The Reverend Canon Adrian Daffern, College Fellow and Vicar of the University Church in Cambridge offers some wise words on ‘The New Normal’
This phrase has emerged more than once of late, as politicians and others seek to help frame our expectations. Dominic Raab, in particular, told Andrew Marr on television recently that the country would be 'moving to a new normal'. One US news agency has called its daily coronavirus podcast 'The New Normal'.
I am intrigued by the phrase. It originates in the United States, coined by economists in the context of the financial crisis at the end of the last decade. In broad terms it refers to the previously abnormal becoming commonplace. But it is a little more nuanced - and one key lecture given at the time has really struck a chord with me, defining the twin characteristics of 'the new-normal' (it had a hyphen originally) as an uneven journey and a new destination. It goes on to say
Our use of the term [the new-normal] was an attempt to move the discussion beyond the notion that the crisis was a mere flesh wound, easily healed with time. Instead, the crisis cut to the bone. It was the inevitable result of an extraordinary period which was anything but normal.¹
It's around 40 days since the 'lockdown' began, and 40 days is a time period that resonates a lot for people like me. The Christian season of Lent recalls the 40 days spent by Jesus in the wilderness, which itself was a re-presenting of the 40 years spent in the wilderness by the people of Israel. For me and my community at the University Church there has been a lot of wilderness going on. Everything that we took for granted - the old normal? - has been either radically changed, or simply taken away. Like most other churches and worshipping communities we've moved online, often (in my case) with unintended comedy. We've tried our best to keep in touch, by email, and telephone, and, of course, Zoom. And because we're a large church family of well over 400 people, that has taken time. People have been very ill. People have died - as I write, there are two funerals from our church community tomorrow. So it feels close, and real, and painful. The crisis has indeed cut to the bone.
So it has certainly been an uneven journey, a wilderness time, and, of course, it goes on. But how?
On an uneven journey, you need good resources, and a good guide. Good resources support good physical and mental health, and you can find a number of links here.
One sure way to cope with this uneven journey is to have a sense of perspective: to look up and beyond our own small worlds and have a regard for others. I have had some inspirational conversations with people, often of great age and/or illness, who have moved me to tears with their own lack of self-concern. They have been far more interested in how the homeless of our city are coping, or whether this might turn out to be a good thing for our carbon footprint. So I am trying to learn from them, and thinking of, and praying for, those worse off than me.
As to a good guide? People of faith will turn to God, to their sacred texts and holy women and men, finding resonance and meaning for these strangest of times. The Christian narrative of death and resurrection, recently played out in the seasons of Lent and Easter, have made sense afresh to millions, and I have written a lot about that on our church website if you're interested.
But whatever your beliefs, whoever and wherever you are, I hope that you will find good ways of caring for yourself, finding what works for you, and knowing that you are loved. The uneven journey will eventually reach an end - and it will be a new destination for us all. Let's hope it's a good one.
I trust my wonderful (albeit fictional) colleague the Vicar of Dibley will forgive me if I borrow her wise words to sign off with:
'Life goes on. This will pass. Praise the Lord. And praise the NHS.'
1 Mohamed A. El-Erian, 'Navigating the New Normal in Industrial Countries', the Per Jacobsson Lecture given in Washington DC on October 10th 2010
About The Reverend Canon Adrian Daffern
Adrian is Vicar of the University Church in Cambridge, better known as Great St Mary's; the latest in a line of Vicars since the first was presented by King John in 1205! As well as overseeing the large team of staff and volunteers at Great St Mary's, Adrian plays a part in the spiritual life of the University and City, and is developing Great St Mary's as a centre for conversation, debate, and engagement in the realms of theology, faith, and ethics in the public square.