May 24 2020


How are you coping with being locked down? The government has recently started to ease the measures. Everyone will have had some sort of emotional reactions to it, mostly I would guess negative reactions. Feelings of claustrophobia, of lack of purpose have been commonplace, and of frustration, particularly if you have been laid off work or cannot work from home . There have been experiences of Zoom fatigue also from those reliant on screen interaction for what they do at work.

If you have been locked down with other people, has that put a strain on your relationships perhaps? It would be understandable in the circumstances. Disagreements can flourish in the hothouse atmosphere, and issues can become magnified out of proportion. I believe cases of domestic violence have risen.

Or have you been locked down alone? That must put a completely different set of challenges before you. The additional weight of concern for others who may be elderly or unwell, and who you have been unable to visit and unable to help, can certainly make isolation hard to bear.

Of course it is easy to forget that a substantial percentage of the population are in a lockdown situation all the time. I am thinking of individuals seriously ill in hospital, and of people in prison who may spend the majority of their day in a cell. I have heard that prisoners in jail listening to the radio will hear of a five-hour delay to traffic on the M25. That may be hell on earth for the average motorist, but the prisoner wishes he could be in the traffic jam.

On the other hand, for some lockdown has not been a trial. If you are used to going on retreat or meditating in silence, where your interests are not dependent upon being in contact with a lot of different people, sport, theatre, eating out, shopping &c , it might not have been as hard to be indoors on your own.
My brother-in-law cares for his elderly mother who has Alzheimer’s. Their routine has hardly varied from pre-lockdown to now. Nor will it change when the restrictions are finally lifted.

On a lighter note, gardening has become a national preoccupation, brown refuse bins have been full to overflowing. Online quizzes have soared in popularity. And there has been an explosion of DIY projects. One near neighbour has started digging a huge hole in his back garden, we are unsure what for: a plunge pool, a hot tub, an extension to his cellar? And the noise of mechanical saws and sanders regularly shatters the peace of our suburban afternoons.

But the atmosphere is cleaner, the almost empty streets fresher.

Pollution is right down, animals have even reclaimed parts of built up areas.

I began to think: This is a massive improvement. Doctors even suggested the lack of physical interaction, was a once in a lifetime opportunity to eradicate sexually transmitted infections …..
All sorts of unpredictable positives have come out of the experience, as we adapt to the new normal.

Stephen Fry suggested in an interview that the biggest change is, that during lockdown Time will take on a different unfamiliar nature. It will expand, allowing us to do things more calmly and slowly, and with more thought, mindfully and with some reflection.

Lockdown has made us dream much more vividly. It may be fear of the virus or perhaps lack of the usual amount of activity during the day.
Dreams cannot always be interpreted, and if we are able to relate them to what has been happening to us, they are not usually always illuminating. I think of dreams as being akin to black holes in our consciousness, into which all that unprocessed data which we accumulate during our waking hours, all those unresolved loose ends, and ultimately all our thoughts, will fall.

Dreams have always fascinated humanity. In scripture in the Old Testament book of Daniel, we can read of a dream King Nebuchadnezzar had. It troubled him so much that he summoned all the wise men in his kingdom to interpret it for him, but none could, except Daniel. And the imagery of the dream was of a mighty statue made of various metals, which was Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, but that it stood on feet of clay, and was thus inevitably going to be destroyed and dispersed.

The setting for John Bunyan’s masterpiece Pilgrims’ Progress , is a dream: “As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted upon a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream…”

On the face of it, it may seem very bold to put the whole context of human life and religious striving into the form of a dream, but Shakespeare would do the same in The Tempest

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on
And our little life is rounded with a sleep…”

Lockdown has introduced us to a new way of looking at our life, and our expectations of it. The often expressed hope is that we will learn from it and modify our behaviour accordingly. I think we inevitably will.

Meanwhile, there is a nursery rhyme we sing to Forest, which you will remember. I feel hopeful that the emphasis in “the new normal” will be informed by its wisdom:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream;
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Whatever our own circumstances, and wherever possible, may we keep the emphasis especially on the “merrily, merrily…”

Our concluding prayer is from an American Unitarian publication, and is for all those who are unable to be with us:

O God of all… We remember all our forbears from the beginning, and all who have wrought righteousness, even down to the present day… We remember all whom we love and who love us; both those who have passed on, and those whose presence still blesses us. Thanks be to you for their benediction upon our lives. Establish the work of their hands, and keep us in one spirit with them

We remember those who journey and who sojourn in far countries. May it please you to abide with them wheresoever they may abide, and to bring them in safety to their desired homes.

We especially remember those who are unwell and in distress, who suffer in mind, body, or estate; those who are in bonds, and those who struggle under tyranny or injustice or poverty: as bound with them we bear them in our hearts and pray for their relief…

O God of all, grant that we may walk in your presence, your love in our hearts, your truth in our minds, your strength in our spirit… Amen.


Sunday Service homilies from the Minister during coronavirus period