Growing up, I was a bookworm and my books were like time machines, allowing me to live through different eras and epochs. In particular, I remember reading a number of books set during World War Two including those classics such as Carrie’s War, The Machine Gunners and The Diary of Anne Frank. How would I have coped with the challenges my book friends faced? What would it have been like to be an evacuee? Would I have been brave under bombardment in the Blitz? From a safe distance it seemed an exciting time to live through.
2020 and the Covid-19 Pandemic is probably the biggest global event since World War II, and living through it has taken me back to those childhood questions. My biggest learning from this experience is that exciting times in history are definitely not exciting to live through! Instead, there is a dreadful monotony in life, combined with a constant, debilitating uncertainty. When will we see loved ones again? Will we all survive to be together again? What will the world be like when/if this is over? However, life disrupted does throw up unexpected insights. The deprivations and anxieties of this year have reminded many of us of what truly matters in life: love, community and wellbeing.
As for my childish fantasies of heroism, again my experience of living through 2020 has shown something much more prosaic. It has been both entertaining and frustrating to observe how I and those around me have responded to a crisis. So many of us have become amplified versions of our usual selves in both our glorious abilities and our frustrating foibles. On a positive note, quiet strengths, modestly hidden in normal life, have shone through. However, less positive traits and tendencies - in better days kept under well-mannered control - have spilled out into everyday interactions. It has been a revealing year in all sorts of ways. But although this may be uncomfortable, it might also have engendered a new mutuality: we are all human, we are all vulnerable, we are all just doing our best…
When circumstances strip both us as individuals and our shared life back to basics, it teaches us a lot about ourselves. Beneath the bustle and noise of modern 21st Century life, beneath the polite fictions that make our interactions run smoothly, what really matters? In that sense, our experience of 2020, while not the end of the world, has been an apocalypse. The literal meaning of apocalypse is an “uncovering” – a revelation of what is truly going on. In the Scriptures, apocalyptic literature is designed to show that beneath the machinations of the world, there is evil, there is good, our actions matter, there will be justice, there is always hope and ultimately God is in control.
I am not someone who subscribes to the idea that God sends horrendous things like pandemics to teach us. However, in a broken world, where pandemics happen, I do believe that our gracious God can bring gift out of struggle. 2020 has been horrendous, and the last thing I want to do is to put a cheery spiritual filter over the trauma and grief so many have experienced. However, the crisis which has revealed our priorities, our strengths and our sinfulness can still be an opportunity for grace.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says: “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. If nothing else, 2020 has brought us face to face with some foundational truths about ourselves and the world. Some of these discoveries inspire hope, and some trigger despair. If we can tentatively explore these revelations within the all-knowing and all-loving gaze of God, perhaps we will find the freedom to live more truth-filled lives. Lives where we know ourselves better as muddled human beings, yet still beloved of God. Lives where there is much to demand our attention, but we are attentive to what matters most.
And in this apocalypse, as in the apocalyptic writings of the Bible, the same principles hold true: there is evil, there is good, our actions matter, there will be justice, there is always hope, and ultimately our loving God is in control.
Written by Revd Kate Massey. Kate Massey is vicar of a church in Nuneaton and advocates for gender justice in the Church of England . Before entering full time ministry Kate worked as a doctor specializing in mental health.