‘What have you learnt in lockdown?’ That’s what I was asked to address on zoom before the team of a large law firm yesterday. (They were very kind.)
Lockdown learnings bubble in my heart, sometimes like the melody of a mountain stream, sometimes like the hiss and burn of boiling oil.
For most of us, this is a time which hurts. Sleeping isn’t always easy. I keep lists in my head of whom I’m worrying about. I get zoom-dizzy, with headaches. I never complete my day’s tasks. I fear for the world I love; fear for all our future.
But I’m also aware that hurt is not equal: my heart goes out to all who grieve, who couldn’t even kiss a hand, have one last hug and say goodbye.
Thank God for my family, our dog, our garden; for blackbirds, blue tits and goldfinches, privileges all. Thank God for everything which grows, the tiny blue of gentians, the Bigwood oaks. Thank God for the study of Torah, the yearning for God in Hasidic teaching. Thank God for the health to go running.
Thank God for every single member of the amazing team at our synagogue.
This is what’s most important in these uncertain months: to connect: to connect the heart with God in the damp cool of early morning; to connect with the breathing leaves, ‘You’re here, I’m here, we have another day together’; to connect with our neighbours, delivery people, food store team, friends, community, everyone we once, wrongly, took for granted; to connect in quiet heart space with those we love, for whom we often leave the least time over; to connect our society, across all faiths, ethnicities and colour. For our world may either break apart now, or come closer in vision, intention and spirit.
Sometimes I feel at peace in the midst of all this strangeness, often overwhelming helplessness, failure.
I’m grateful for all who help us find each other, find direction, purpose, God. I’m grateful for our lockdown adoptions, ‘grandparents’ who’ve read stories over the internet to small children, teenagers who’ve been shopping-and-prescription-pals to people who have to isolate, volunteers who call people every day or week, ‘How are you? Just keeping in touch.’
I appreciate everyone who’s strengthened our spirit. In impassioned discussions my colleagues have articulated that love of Shabbat, which, disciplined, rigorous, spirited and unshakeable, has held the Jewish People to our vision of redemption. Holding fast to halakhah, Jewish law, we work six days and on the seventh, free of labour, money and interactive electronics, enter a world of wonder, spirit and grace, the world as God intended.
I’m grateful to everyone who’s made the community vibrant online with quizzes and classes, music, prayer, photographs of ducks and deer, and humbling insights into their practical and their heart work.
I appreciate, too, those who, because of the unprecedented nature of these times with their grief, uncertainty and anguish, have created Shabbat connections with prayer and healing on zoom, which so many have valued. What I cannot condone halakhically, I can well understand and value. I hear what these services have meant to many people. My heart is torn between my halakhic and spiritual, and my communal and pastoral selves, and because, rightly but painfully, I am not there in these virtual gatherings with people alongside whom I’ve lived as rabbi for up to forty years.
I long for better days, when we shall all be together again, when God’s name will be one and we will say it as one in one community.
I’ve learnt in lockdown that nothing matters more than healing, not just for the body and the soul, as we pray for everyone who is ill, refu’at hanefesh verefu’at haguf, but healing for our relationships, for the injustices in our society, the cruelties, violence, repression and hatred in the world, and for the broken bonds between humanity and nature.
I shall go on worrying, caring, hoping, praying, emailing, phoning, writing, studying Torah and making sure that trees get planted.