Do we want “normal”?

A lot of conversations and the news are now centring around when we will be allowed, and when it will be wise for us to “return to normal life”. This got me to thinking – what is normal? What will we go back to? Is that what we really want – to go back to things as they were? Is that what God wants for us?

Or could it be that perhaps throughout this time of tragedy and difficulty that we might be getting glimpses of what is actually important and what was damaging and unhelpful about our lifestyles before all this change came upon us?
I’m not in any way saying that I would like to stay in lockdown for the rest of my life – there are a lot of good things that I am missing. But I wonder whether this might be a time for us to reflect on the “norm” (a shake-up if you will) and come up with creative changes we can make to our lives (in light of what we are experiencing but also in light of the Bible) so that we might live more distinctively, richly and in line with the rhythm God created us for.

One thing that I have found particularly pertinent during this time is this idea of Sabbath – people around the world have been struck by the impact of all kinds of things stopping. There has been lots of damaging consequences – but it has also allowed a lot of people to reflect on what we have been missing out on due to our manic, unrestrained, busyness – one poet wrote this:

Pandemic by Lynn Ungar

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Centre down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has become clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Sadly, I think we as Christians have on the whole lost this value along with the rest of society – despite the command that appears over and over in the Bible. We see it as a legalistic, stifling rule – and yet, God gave us the Sabbath – as a gift for his people, when the Israelites broke the Sabbath commandment God reminded them:

Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath… (Exodus 16:29)

He gave them this commandment to celebrate the freedom he had brought them into from slavery – it wasn’t given as a punishment – but as a gift of freedom – and it was given to everyone and not even just to people! In Deuteronomy 5:12-15 we read:

‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. ‘Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

What an incredible commandment! Imagine how powerful it would be if we lived this out in our society – and yes, we will have to be creative in our response – my brother works in a nursing home – those people have to be cared for every day of the week – someone has to work – but how could we find ways to build this into our lives in a way that blesses both us and those in the community around us? One of my favourite authors at the moment – Marva Dawn, writes:

“In an age that has lost its soul, Sabbath keeping offers the possibility of gaining it back. In an age desperately searching for meaning, Sabbath keeping offers a new hope. In contrast to the technological society, in which the sole criterion of value is the measurement of efficiency, those who keep the Sabbath find their criteria in the character of God, in whose image they celebrate life.”

Perhaps, as we reflect on the current state of affairs, and as we look back on the old norm, we could learn something of the benefits of stopping, and how we might bless the world through keeping this commandment – Christians are known for all sorts of rules and behaviours – but look up Isaiah 56 and have a look at the characteristics that he lists as being distinctive about the people that choose to follow God – maybe we could accept this gift, and show the world a different way, God’s way, of going through life.

I’m going to finish with this comment on the Sabbath day that Gideon Heugh gives us:

This day doesn’t need
your achievement.
The world has enough
of performance
and endeavour.

What life desires most
is the measured breaths
of the unhurried;
The close attention of the quiet
and the still;
The gentleness that comes
from being content
with what you have.