In 587 BC, the Babylonians assaulted Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. For the Israelites, it was the end of the known world. All they knew was made as nothing; their props and their symbols, which held it all together, gone. The Temple was burned, the holy city destroyed, the Davidic dynasty terminated and the leading citizens deported. Public life in Judah came to an end.
It was amid this national trauma that poets such as Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel wrote, holding in their words the disturbing sense of loss. But to their exhausted, despairing people, who saw nothing new, who hoped for nothing new, and could speak of nothing new, they spoke of something new.
And maybe the hinge for this door of possibility is in Isaiah 43:18: ‘Do not remember former things; behold, I am doing a new thing.’
To the endlessly negative and disturbed narratives around them, these words bring what Walter Brueggemann calls (in his lovely book of the same name) ‘hopeful imagination’. It seems a good call for any in leadership positions today.
The world has known many 587s since the Babylonian assault, and we are living through one now as the coronavirus rips through the texture of our world, destroying the fabric of our personal and communal lives. It is, for now, the end of the known world, and it has happened savagely quickly, with indecent haste.
We are unsure what will be recovered; and, if it is, when it will be so. Experts guide, but the bigger truth is that no one knows anything… and the uncertainty takes its toll.
Times like this find us out.
For any with survival fears – financial or physical – loud alarm bells will be ringing within. For those with a disposition towards it, the anxiety loop will be working overtime. For those who ride it, the wheels are coming off the wagon of control, which is deeply disturbing. For those seeking a parent, for those struggling with a sense of abandonment, huge rage might be dumped on perceived leaders who are failing us.
I recognise the particular fears in me and the particular panic they generate. This helps me to parent myself, which we will all need to do in these times; for anyone in a position of leadership will be feeling extreme turbulence. You are a lightning rod for a swirling and potent mixture of reaction around you, and when this echoes your own disturbance, you will be particularly vulnerable.
So we need to be careful of ourselves, mindful as the waves of terror wash over and around us – and as people clean the shelves of toilet paper and soap in entitled panic.
We will be mindful because there are other narratives.
One of these narratives is the present, where daffodil and hyacinth still appear by the side of the road – daffodils that have survived Ciara, Denis and Jorge, and where human kindness, laughter and solidarity break out endlessly. There is a present.
Another narrative is that there is a future. There is a new thing… though much letting go on the way, much relinquishment of things clung to. It is a struggle to relinquish, but we relinquish to receive.
In days such as these, another 587, spirituality is anything which keeps you close to these narratives of hope; anything which keeps you close to the fire. Here, in the negative flood, beneath the cloud of unknowing, is the island of hopeful imagination.
Breathe deep… and camp there when possible.
This article was first published on the Simon Parke blog and is reproduced here by permission