, we cannot meet other people for society’s journey of joint recovery until we have gone inwards and met with ourselves. We cannot save others, or be part of a group journey towards restoration, unless we save ourselves first. This is the human touch, when have these words ever been so meaningful? — ‘a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.’ Almost inevitably, especially now, government lacks this human touch, it displays almost no concern for people. Recovery is an entirely different agenda. Look for, and nurture, the green shoots of recovery, they are not economic, but they do need the investment of real resources.

Julian Bond
Project Funding Officer
The Connexional Team

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Originally published at https://www.methodist.org.uk.

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Julian Bond

Grant maker; writer #JesusRediscovered; former CEO @chrismusforum; freelance interfaither @stethelburgas, @UKHousingFast @johnsw. Vegetarian, Muslim ally.