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Rector writes Last month I wrote to you about haircuts and the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Amazingly, for an officially baldy man I am fast approaching the point where I shall require another trim. I survived the last experience and so I can survive the coming one. Speaking of surviving, our enforced period of incarceration has meet with different responses from people. In my telephone conversations I have been struck by the varying responses from folk. Some have positively relished this time and others have been affected mentally and emotionally. We need to appreciate that not everyone is good at coping with intentional self-isolation. For many people growing up in an advanced Western society where certain “rights” have been taken for granted – such as the right to circulate where we want and with whom we want – the removal of such freedom has been an enormous shock. Not even the privations of the second world war can serve as a direct comparison for, bombing apart, people were not obliged to remain in their own houses for extended periods of time nor were they banned from meeting and kissing their nearest and dearest. Truly, this pandemic has been cruel for grandparents. I hope I am not stretching analogies too far, but this period of incarceration has reminded me of those hermits who in the third and fourth centuries withdrew to the deserts of Egypt and Syria. Collectively they are known as the “Desert Fathers”. They form a fascinating subject and a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this letter. Google them and follow up the sources for some enlightening reading. Their writings are a refreshing amalgam of pithy sayings and a straight-to-the-point directness. They “withdrew” via their individual monastic cell so that they could find themselves and find God. Their spiritual life was underpinned with the understanding that they could only understand the will of God if they attempted to find that will in the context of the solitary life. They believed that the noise and bustle of city life made it exceedingly difficult to commune with oneself and with God (nothing new there!). St Anthony of Egypt, for example, is credited with saying – “He who sits alone and is quiet has escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing; but there is one thing against which he must continually fight – that is, his own heart.” Pre-Covid we might have been tempted to dismiss this whole business of “escaping to the desert” as a piece of romantic codswallop, muttering darkly under the breath that these old codgers didn’t have to put up with a screaming toddler having the umpteenth strop in the course of half an hour. However, in our Covid life we have been thrust into an enforced “monastic cell” of self-isolation. Unless you are a person of ceaseless and compulsive action, there must have been times when you have found yourself in your “monastic cell” pondering the big questions. Have you been made aware of the desires of your heart? Are those desires bringing you a sense of desolation or consolation? A great deal of the background and irrelevant noise of life has been abated and you will never have a better opportunity to use this time to get back to basics. In the nature of these things and, being optimistic, the severity of our lockdown will diminish as we dampen the virus and or conquer it because a vaccine will have been produced. As the virus diminishes so the old ways of the pace of life increases and we will find excuses not to have to enter the monastic cell. This is a pity because I doubt we will ever have this chance again. Yes, you can rail against the unfairness of the whole thing and that we should not have been visited by such a plague. We are where we are, and we cannot change that. We can, however, accept this temporary situation and make the best of its peculiar circumstances by, for example, having a really good examination of our spiritual life. If we have become lazy in, say, our prayer life then we have the time and the opportunity to work to improve it. Beyond our personal situation, the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief aspects of our society that have been largely ignored. For example, who, before Covid, gave much thought to care workers and care homes? The disaster that befell the sector is a matter of national disgrace. To give but another example – is it not an outrage that in 2020 we still must hand out coupons for the local food bank? So, if we have forgotten the roles that people play in society particularly those poorly paid but in vital jobs now is the time to acknowledge our interdependence on all those who work to make life liveable. Now is the time to agitate for a fundamental change in what we can expect from governments in Holyrood and Westminster. Oh yes, there are many things I would like to see change because of this experience. What about you? The Rector