From the minister
In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking about Harry, an old acquaintance we knew during our time in Yardley Wood.
Harry was a tortoise. He belonged to Paul and Julia, some friends from church where he became something of a celebrity. While he obviously never attended in person, he was known by name to most of the congregation and was especially loved by many children. Each November, one or two of them would have the privilege of being present for the moment when Harry went into hibernation, placed into a container with all the necessary bedding and ventilation.
We learnt from Harry that entering and exiting hibernation is a complicated process. Beforehand, he needed to be kept at a stable temperature and care had to be taken to ensure all his food had been properly digested. At the end of the period, he had to stay indoors with the necessary heating and lighting to help him acclimatise to the coming season.
I thought of Harry recently when I came across a new phrase: ‘psychological hibernation’. It’s a term which was developed to describe the experience of those who spend long periods of time in remote places, such as the Antarctic. The quietness of such locations, a lack of sound, fewer people and less variety of experience, all mean that people’s brains are receiving much less stimulation than normal. They speak of feeling duller and less lively, with some psychologists describing their symptoms as similar to those who experience burnout.
It’s understandable that emerging from psychological hibernation turns out to be a stressful process. Having got used to processing less information and to taking life at a slower speed, it doesn’t take much to exhaust us.
Does this sound familiar? It’s hardly a surprise that experts are now making a connection between the symptoms of ‘psychological hibernation’ and the way many people are describing the experience of emerging from the lockdowns we’ve been in and out of over the last 20 months. We’ve been through the isolation of months when we had little if any physical contact with others, while also undergoing the stress that came with a constant, pervasive fear of the virus. Many of us find our energy stocks are depleted and that levels of busyness and social activity which we once took in our stride are now very draining and demanding. Experts also advise that we shouldn’t be unduly alarmed by this state of affairs. Most of us will eventually get back to where we once were, but we need to be gentle with ourselves and each other. We need to give ourselves time.
When reading recently about ‘psychological hibernation,’ 1 I’ve found my mind going back to some familiar words from Peter’s second letter: ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). Peter acknowledges that God’s timing can sometimes be frustrating to those of us who wish he would proceed at a faster pace, while also offering a beautiful and reassuring explanation for this apparent tardiness. God’s patience is linked directly to his mercy.
This is a word of reassurance for those of us who may be feeling a need to return to the former pace of life which we laid down in March of last year. My impression is that such pressure isn’t just experienced by individuals, but also by churches. We nervously look over our shoulders at how quickly others are restarting their programmes, for fear of being left behind in the race to win back those who want to resume in-person gathering. At such moments, we need to know more of the love of God which casts out fear.
In the famous words of the Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama: ‘God walks slowly because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is ‘slow’ yet it is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love.’ 2
In a few weeks’ time we will celebrate again the wonderful news of the arrival of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem’s stable. Looking ahead to Christmas, I’ve been pondering again the speed at which Jesus’ own mission proceeded, his early years growing up in Nazareth, the teens and twenties that preceded the beginning of his public ministry at the age of 30? Why did he delay for so long? Didn’t he realise there was work to be done? I wonder if one of the lessons we can take from such timing is that there was more to his life than miracles and ministry, that he wanted simply to be with people, to experience fully what human life is like. He wasn’t just born for us so that he could die for us, the one we call Emmanuel also came to live with us and for us. He wanted to spend all this time for us because of his love. May that love be what we share with others in these coming weeks and may it set the pace at which we move.
Wishing you God’s grace and peace