Thoughts on 2020

This is my fifth (!) end of year post. As is now customary, this year has once again included a house move, and I find myself once again amazed and bewildered by how much can change in 12 months, and yet how quickly that change turns into routine.

A couple of months back I wrote a blog post called ‘2020: the year that wasn’t’. But now I must reckon that it is a year that very much has in fact been. This year I took up running and ran my first 10k, worked towards creating a network full of people who I now count as friends in YCCN, put together a week of webinars and a November interfaith event with 5 MPs, wrote two reports, and read my new favourite book (Soil and Soul, Alistair MacIntosh). I have been pen-pals with my friend Molly since March, joined in with birthday parties and socials and meetings and book clubs/launches and prayer by zoom, and participated in Pray and Fast for the climate each month. I also spend most of my waking hours in a lovely (also v cold) house with 3 amazing women I didn’t know existed at the start of the calendar year, and many of my weekends have been spent visiting Sheffield’s 13 city parks with Joshua.

In compiling this post, and looking back over the year, I have realised that I have coloured the year by a feeling of being in ‘suspension’. Yesterday we held ‘New Year’s at the Cottage’ over zoom and Anna reflected that she doesn’t look that far behind or ahead of her at any one time. In contrast, I realised I derive the meaning of each day almost exclusively to how it relates to other points of time. Increasing the uncertainty of time ahead has unravelled the way I normally experience and ascribe meaning to my individual days, and this has often felt overwhelming.

As such, as I look back over the year I have apprehended as indistinct, I am amazed to find many wonderful things I have been a part of and loved and learned and grown through, as much as is true of other years: it is just that they exist under a glaze of collective and personal loss which has permeated and disrupted every corner of life.

Life keeps moving. Baby Arthur was born, Liv, Fran and Stephen graduated, Tom+Sasha, Sam+Naomi, Ruth+Joe, Tia+David all got married, and I attended my first funeral via livestream when Chris died in June.

Often, I feel like I would like to press pause, to be able to preserve life, to hold in my hands and capture exactly what it is like to inhabit a particular moment.

Part of this longing is one of control. This year has felt difficult partly because my (our?) illusion of control has been self-evidently just an illusion. To compensate often my response has been to redouble efforts to impose structure and a sense of direction. But there’s a limit to how far you can take this.

I would like to be able to bottle and preserve life, but I cannot.

My thoughts on 2020 are about life’s giftedness.

I am not (!) the giver of life; we have the sacrament of The Eucharist to honour God who is – the Greek word “eucharisteo” means “to give thanks.”

In some ways, life is a continual exercise receiving life, knowing that we cannot grasp it in the way we might like. We handle but do not possess, direct but do not own. At the very same time as I am cherishing the present, I am seemingly also nostalgic for the past and eager for the future. I must learn to enjoy life as it sits in my hand, aware that each moment will pass and to live I must let go and not hanker after what has gone before or what I imagine I am entitled to come.

Sometimes the continual passing of time feels like life’s cursedness, and decidedly not its gift. But I wonder if there is some deep theological truth about the inherent movement involved in the giving relationship of Creator and creation. Maggi Dawn says “redemption never looks backwards, always forwards”. Go figure.

There is one other aspect of this giftedness. Often, I think we think of receiving gifts as something passive, but there is such a thing as receiving well (see again: the Eucharist, an offer of thanksgiving).

I follow something called the New Citizenship Project and listened to a podcast episode earlier in the year with the founder, Jon Alexander. He recounted the influence of a course facilitator who, in response to his acknowledgement that by his own good fortune of intelligence, charisma, attractiveness, etc. he’d been able to “follow the rules and win”, said, “Ah, wait ’til you find out there are no rules”.

Sometimes the things we call unrealistic are those things which we have placed our own limits around, those things which we are unwilling to lose face for.

In this last year, I have learned more about what it is to use what I have. Rather than being content with accepted rules, or with waiting for someone to suggest or affirm an idea or give permission, I have started to go ahead and act. The ‘In the same boat group’ from back in March, YCCN, the COP Interfaith evening, work socials, house prayer, many other dubious instantiations of organised fun, all now stand as testament to this. All of this year’s most acute moments of vulnerability are attached to these things. At the same time, so are all this year’s most acute moments of learning and joy.

One of the most powerful questions I heard this year was ‘What gift do you bring to your work?’ I think my own answer to this is conviction. This doesn’t mean I am not teachable, but it does mean that I often know my own mind, and I have a confidence in who I am which allows me to act and set my course, while accepting the inevitable mistakes and embarrassment that come along with this.

I give thanks for this year, and I am ready (just in time!) to welcome the next with thanksgiving.