This pandemic is adding inches to my waist. The connection was shamelessly illustrated to me last night. In the middle of the BBC evening news report of rising infection levels (the number of cases tripled in Northumberland this week), I went to the kitchen and grabbed a handful of chocolate biscuits. No mystery where those inches are coming from, as if there ever was one.
Which leads me to contemplate creature comforts and the role of respite and celebration in surviving the pandemic. When an individual is traumatised, her brain may oscillate between intrusive thoughts about the traumatising event and a kind of numbing dissociation. In this way her brain gives her periods of rest and recovery so that she has more resources at her disposal to try to make sense of what has happened when she can.
So too communities and churches need periods of respite and outright celebration in the midst of the rock and roll of this onslaught of global pandemonium. We need to be reminded of the good things in life as a kind of ballast and hope-basket. We need to laugh and move and sing and just feel good – forgetting momentarily the danger and drama unfolding before us. No wonder young people are raving. (I am not condoning this.) Celebration is more than a safety valve. It’s an affirmation of the joy of being alive.
In mid-July the granddaughter of a church member got married in much reduced circumstances. Scores of church members lined the streets around the church in a socially distanced manner to greet the bride as she arrived. Though they could not attend the wedding, they could celebrate the occasion and share the joy. The event lifted the spirits of everyone. Lockdown-schlockdown, love is alive and kicking and so are we. I am aware that such a thing would be illegal under the current Rule of Six and further local restrictions in the NorthEast; we will have to be more creative next time.
I have added to the list of leadership tasks in a collective trauma: Celebrate Joy! Create respite! (Emphatic exclamation mark!) So much is happening in this disillusioning, sometimes despairing time: survival, adaptation, seeking ground firm enough to stand on, learning to hold opposite ideas in our heads (we will celebrate Remembrance Day together; we can’t gather for Remembrance), watching out for folks who are more severely impacted, contemplating church life in the future, assessing risk, trying to stay healthy, worrying about future traumas (economic impact, Brexit, climate change, mass extinction…..ugh). This is all tricky, heavy stuff. Attending to our needs for simple pleasure and collective celebration is an essential, along with self-care. Play and celebration help calibrate our souls to the eternal now.
Bring out the party hats. Refuse to not celebrate special events in whatever safe way you can. Add “notice Joy!” and “Take a break!” to the list of things to do today. It may be the most important thing you can do for yourself and the community. And a lot healthier than scarfing chocolate whilst watching the evening news. That said, I’m cutting myself some slack here. My jeans still fit. Just. (Don’t ask me about my corduroys.)
Revd Dr. Carla A. Grosch-Miller and