We’ve almost settled down to the pandemic normal. It’s been five weeks and more. “We have to settle down to a new normal,” was the warning at the beginning of it all.
A new normal?! As if we were living to a normal! When it is all over, and Covid-19 has left us in peace to hug and embrace each other, for grannies to lift up grandchildren to their cheeks, for workers to continue earning their living side by side, for children and students to come together again with their educators, when health care workers can care for patients without having to wear cumbersome PPEs, when we can go back to worshipping side by side in our churches and places of cult, when we can enjoy walks in the countryside with family and friends and swim in our Mediterranean sea again, when we can share a pint or two of beer at our favourite pub, or a capuccino and some nibbles with our loved ones, or participate at a football match at the stadium with our friends, when we can once again visit our elderly relatives in care homes … I for one don’t want to return to “that” normal, the pre-pandemic normal! That was not a normal!
It all reminds me of a clip from the Book of Numbers 11:4-6. Rebel Israel craved and lamented: “We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic”. Now that they were journeying to their freedom, to that gift of God’s gratuitous favour, they craved onions and garlic, eaten freely, yes, but as slaves in Egypt. What did Egypt teach Israel? That freedom amounts to mere choice of taste and whim? That the price of being free as a proud nation and possessing one’s own land is worth a bunch of leeks and a handful of garlic cloves?
What is Covid-19 teaching us? That slavery is about digging mines and rowing in galleys at the crack of whips on our backs, and about chains, indeed, but it’s also about domestic violence and addictions – addictions to work, tobacco, sex, video games, nicotine, gambling, illegal and prescription drugs, internet and modern technology, substances and alcohol, and a myriad other slaveries – and uncontrollable building and craving for wealth and power? That nature ever, but ever, forgives? That money is more important than human beings? That nothing has a limit? That we can play God to our heart’s content? That we don’t have to leave this earth to make space for our children and their children? That we can squeeze and wring nature dry and usurp it without any plans or sustainability? That we can waste hours just going to and from work or school? That external manifestations of religion are what counts, rather than genuine faith, in spirit and in truth?
Cucumbers and leeks and onions and garlic can be as free as they like, I don’t want to go back to Egypt! I don’t want to go back to pre-Covid-19 times! I want Covid-19 to teach me something. I want a new beginning after the global pandemic shaking us to our senses. I need freedom in Canaan more than I need Egypt, onions and garlic and all!
I want what the Prophet Haggai pointed to: “Yet now take courage… all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while… I will fill this house with splendour… The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts” (2:4-9). Only if we learn a lesson or two!
By Fr Paul Sciberras