The mirage of normality
The other day I was listening to something about how hands are used in religious worship and practice. The importance of gesture and touch.
Many of us at St. Catherine’s come from different traditions and this influences, for example, how we hold our hands in prayer, whether feel comfortable extending a handshake at the Peace, making the sign of the cross, raising our hands in praise or laying on hands in prayer for healing or holding your hands out during the Lord’s Prayer as many at St Catherine’s do.
(In the broadcast a nun spoke of holding your hands open to receive when praying – and the challenge of this because with God you never know what you are going to receive.)
Thinking about sharing the Peace led me to thinking about attending Said, 8am Communion when visiting my grandparents as a child. Sharing the Peace was definitely not the done thing at this service. It has dawned on me that for the people in that congregation, apart from the legal requirement to wear a mask and the prohibition on the common cup, everything else about worship in Corona times would have appeared normal: no singing, a small congregation sitting distanced from each other, no sharing the Peace, no coffee afterwards… For me as a child, this was not normal: normal was fortnightly Communion in the morning with organ and robed clergy and choir; in the evening, a music group, clergy in clerical shirts and plenty of lay leadership. Many of us went to both services – every week. Would that now be considered normal?
Change has always been with us and yet as humans we crave the familiar, we like things to be normal. To quote Dostoevsky, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
Corona has brought an abrupt change to our normal. There has been upheaval and dislocation in so many areas of life: work, cultural, social, personal and our church life at St. Catherine’s.
The promise of vaccines and the threat from virus variants still, 16 months on, give us an uncertain future. We need something to hold on to, something unchanging and we have that in God.
For a few of us at St. Catherine’s, joining together via zoom for Compline on a Sunday evening has become normal. (Others will have joined in with other things on offer.) One of the prayers from the nightly Compline liturgy acknowledges this anxiety about change:
Be present, O merciful God,
and protect us through the silent hours of this night,
so that we who are wearied
by the changes and chances of this fleeting world,
may rest upon your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It reassures us that whatever challenges and changes we may face, however absent and far off the normal that we long for may be – God is with us – today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.
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