Opinion: This ‘anthropause’ allows us to reflect on a return to a better existence

Rabbi David Mason has been using lockdown as a time of reflection.

Rabbi David Mason has been using lockdown as a time of reflection. - Credit: Archant

We are living in a paradox. On the one hand we are in the midst of a public health crisis, experienced across the world, the likes of which most inhabitants of the world have never lived through.

It is a pandemic compared by many to the Spanish flu epidemic at the end of the First World War.

The coronavirus crisis has taken its toll. Many thousands of people have died in Britain before their time, and death has come with a great deal of suffering too. Even many of those who have survived have suffered and are living with the possibility of long-term damage to the lungs.

This is not to mention of course the wider mental health, financial and social effects brought about by valiant attempts to stem the aggressive transmission of Covid-19.

We would have rather done without all this. And yet, so many, at least those who are able to, speak about a waking up to values.

Whether it is how we treat our environment, how we look after those who are vulnerable or how we relate to social and economic inequality, we are realising and becoming more aware.

The words of the priest Father Paneloux, in Albert Camus’s powerful work The Plague: “One must not be in a greater hurry than God.”

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There is a potential for short sightedness here. In a time of crisis, some may easily claim to know the will of God. But in a beautiful and insightful comment by Father Paneloux: “To our more far-sighted minds, it merely enhances the exquisite glimmer of eternity that shines in the depth of all suffering.”

My synagogue community hosted a talk by the gastroenterologist researcher Professor Laurence Lovatt. His talk was a tour de force about the nature of the virus and plans to develop either vaccines or cures. At the end of the questions, all of which had been medically based, I asked the professor about any reflections he had regarding the pandemic, as a religious individual.

I was inspired by his answer. He related to how we treat our world, our climate, nature and the connection between our globalised world and the potential for destructive pandemics such as the present one.

This pandemic was therefore, in his opinion, a wake-up call from God, in areas of our living connected directly to the possible causes of the virus outbreak itself. In Father Paneloux’s such wise words, this then becomes a form of “consolation... so that what you take away from here should not only be the language of chastisement, but also the Word that brings peace”.

A number of scientists recently called this recent lockdown period an “anthropause”, in other words a human pause. Pauses offer time for reflection, and in the language of Judaism, opportunities for “return”. “Return” here is important as it allows for reflection – and the reflection offered by this pause can allow us to imagine a return to a better, improved state of existence.

Of course, a pause is temporary. But periods of reflection, inform and impact ideally on the rest of our lives. So also, I pray that we can take the imaginings of this recent period of pandemic and allow our voices to be heard on how they can form part of the way we live.