As a young man in my early 20s I wanted to change the world!
Becoming a priest was part of a passion of aspiring to build a better world by nurturing communities and people where all flourish. That we should be happy and enjoy ourselves – is deep within God’s purpose for each of us.
In lockdown life big questions come more to the fore. Who are we? What are we made for? What are the chances of catching this thing – what if this might just be the end?
It has been challenging to be reminded that our one life is short and pretty fragile – and certainly completely unpredictable. As I write this, I wonder what has inhibited your flourishing and happiness? What has kept you awake and filled moments with anxiety and even fear?
Of course, it is never either/or. We are all mixture all strength and weakness, achievement and failure, living and dying. Perhaps during these days, we have had to face some of these vulnerabilities. Our lives are made up of a complex series of losses and changes. The child in us has to die before we become an independent teenager. And think of the difficulty in parting from people or places. We become attached – these realities entwine themselves our hearts like ivy round a tree trunk.
Perhaps these days are rather like a bereavement? A constrained routine, a loss of freedom, separation from family and friends, anxiety about work and money and livelihood. There is pain; even enforced space from a hectic lifestyle does not always lead to contentment in time.
We are perhaps conditioned to avoid confronting these things. We live under a kind of tyranny of certainty in a society where strength, confidence, life and security is the dominate narrative. In wanting to be happy we often seek what we can control rather than face our fears and doubts. Frightened individuals build frightened societies where contradiction and ambiguity are met with false security and certainty.
The virus is a deadly accident of nature with no moral status but there is wisdom in the complex questions it raises. Do strong need the weak? Yes, for they teach us that being in touch with our weaknesses and vulnerabilities is the ultimate reality, the basis of living and loving.
Please go well and keep safe but above all I hope that together we might find a way of flourishing.
As Bruno Bettelheim reminded us in his book The Informed Heart, ‘What happens to us in life is seldom within our control, however our attitude toward what happens is entirely in our control.’
First Published in the Salisbury Journal 28th May 2020
The Revd Canon Professor James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College. He is leading a free live session, Befriending Death? Reflecting on Vulnerability, from 1-2pm on Sunday May 31 as part of the Salisbury 2020 Big Weekend.