One of my daughter’s favourite films is Disney’s gorgeous animated 1992 classic, ‘Aladdin’. Perhaps the best-known song from its cracking sound-track is ‘A whole new world’. It’s a duet sung by Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, as they take a magic carpet ride. Jasmine has grown up cosseted but confined, and the magic carpet ride opens her eyes to the big wide world that’s out there for her to explore – and the possibility of love with someone from a very different background.
I don’t know about ‘cosseted’, but most of us will be able to identify with the sensation of having been confined over much of the last 3 months. For the sake of the common good, most of us have accepted restriction of the usual freedoms that we enjoy. Many people have stayed entirely home, venturing out only for essential shopping and limited exercise; the most at-risk have only recently even emerged into their own garden.
At the time of writing, the most stringent restrictions are gradually being eased. The COVID-19 alert level has moved from 4 (‘a high/rising level of transmission – enforced social distancing’) to 3 (the virus is in general circulation – social distancing relaxed). After weeks of enforced closure, permission has been given for church buildings to be opened once more for certain purposes, and the PCC is making plans for how we can do this in Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley.
As we ease cautiously out of lockdown, it’s tempting to wish for things to get ‘back to normal’.
But there’s an old saying, ‘You can’t step in the same river twice’ – things change and we can’t simply go backwards. The world has changed for many people over the last 3 months – in little ways, or big ones.
There have been many losses: most heartbreakingly, of loved ones, perhaps without a chance to say goodbye; jobs and income; precious planned events. But there have been gains too. Perhaps we have a new appreciation of our immediate surroundings, and particularly the natural beauty around us.
Many people have experienced a greater sense of community, getting to know their neighbours, offering or receiving practical help. This raises important questions for us all. What are the things that we’ve missed that we can retrieve? And what changes have we enjoyed, and want to hold on to?
At the time of writing, the BBC via Radio 4 (accessible via BBC Sounds) is running a short series called ‘Rethink’, in which they’ve invited leading thinkers in different areas of life from around the world to reflect on what kind of world and society we want to see in the wake of the pandemic. Interestingly, the first contributor was Pope Francis, which emphasized the importance that spirituality still plays when we think about what we value.
He spoke of the need for a fresh ‘conversion’ of society – to recapture the contemplative dimension that enables us to see creation (nature and, crucially, people), not simply as economic units to be exploited, but as precious and valuable in their own right.
Christian faith provides us with rich resources to reflect on these things. Our ultimate destination is ‘a whole new world’ – the new creation, where the new heaven and new earth meet, with God at the centre; where mourning and crying is no more (Rev.21. 4).
Scripture speaks of the experience of exile – of being conquered, overborne, taken from all that is familiar and dumped somewhere alien and strange that becomes the place of lament (for example, psalm 137). But out of that experience God says, ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’ (Isaiah 43.19).
When Jesus was killed by the occupying powers, it seemed like the end of everything. But three days later, the world changed forever. And when the power of the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples some weeks later, news of that change started to spread, and lives were transformed.
It will certainly be a different world in key aspects on the other side of the pandemic. I hope that our vision of what we want to see will be shaped and formed by the values of Christian faith. That our decisions about what we want to retain from the last few months, and what we want to return to from the time before, will be led by love of God and neighbour. That we will look for what has been good, and hold on to it. That our imaginations will be fired with new possibilities. That, with care, concern and compassion we will think about how we can go about building ‘a whole new world.’
With every blessing