Jesus and Self Isolation
Jesus and Coping with Self-isolation
Jesus’ promise: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid…
Paul’s response: ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day…
I’m sure I am not the only one who feels weighed-down by the psychological heaviness of these surreal days we are living through.
Cut-off from our usual human contacts and bombarded with media bad news, we can readily be plagued by ‘fightings within and fears without’.
It is disconcerting, to say the least; depressing at worst.
Well-intentioned self-help remedies flood the newspapers:
Try home baking (does toasting a currant bun count?...)
Do more gardening (I did mow our small patch of lawn…)
Keep fit (short stiff walk to get the papers…)
Experiment with ZOOM (we did…)
It’s even suggested that we learn a new language!
I ‘m not sure I ‘m up to that. But I would like to try out on you my modest command of Latin (dabbled in over sixty years ago at O-level!)
Here are my two Latin terms and my two points for this reflection:
Accidie (pronounced aksidee) and Sursum Corda.
First: Accidie – what is it?
The mediaeval monks, feeling the pressure of relentless self-isolation and routine, spoke of their midday lethargy as ‘accidie’. It is usually translated as ‘sloth’, and listed as one of the seven deadly sins!
But as the monks well knew, ‘sloth’ is too restrictive a translation - as if physical laziness was a mortal sin. We need to probe deeper into what accidie entails. And when we do, we discover that even hyper-active people can suffer from it.
Accidie is much more than bodily inactivity. It shows itself in a range of symptoms: a weariness of spirit, a collapse of morale, a succumbing to listlessness, even boredom (‘ennui’ – in French!). It suggests a giving way to a resigned attitude of questions we don’t want answers to: ‘What difference does it make?’ or ‘What’s the point?’
Sorrow or fear can aggravate this condition, especially for those of a particular temperament. Whenever natural melancholia threatens to plunge me into an unreasonable sense of meaninglessness, I recall Oswald Chambers’ warning: ‘Beware what you shrug your shoulders over.’
I hear the psalmist say: Why are you cast down O my soul? and I heed Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s comment on it: In such a mood it is best to stop listening to yourself and to start talking to yourself.
Kathleen Norris points out in her moving study of our theme that accidie is not a lapse into laziness but a draining away of love. For it is love that ‘never gives up… trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end’ (The Message).
Hence Jesus’ promise and Paul’s response: Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid… So we do not lose heart.
Whatever the threat from outside us and the fear this arouses within us, Jesus crucified and risen, makes all the difference. As Paul reassures the Corinthians: ‘Knowing that he who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us also with him and bring us with you into his presence… so we do not lose heart.’
Secondly, what of the lovely invitation Sursum Corda – ‘Lift up your hearts’?
Rooted in the anguished trauma of the Babylonian exile in the most tear-stained book in the Old Testament, Lamentations, the invitation to ‘lift up one’s heart to the Lord in heaven’ is a cry from the depths (Lam. 3:41).
Thankfully, as believers in Christ, we have a Saviour who plumbed the depths of our God-forsakenness, rose again from the dead, and is now seated in ascended glory at God’s right hand.
And because he is lifted up, we are lifted up with him (Eph. 2:6).
For this reason, the Sursum Corda is now embedded in Anglican liturgy as the opening invitation of the great Eucharist prayer: ‘Lift up your hearts; we lift them to the Lord.’
We need therefore to redirect our hearts so as not to give way to what Sam Wells calls ‘malevolent moods, malign passions, or maudlin emotions’ – to which we might add morbid fears.
As Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) says: ‘Christ’s Ascension is therefore not a spectacle for the disciples but an event in which they themselves are included.
It is a sursum corda, a movement toward the above into which we are called’.
John Calvin encouraged us to believe that as we worship, and especially when we take bread and wine in the Eucharist, ‘Christ holds out his hands to raise us upwards… to draw us to himself’. And as Calvin notes, the familiar overture of the Early Church according to Chrysostom was ‘Hearts upward!’
What a wonderful logo: better than ‘best foot forward’ – ‘Hearts upward’.
‘Because of the Ascension’, says Todd Billings, ‘we rise up. We lift up our hearts. Because of the Ascension we share in Christ’s raising up.’
Says Sam Wells: ‘Hearts were made with one purpose above all: to be lifted up to the Lord when he comes in transforming grace.’
Let’s not ‘lose our hearts’ then: let’s lift them up to the Lord.
Lift up your heavy-heart; let him bear your burden.
Lift up your sad or troubled heart; let his peace prevail.
Lift up your anxious heart; let his perfect love casts out your fear.
Lift up your listless heart; let his Spirit refresh you and show you a glimpse of a
shimmering lake of serenity with ‘eyes that grow young with eternity’.
So let’s not lose heart: let’s resist the pressure to ‘get out’ (escapism) or to ‘give up’ (resignation). Let’s patiently endure.
Let’s lift up our hearts - and our hands too!
Let’s wait positively for him and his future grace.
In the good of our eternal life, we have all the time in the world; we can afford to wait.
So we’re not giving up. We will not lose heart. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
These hard times… cannot be compared to the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye.
The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow.
But the things we can’t see now will last forever. (The Message).
‘Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; rejoice again, I say rejoice’!
And let’s remember to celebrate Ascension Day on Thursday 21st May.
Stay blessed and ‘Hearts upward’, dear friends.