John Payne considers how the Coronavirus crisis compels us to rethink our relationship with time.
One of the things that’s happening to some of us as we move into social distancing and, in some cases, social isolation, with the Covid-19 pandemic, is getting a new perspective on time and how we use it.
Our everyday living has, even within my lifetime, somehow sped up. Our economy is organised to push everyone to increase the intensity and level of accumulation – of objects, money, and ‘experiences’. Alongside this is an acceleration of how we sense and use time in everyday life. Time has also become commodified – too often we calculate the best returns on its use, pushing our available time to be more productive. And the increasing speed of daily life has had its parallel in the rapidly increasing destruction and degradation of our natural environment.
For many of us, the coronavirus epidemic will bring much more pressure and concerns – those who are key workers, those who are worrying about income, jobs, elderly relatives, childcare, and personal health, as well as those involved in or concerned about increased levels of domestic violence and child abuse. Everyone in those situations needs our prayers, and whatever practical support we can help to provide.
One of the strange things about the current crisis is how unequally the stress is divided. There are front line NHS staff who are experiencing nightmare working conditions and high personal risk. There are business owners who may lose everything, and who lie awake wondering how they will pay their staff. Families face all their usual tensions, but with nowhere to escape to and the challenge of home education piled on top. And yet for others, the crisis has meant enforced time off, a clearing of the schedule and a sudden wealth of time.
I find myself among those privileged with the luxury of time, and who are now in some form of self-isolation or lockdown. Perhaps the current situation is an opportunity to reflect on how we use time, and perhaps try to resolve to do things differently in future.
I have been reflecting on the following passage: James 4:13-15 “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while, and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the LORD’s will, we will live and do this or that”.
Like our Earth, we human beings are fragile. We need time to regenerate, to reflect, and to recoup our strength. And we need to do so recognising that the time we have on earth is a gift from God, as the reading above says. Those of us who remain healthy perhaps need to use this time of isolation wisely, to enjoy what we have and to recognise that a lot of what we often do, sub specie aeternitatis, is sometimes confused, full of self-righteousness and pride, and too often informed by the possessive and accumulating spirit of our age. We have perhaps something to learn from the observance of the Sabbath under Judaism – for a day Orthodox Jews don’t have to sit before a screen, answer emails, think about what’s happening with work relationships, and conversations are not interrupted by phone calls or texts. While responding where we can to the very real human needs the coronavirus brings with it, let’s also have some ‘Sabbath’ time as well.