I was pleased to be part of this podcast and in particular to think a little about the impact of conflict on our mental health.
Just a couple of weeks before the lockdown I was passing a garden centre and decided to drop in to while away some time while I waited to pick up someone from hospital. My eyes were drawn to some metal flowers at the entrance to the shop. Not normally given to buying metal flowers, I found myself picking up a sunflower and taking it to the till. Once home I presented it to my friend Em, who takes charge of our garden. A few days later I noticed that she had placed it in the dirt by our small (micro) pond at the back fence. So now when I was at the kitchen sink the metal flower caught my eye.
Wondering why it was making such a strong impression on me – after all I had bought it – I realised that it was because she had put it where our actual sunflowers go. So now, when I look at the sunflower I see a beautiful prefiguring of what is going to be there this summer. Right now in our greenhouse are pots of seemingly barren earth with sunflower seeds in them. Seeds are frustrating (at least for me). For a long time after you plant them they seem to do nothing. Every day I would go out to the greenhouse and … nothing. And at the time of writing this … nothing. Still I think they will probably come up – based on prior experience and knowledge that sun and regular watering tend to do their magic! Also, some other seeds we have planted have already come up!
So I look at the metal sunflower with expectation. It is a kind of promise for what is to come. What is crafted beautifully in metal will sometime soon be sitting amongst the real and living versions.
Looking ahead (and behind) to resurrection is the Christian’s constant job. In my work with those in conflict I am often conscious of doing both. At this time when the whole world has been plunged together into the valley of the shadow I find myself cautious of my usual default resurrection declaration mode. It could feel at best thoughtless, at worst callous, to proclaim hope while we are just coming to terms with death. Others have commented quite rightly that we are in an Easter Saturday moment.
However I find myself incapable of being anything else other than a resurrection bearer. Not because of my holiness or my ability to transcend where we are but because otherwise I find myself unable to breathe, to keep going, to have any kind of meaning or purpose.
I recently read Rowan William’s book Luminaries and in it he reminds us of the Emmaus story. Those travelling away from Jerusalem were consumed with the story of what had just happened. They were talking and talking, trying to make sense of what probably made no sense and seemed unutterably awful. And it was and is. The resurrection doesn’t take away Jesus’ horrific death or the gut wrenching grief of the disciples, but it does make it part of a much larger story. The larger story that we are all still part of and that this, the time of Covid 19 is also a part of.
Endnote: I wrote this over an afternoon and just before I posted it, while taking a picture of the metal sunflower, I went back to water the seeds in the greenhouse and in that short time the sunflower seeds had started coming up!