These are strange days and it is going to be this way for a while. No change in sight.
We are mostly at home. Isolated. Far from usual daily routines. Even at work we wear masks, keep our distance, eat alone.
I don’t know a soul who finds this just to their liking. Even the most committed introvert is longing for companionship 6 months in. For those who get there energy from being with others, especially large groups, this is a nightmare. Chocolate consumption is up. Alcohol consumption is up.
Of course it is.
Isolated. Lonely. Alone. It isn’t like we asked for this. Mostly we are hoping to ride it out and hope it doesn’t take too long or extract too great a tool. Maybe we are resisting in a quiet way the parts that chafe us most. Some, in dramatic fashion, are resisting it and all it requires. Refusing masks. Joining large social gatherings. Suing the state to force churches open.
This situation is not of our choosing, but perhaps, as we wait on a vaccine and an election there is something more for us. Maybe we can choose to take full advantage of this opportunity. Maybe we are all hermits now.
Julian of Norwich was a hermit of a certain type. She was an anchorite, living a secluded life walled into the side of her church. When Dame Julian sealed herself into the alcove of the church she chose that life full of intention. It ordered her life in a way that she felt best given her circumstances and her desires.
Like us, Julian lived through a pandemic. When she was around 5 years old the bubonic plague hovered over England for nearly eighteen months. About half of England died. A dozen years later the plague returned killing another 20% of the people. At this point Julian was 17 years old. Illness, death and a complete lack of control marked her young life.
Like us, Julian lived in a time of social unrest. England was fighting Europe over control of France. The Hundred Years war was a mere six years into its tenure when she was born and it would be with her all of her days.
There was also the Peasants’ Revolt which began when she was 38. This was the Peasant’s Lives Matter revolt. But way more. The whole fabric of society was tearing and bring remade. Agricultural workers wanted to end forced labor and receive greater wages. And they were tired of paying for the expensive Hundred Years war through increasing tax levied on every adult. They marched on London and gained concessions from the King which were later forgotten. The rebellion captured Norwich for a short time as Julian sat in her cell. The final battle was near by.
In her writings Julian mentions none of this. She talks about her desire to know the passion of Christ, his suffering on our behalf and ends up learning about God’s great love for us each.
Like Julian during the pandemic we can pray. As she sat in her cell, apart, with all the turmoil around her she carried on doing what she could. Of course she prayed as we do, for all within her concern. Her physical presence was limited, but by prayer she could partake in everything.
Like Julian during the pandemic we can connect with others. She talked with others regularly as they met with a wall between them. They came to check on her and to tell their stories and to hear her counsel.
Like Julian during the pandemic we have time. Maybe for the first time as adults. We can think. We can sleep. We have the freedom to do nothing at all and our life won’t come to an end.
Life for Julian didn’t end. It became focused. That is our opportunity from here on out. We have seen that so many of the ways we previously spent our time were optional and not essential. The expectations of others (real and imagined) were put aside. We organized our days to a different rhythm.
As I adjust to the pandemic I will find my workarounds. I will set new priorities for my time given my resources and limits in this environment. I will again choose the sort of life I want. I will nurture the relationships most valuable, while letting go of others. I will choose the sort of person I hope to be again and again.
Our situation is unique on one hand, but the road has been traveled before. Julian, when she took this road by choice, found the great, good love of God. I can only hope I do as well.