St(art)ing in a Crisis

We started the arts/theology bursary on March 15th.

We had met together, Phill and I, and chatted and been enthused and excited and all the right things.

I was going to read and think.

I was going to write something deep for the first post about why I wanted to do this.

I was going to muse about not quite knowing how to produce something with an artist but having a firm conviction that art IS theology, and how I knew that we would find a way to combine our processes by the end of the six months.

I wanted to write something about suffering from a chronic illness – how that has shaped my theological thinking of late.

I wanted to express how much freedom we had been given and how that freedom was weirdly stifling, the vast space in front of me seeming difficult to penetrate.

I wanted to tell you about the ideas Phill and I had: ideas around how church could be a place of questioning and unknowing; ideas about how church could be home; ideas about what a home could be – a place of growth, safety, a place to doubt but know you won’t be judged, a place to express ones true self because change is absolutely the rule of being a child.

But, within five days the country had gone into lockdown.

And now homes mean something very different.

Now I sit with my partner who is losing jobs left, right and centre, trying to think of ways to make our home exciting for however long this lasts.

Now, my chronic illness, which I had thought was the most limiting thing in my life, is only one factor of constraint amongst the ones I share with everyone.

Now, writing has become difficult and my voice is choking in my throat when I try to think beyond the next few months.

Now, I spend far too much time doing maths – shopping maths, food maths, rent maths.

Now, I yearn for a drive to the shops – I’m on the vulnerable list so seeing anyone is totally out for me.

Now, discussions of freedom and choice have a totally new tone – freedom is impenetrable for other reasons now.

Now, home is a set of limits in a different way. Locked in to mine it feels less safe than when it was a retreat from the world. It is the world. And the world encroaches into it more than it ever has. Our homes are also our workspaces, our leisure spaces, a school if you have children.

We had said we would reflect on homes.

And it seems there was something prophetic in our conversation, for now our homes are the entirety of our days and my reflections are forced to be literal rather than figurative for a while.


How should we start then?

Right now, I don’t know how to reflect on what we are in.

I’m sure some people have deep theological reflections ready – bible verses stacked up for reassurance, and sayings from mystics that keep them calm. I, however, feel blank. I hear my voice saying that I am collecting silver linings for the future – maybe we will be able to campaign for better accessibility, maybe we will be able to show that those who have been considered the least important in the country are actually the most valuable, maybe we can build a better society from this. But I also feel my voice retreating inside me. What of value can I bring? I am unable to touch anyone, unable to gift money, unable to physically help.

This bursary was always based on developing a process. We didn’t know quite how to work together, and we would have to figure it out. We were put together by the ‘blind date’ team of Leeds Church Institute but cannot meet in person for a while so I’m not sure how working together will develop now. I am so much better face-to-face than over email or phone, so I feel the restrictions keenly. But we will move forward. We wanted the final piece to be something that helped groups process ideas. After this there will be a lot to process. I hope we can help.

We were meant to begin the journey with a shared experience. I was wondering the other day how we would have one now, and then I realised that we are having one.

It seems to me that we are part of the largest shared experience our country has known since the second world war.

We are both distanced.

We are both facing our own battles within that.

We are both finding joy and trying to be productive in the midst of a crisis. In the midst of the unknown.

We are trying to create in a world that is telling us all to be small.

We are trying to hope in a world that is uncertain.

This will be our shared experience.

I will bring focus to you as soon as I have some.

But, please, be patient, st(art)ing in a crisis is not easy.

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