As lockdown eases, our Poet Theologian in Virtual Residence, Hannah Stone, shares her own fears and concerns and asks us to consider, as we acclimatise to the outside world, how can we practice trusting that God does indeed ’know the way for us’?
So, lockdown creaks open, and people previously required to shield will soon be given freedom to circulate. Businesses, pubs, restaurants and other public sites are re-opening, with the ‘new normal’ of social distancing enacted. This week I heard for the first time the concept of being ‘locked in’; that is, being fearful of going out after having got used to being ‘locked down.’ There is so much uncertainty; it feels risky. Some weeks ago I had to travel to London to provide care for my elderly mother. It was very scary. This extract from a longer prose poem expresses some of what I was afraid of:
I’ll level with you
I’ll level with you; I’m afraid … I’m afraid I may be challenged about the purpose of my journey. I’m afraid I no longer understand what is ‘essential’ aside from oxygen, caffeine, cats and trees. I’m afraid my train will be cancelled. I am afraid my train will not be cancelled, and that it will contain other people. I am afraid of other people, not in the hellish way Sartre meant, but as agents of infection. I’m afraid … that lockdown will confine compassion as well as passion. I’m afraid my train won’t stop on platform 4 at Kings Cross but will swerve at the last minute to Platform 9 ¾, where I will be propelled, like vicious droplets, into a fantasy world. I am afraid I will prefer wizards and magic wands and sorting hats to the real world I have left behind …
What we don’t know can frighten us more than what we do actually have to face. Held prisoner and eventually executed by the Nazis, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote with compassion and fortitude about his situation. His ‘Morning Prayer’ captures the oscillation between hope and fear that periods of suffering and uncertainty bring.
O God, early in the morning I cry to you. Help me to pray and to concentrate my thoughts on you: I cannot do this alone. In me there is darkness, but with you there is light; I am lonely, but you do not leave me; I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help; I am restless, but with you there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience; I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me … Restore me to liberty, and enable me to live now, that I may answer before you. Lord, whatever this day may bring, your name be praised.
Bonhoeffer’s prayers set by York-based composer Phillip Moore are among pieces of music recorded by Leeds based St Peter’s Singers in the unusual setting of the Victoria Quarter. Here is a different recording of the piece by Harvard University Choir.
As we acclimatise to the outside world, how can we practice trusting that God does indeed ’know the way for us’?