Thoughts and reflections from the Dean
Friday was a very strange day. It was a day in which the extraordinary – the last day on which the North Holmes Road Campus was open for the foreseeable future – was punctuated by the mundane: having may car serviced.
I drove straight to Barretts Honda, dropped the car off quickly, and walked to the Campus. The road was busier than I expected, though pedestrians were few. Each person I passed on the way was now a source of suspicion, someone to be scrutinised for signs of disease. I didn’t like this new instinctive approach to others. On campus, I felt differently. Keeping my distance, I spoke to the few remaining staff and students. But because of a sense of community solidarity, I was talking equally to those I knew already and those I had never spoken to before. Here crisis brought connection, not suspicion.
The day was spent wrestling with Blackboard and ReCap, and attending my first two MS Teams meetings (much of the conversation seeming startlingly irrelevant the new situation, though characterised by a pleasing warmth and humanity). I also organised things to take home once the car was collected.
After collecting and loading the car I said my farewells to the Security staff, my words hopelessly unequal to the moment, and drove home. Once at home, an enormous sense of anxiety overtook me, so that I was hardly able to converse. Usually, very little makes me anxious; I am one who just lets things happen. It took we a while to figure out what was happening. I had just said goodbye to a way of living that has shaped my whole life. Even the most contemporary of TV dramas and advertisements now seem historic. The show a way of face-to-face living that has, at least for now, vanished. The digital world is not my world; I inhabit it as a visiting alien. It constitutes a very pale substitute. I have entered a kind of exile.
Exile is part of the vocabulary of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Assyrian and then Babylonian incursions into Israel in the 8th and 6th centuries BC saw the displacement of populations. They also stimulated arguably the most creative phase in thinking about God in the Hebrew Bible expressed in the great prophets like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah. For the New Testament, exile becomes a way of thinking about what it means to live between two worlds: that of the present and that of the hoped-for new creation. Exile meant the formation of a new identity, a fresh sense of community solidarity, and a flourishing of hope. Our present exile can mean the same.
Underpinning the new thinking stimulated by exile is the conviction that God remains faithful and the same. Belief in God is not a magic guarantee that all will be well. But is the foundation of hope that while the world will never be quite the same, the constancy of God’s love will hold whatever the future brings.
the same yesterday, today and forever,
in the midst of my fears, in the wake of changes over which I have no control,
be for me the solid ground on which I can rebuild my identity, my relations with others
and my hope for better days.