Anticipation

These few of days before Easter Sunday are always full of anticipation.  It’s quite active, noisy anticipation I find.  The quiet of Lent seems a way behind us already.  From Thursday evening on, we move into preparing for Easter.  The church services change hugely in feel from the familiar of the Sunday mass I am used to.  The Passion of Christ is a dramatic tale of vengeance, torture, death and despair.  The services themselves use the dramatic techniques of silence, movement, delivery of words in various voices, light and dark, set changes, the lot.  It makes it very easy to get into the story, the sadness, the feeling of a great wrong being done and most of all the sheer inevitability of the death of Christ.

I find it a personally challenging couple of days.  I now I am not supposed to complain about the strictures of Lenten fasting, but from Maundy Thursday on, I feel the pain of the fasting.  It’s the anticipation – I know on Sunday I can feast, but not until Sunday.  I long for wine and chocolate in a way I haven’t all through Lent.  I find the services both a familiar framework and a strange and disturbing intrusion on my usual routines.

But tomorrow will come and tomorrow will be joyous.  The pinnacle of the Christian faith, when the inevitability of a new dawn, of a new beginning, of being held in love comes to pass.  The strictures will end, I will be feasting on mini eggs and prosecco.  

You know where this is going, but I am struggling a bit to draw the comparison clearly to the wider feelings I am having about isolation.  I have hope that my family and I will come out of this unscathed.  In a global sense this too shall pass.  But, this Easter, I am scared.  I am scared about what this virus is going to do to hundreds of thousands around the world.  I know that behind the statistics we are already seeing are whole families grieving.  Staying at home is easy for me who has a comfortable and safe home and the resources to get food as I need it.  This is far from true for millions of others.  Living in a refugee camp, in a country with a fragile health system, in a violent home, in the middle of an armed conflict make the effects of coronavirus devastating. 

Then I remember that the disciples do not stop being scared during Easter.  In fact, they stay scared and hidden for weeks.  So I am taking comfort from the fact that fear is also a part of the Easter story.  I have hope and I have faith that that will get me through somehow.

The best of the holidays

This is my favourite of all the high days and holidays, I adore the Easter weekend.  I get some extra time off work as we close on Holy Thursday and Easter Tuesday as well as the regular bank holidays.  We usually have family visit, along with small members of the family, so the days leading up to Easter Sunday are a strange mix of noisy fun in the house and quiet, reflective services in church.  On Sunday itself the house fills even more as everyone spends the day here having Easter egg hunts (“Auntie Abbie I want 17 Easter egg hunts today” – may not have been 17, it was a lot though!), decorating Easter eggs and hanging them on the Easter tree.  Church is full of people and flowers and loud singing, it is truly delightful.  The day is long and happy and lots of wine and chocolate is consumed.  I had planned a huge family party on Monday, with a different part of the family, but although I wrote all the invitations, I did not get to send them at all.

This year will be a bit different, but it will still be joyous.  It’s a strange time for everyone, so hopefully everyone in the family is in the same sort of frame of mind to make the best of it all.  The weather is set to be beautiful for a few days at least, which makes it easier to relax.  And we are involved in the church services of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil service on Saturday and then Easter Sunday) in the strangest of ways.  The husband volunteered to help our priests stream all the services live, so attending mass now includes conversations with the priest beforehand as he checks the camera feed and the sound.  And last night’s mass ended with an odd conversation in our house about when the feed should be cut.  I say odd, just unusual in the old world, it will become normal in the new world I am sure.  The worship aspect of the weekend will provide a clear framework, even if it feels different, they are after all the same Easter traditions, just attended in a different way.

As for the more secular – well video conferencing is our friend.  Family will come together even if we are hundreds of miles apart.  I am plotting games and Easter egg hunts.  Games include Easter bingo, egg decorating, bunny hopping, chocolate consumption and more.  For the Easter egg hunts – think Anneka Rice’s Treasure Hunt from the eighties.  But with small children, a slightly technophobic grandma and a control freak of a party planner who will likely be through her first bottle of wine since she gave it up for Lent. Nothing can possibly go wrong can it?  There will be a lot of laughs I am sure.

Today is not that day full of joy and chaos though, it is a more quiet and sombre day, a day to reflect on the sadness of the situation.   But it is also a day of hope and preparation for happiness to come.  And I love planning a party.  However odd this weekend is, it is still my favourite holiday of the year and I know it will be a good one.

Transitions

I am beginning to determine the period in my day that I am finding most difficult and it is the time between 4 and 7 in the afternoons.  For a whole heap of reasons I think.

During the week, having spent all day in my home working, I pack away the work clobber to face an evening still in my home.  I change my clothes and then walk the few steps from the desk to another room and that is the total physical transition, no train journey, no listening to the radio in traffic, no walk back from the station, no brief visit to my Mum on route from work.  All of those mark my usual transitions.  My working from home is too sporadic for me to have a proper routine and I struggle with transition from work to not work in normal times anyway when I work from home.

The weekends are even stranger, I have a long weekend anyway as I do not work on a Friday.  It is especially difficult on a Friday and Saturday.  Those are the evenings we are often out, often with friends.  For three days I am relishing having time at home to potter and sort things out around the home.  I catch up with family and friends, I can surf the internet, catch up with folks on social media, read a book.  I seem to run out of steam by about 4ish in the afternoon at the weekend.  I sort of realise that this is it, whatever the evening holds, and we plan something for each evening, it is a variety of the theme of hanging out at home.  There is nothing to get ready for, there is no moment of leaving one location for another.  There is just more time at home.

On Saturday I remembered I do have some tools to help – and for the past couple of days have had half an hour of movement and stillness, focus on me and focus on everyone.  I do some yoga, gentle movement helps, focussing on my breath and physical movement.  Then a time of meditation and prayer help ground me further in my own faith and also in the wider world and it helps to hand the anxiety at this point of the day back to God for a bit.  This helped a lot this weekend, so I am going to see if it works today on a work day as well.  I am very grateful that these tools were in the toolbox already, and that I have remembered them.

Easter reflections part 2

The pathos of Holy Week inevitably leads to the absolute joy of Easter Sunday, at the least within the church services. Taken together the services are a safe way to travel through a whole gamut of emotions and have a really happy ending.

Our Easter was certainly joyous and happy. It was a Saturday of catching up with dear family who we rarely see, cousins were reunited and took up where they left off. News was exchanged and the most delicious giant profiteroles stuffed with ice cream were eaten. Other delicious things were eaten, but the profiteroles were seriously amazing.

Easter Sunday was a joyous church occasion followed by a sumptuous Easter brunch. I am not sure I have ever cooked brunch on Easter Sunday before, but I loved it. Brunch is a great meal to be able to create a sense of abundance and it always feels like a treat.

There was of course chocolate, wine, and coffee – all of which had been fasted from by various members of the family. There was the extended family, more cousins joyfully gathering. The day had an underlying retro Wii Sports competition happening, along with Easter egg hunts, Easter egg decorating, dog walks and frisbee playing in the park. And a lot of sun cream thanks to the amazing weather.

All in all a long and joyous day of family and feasting and being very aware of all the many blessings that surround us.

Easter reflections

This is definitely my favourite holiday in the religious calendar. For a load of reasons. Last week was of course Holy Week. The quieter time of Lent culminates in a week of traditional services all with different moods and significance. Moving through the week is like a gentle and very supported guide to emotions. It is a week of guided introspection, that follows six weeks of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.

I enjoy the sense of tradition, it makes me feel very grounded and somehow safe. Many of the services are attended by much the same people, so I have a real feeling of belonging to a wider community and being part of something bigger than me.

The music is unusual, not what we hear in the rest of the year, and yet familiar in it being the music of Holy Week. The services themselves are unusual, but the same every year. It’s a delightful mix of familiarity and difference all in one week.

It is wonderful to be encouraged to be quiet, to turn inwards for a few days. There is a lot of silence in the church services, Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting. I abstained from my phone and laptop for the day. It definitely changed the mood of the day, making it much more deliberate and thoughtful.

After a long winter, it felt good to have a week of reflection and quiet to bring it to a proper end. The weather was very compliant, starting the week with cold and wind and warming up as the week wore on. Lent and winter ended very well indeed.

Lenten reset

We’re a couple of days into Lent already. I enjoy Lent, I appreciate the chance to slow down, spend more time in prayer, spend more time thinking about the world around me and how I can affect change in things that matter to me (almsgiving) and spend less time thinking about me and my needs (fasting). It’s an interesting mix of being more internal: my prayer means more time deliberately alone and quiet or in reflective prayer groups and church services and the external: fasting makes me realise how much I consume; almsgiving brings inequality and social injustice into sharp focus.

I find fasting is the element that is easiest to make happen, it is the part of Lent that most people have heard about. Fasting usually means giving up a type of food or drink, but I have also fasted from plastic use and from social media in the past. The challenge for me is to see it as a reset of my dependence on some sort of consumption, creating an ease and space in me that I can then devote to prayer. Not as a diet! But generally it is fairly easy to put in place.

More challenging is almsgiving. Never mind about giving up the chocolate, what do you do instead of eat chocolate? I need to look around and observe where I can see injustice or inequality and use the chocolate money to do something about it. And – add a bit to the chocolate money and also lend my voice to the cause. Today is International Women’s Day, so looking at an issue focussed on women seems to be in order today. If you can empower women you can change whole communities. The ongoing challenge is that I don’t think almsgiving is supposed to be about a one-off donation, it’s about being much more open to the injustice around you and knowing that you are part of the solution.

The most challenging for me is finding time every day for prayer. A proper chunk of reflection and listening to God – finding the requisite time feels ridiculously challenging. I worry I don’t pray properly. I worry I don’t hear what I should hear or see what I should see.

And that is the beauty of Lent. It is an annual challenge to stop, reset your priorities, move your focus outwards to the world and also to a higher power. It is a time to prioritise my spirit, not tick lists, not outward appearance, but the why of my life.