I’m down to the tiniest scraps of shampoo bar left since the lockdown began. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things except that I only finally weaned myself off the plastic-bottle-kind-of-shampoo last year and I’d rather not go back. Perhaps, like me, there is something that you’ve been missing these last few weeks, whether it is superficial or serious.
Unless it’s to do with the necessities of life, I guess scarcity isn’t always bad. In a regular drop-in session at the University of Bath chaplaincy this week (now virtual) we decided to come in costumes made out of what we already had. A Dalek was the clear winner. Being forced to make-do can be good for creativity.
Maybe these days we are getting used to asking ourselves more than ever before, ‘what do I have?’ Do I have everything I need to survive the weeks ahead? Living comfortably as we did before quarantine, I was not usually limited by what I already had. If I was missing an ingredient, I could buy it. If I wanted to gather people, I could invite them. If I was inspired by something, I could follow through on it. I didn’t have to think about or be limited by what I actually had, be that supplies, relationships or opportunities. In some ways, what I already had didn’t matter.
I’m stuck that this is a strange and privileged way to live, but also that it is an illusion. What could this teach me about being more grounded in each moment, about stopping to take stock? I’ve recognised a restlessness that I didn’t know was there.
In the first few days of our lockdown, I suggested to the family that we keep a ‘virus diary’, recording for posterity what these days were like. Of course they laughed in my face and have continued to tease me since. ‘Are you going to put that in your virus diary, mum?’ But in all honesty, I haven’t wanted to keep one either. What would I write?
Your experience may be different, but these days I’ve found it difficult to pray in the same way that I used to. I wonder if part of the feeling is that praying doesn’t feel that distinct from anything else I’m doing. Quarantine has had the effect of making God feel both nearer and farther away at the same time.
Today I was remembering the story of Jesus feeding thousands of people in a spontaneous picnic. (Of course it’s hard to imagine gathering like that in a crowd now.) What I noticed this time was that when Jesus provides people with food, the abundance wasn’t conjured out of thin air, out of nothing. Its starting point was what was already there (in this case, some bread and some fish). ‘What do you have?’ Jesus asks. ‘Go and See.’
And so though I may be struggling to keep to the pattern of prayer that I had before, and though it may feel that when I do pray I feel like I am just daydreaming, in one way this prayer is real. I am just bringing to God my concerns, my thanks, my wonder, my now. It’s all I’ve got in my hands.
‘What do you have?’ Jesus asks. Bring that. Come and see.