I’ve been thinking a lot this week about perspective. I hope I’m not alone in having a fluctuating response to the latest pandemic news. Some days I can feel confident and hopeful: the vaccine programme is going well, there are new drugs available, and there is light at the end of the tunnel: other days I can feel overwhelmed and anxious, seeing nothing but gloom and doom for the next few months.
Keeping a sense of perspective can feel quite a challenge at times.
In our Lent and Advent art courses we have studied religious works of art often following a progression through the centuries. Perspective hits like a bang in the Renaissance with the re-discovery of mathematical principles enabling artists to give paintings a depth they lacked before.
Without perspective everything can seem quite flat, a little unreal and it can be harder to feel a sense of connection with the art work. With perspective there comes the idea of fore-ground, mid-ground and back ground giving paintings depth and allowing the viewer to be drawn right into the scene.
At the moment the pandemic feels like a painting without perspective. I’m there, in it, on the surface. While I know people who have had the virus, sadly, buried some who have died as a result of it, it still feels a little “out there”. The virus is invisible, its can touch some people badly and leave others with nothing but a loss of taste or a bad headache. As such I find keeping a sense of perspective difficult.
I know in years to come that the pandemic will find its place in our longer history. It will settle first into the foreground, then the mid ground and hopefully move firmly into the background, rather as artists often paint misty purple mountains on a skyline.
It took artists many centuries to develop and understand perspective so it will take a long time to get the pandemic into perspective. For those whose education has been radially affected, for those left with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, for those scarred by domestic abuse, for those left unemployed or who have lost a business, the work of perspective may take years. As a society we may need to work for a long time on that sense of where the pandemic fits into our story. We will need to talk, to lament, to absorb, to process all the change it has brought.
The church is not immune from this. There is much to process and much that has and will change as a result of the pandemic. We will ned to spend time working out how this chapter fits into the longer story of both the Church of England and the story of Christianity.
I have found myself reading the Bible more than ever in the pandemic, and so many passages have had a new clarity or a new relevance in these difficult days. Our Scriptures span the millennia, written as they were over thousands of years of human history. The Bible bears witness to the many trials that have beset humanity, the many questions that people have thrown at God – why? why me? any us? why now? The Bible has a huge part to play in giving us a tool to find perspective on our current trials.
Through engagement with Scripture, through talking, and through lament we will find our sense of perspective. Perhaps we need to be patient for now with our fluctuating responses, accept this is part of the process and look forward to the day we can consign these difficult months firmly to the background of our history together.