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Masks

Masks are now our norm.  Just like people they seem to come in all shapes and colours.  Some indicate our allegiance, ie a Welsh dragon.  Others are simply utilitarian and plain.  They are becoming a normal part of our lives. 

Actually, masks aren’t new.  They have always been our norm.  The person on the door at church or at work or in the shop, asks how we are and we say, “Fine.” Rarely, do we stop to tell them we are not fine; we are barely coping; we don’t see the point of this week.  Our ‘I’m fine’ mask goes up as soon as that question is asked.  We all wear “masks”, and we all are aware of that.

The other day someone said to me, “I met someone who knows you, Martha.’  Okay, who could that be?  When I heard who, for a brief moment, my mask came down.  I told a group a very personal story, about a very difficult time.  And after I finished speaking, I thought, “Oops, that information was not for public consumption.”  But it is now out there.  My mask slipped. 

Before our masks go up we can often tell how a person is feeling based on reading their faces.  There are certain clues that indicate anger or sadness, joy or relief.  Being physically masked inhibits our ability to understand another’s emotions.  Years ago a colleague told me that when a woman is veiled, “You learn to read their eyes.”  Well, I have to say, I am not very good at reading only eyes.  When someone says, “Oh, she has a twinkle in her eyes,” I can’t see the twinkle.  What do our eyes communicate over our masks?  Is there a smile in my eyes or sadness or fear or something else?  How do we communicate gratitude and kindness with our eyes?  

I now wonder whether our new physical masks will inhibit us from sharing with each other?  Will we limit, even more, who we allow to see behind our masks?  Will it become too hard to read behind the mask so we just don’t make the effort?  Will it cause those of us who too easily drop into “I’m fine” to limit what we share even more?

In The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse tells the Rabbit about being real.  He says, "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." 

The Skin Horse was worn and ugly because he had been loved. That loving relationship made him “real.”  As humans we are ‘real’ when we let our masks down and are honest with others.  Can we allow others to see behind our masks and truly love us, reminding us that we are real, true, and okay?    We are called to be whole, to be real, to be who we are behind our masks.  We still have to let our masks down sometimes and allow our real selves to be seen in relationships.

Working from home

I quite like working from home.  I haven’t always worked from home.  I have had office-based jobs, but I much prefer getting up in the morning and beginning my day “in the office” just around the corner from my kitchen or laundry room.

I’m pretty good with boundaries—though the advent of the smart phone did make it harder for me to switch off at the end of the day—whether that was 5 p.m. or 9.30 p.m.  At the beginning of the lockdown I felt like I was on the phone all the time, checking for updates and information.

I had to consciously stop that—after a couple months.

One of the negatives I have noticed about working from home is that the stress of work invades my home space.  When Amelia was no more than 4, we were making a cake on the kitchen counter.  Suddenly, the glass bowl was on the floor in pieces with cake batter scattered everywhere.  (And in that manse we had a carpeted kitchen so you can imagine the mess!) To my shame I shouted at her.  Of course, it wasn’t her fault.  It just happened. I quickly realised that what I was shouting about was not the broken bowl and wasted cake mix. I was shouting because I was stressed.  We were in the process of moving.  I was seeking a new church and the stress I felt came into our home.  

I didn’t have a boundary between work and  home.  Work stress found its way into the middle of my kitchen and bounced off my daughter.

Being in lockdown, working from home, dealing with regular changes in the pandemic rules, is stressful.  Now, maybe more than in other times, that stress doesn’t have the same kind of boundaries.  We can’t end our work day, walk out of our workplace, and shed the rawness of work on the way home.  Instead, the rawness seeps into our homes, under the doors of our work spaces, across the tables we use for desks, into our recreation time and our closest relationships—where we least want to find it.

I don’t have an answer.  I simply think it is so. When I hear waitstaff feel customers are ruder than “normal,” I wonder if that lack of boundaries and the stress of work is crossing barriers at restaurants as well as at home.  

I don’t have an answer.   I just know we have to take care—take care of ourselves and take care of those we name as precious.  We also probably have to give those around us a break—maybe they didn’t mean to shout at us but at the challenging situations in which we now find ourselves.  

I like working from home.  I also like shutting down my computer, putting my phone aside and doing nothing to recuperate from a tough day at the office.

In the beginning

 

In the beginning there was noise.   Then there was silence. 

In the beginning we noted the silence, an emptiness, a void.  As we watched the virus spread around the globe, the numbers of deaths climb up, maybe the lack of ‘normal’, the orderly queuing, the daily briefings, government u-turns, and working from home felt like chaos.  The quiet without traffic noise was welcome.  But the emptiness of isolation was overwhelming.

Yet  in the beginning we notices things in the silence.  We heard birds singing.  We say the sun rise and set.  We welcomed the light of the moon.  We found animals creeping into our gardens.  We turned our hands to growing vegetables and flowers.  There was life and creativity, and it was good.

But now there is noise again.  ‘Life’ is returning.  We feel the strain of working from home without the limits of 37.5 hours per week.  We pass people on the street and they no longer move away from us.  We feel stress—are they infected?  Masked faces reassure us and scare us.  

And the noise is increasing to another level.  Voices call to us to spend our money, revive our economy,  save our high streets, the shops and the shopkeepers.  Voices that shout “Covid-19 is a hoax!” Voices demand the return to “normal.”

The noise of all these voices drown the other Voice—the one that created and named creation ‘good.’  In the noise it is easy to miss a whisper asking us to listen to the ones who are hurting.  Three months of quiet were hard, but in them we heard and saw the beauty of creation. In them we birthed new ideas and we learned new skills—like Zooming.   

The voices now are demanding a return to ‘normal’ and I am find myself deeply sad.   I don’t want to be drawn back into doing ‘what we have always done.’  So I may be the voice wondering ‘Why?’  Why do we have to do it that way?  Why can’t we try new things?  Why do we have to rush backwards rather than allow the creativity and the silence to lead us in new directions?

It seems to me that so much of life—work, church, personal—has been trying to drown the whisper of Love that encourages us to be, to create, to listen, to offer time.  We have been running to keep up, but is that what Love wants of us?  I doubt it is to attend meetings or spend money.  I think it is more likely asking us to find ways to connect despite the brokenness of our connections.  

When I was a student, some of my peers wanted to “return” to an early church model.  That model was actually a few people gathering, eating, talking, helping each other, praying and listening to the stories of Jesus or the Hebrew Bible or letters from someone like Paul.  This was never going to happen. 

But is it happening now?   Is 2020 the beginning of another way of being church, authentic and small gatherings where people focus on scripture and prayer, where people share honestly with each other, where we get together to help each other in small groups?

In the beginning the chaos and emptiness lead to creation.  Can we face the chaos and emptiness of our world and then create, with God, a new way of being authentically church, authentically human, without the noise drowning us once again?  Can there be new life and creativity which we name ‘good’?  Can we offer ourselves to Love with an openness to doing church and life differently and say ‘In 2020, we trusted ourselves to God and leapt into the beginning of . . .”?

In the beginning there was love, connection, and hope.