On 24 February this year, the director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus told the world that, “our decision about whether to use the word “pandemic” to describe the epidemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus.”
At that time, he seemed hopeful as he continued to note that, “for the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontrolled global spread of the virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale serious disease or death.”
Just two weeks later, on 11 March, with more than one hundred and eighteen thousand cases in over one hundred countries and territories, Ghebreyesus reported that the novel coronavirus disease was a pandemic: “this is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector. So, every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.”
In the proverbial blink of an eye, the world faced a sea change in virtually every sector as it sought to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus. A professor at the University of Southern California, Jeffrey Cole, remarked that, “without preparation or permission, we’re participating in the greatest social science experiment of all time.”
The previously gradual and almost familiar pace of change underwent a dramatic increase in speed. Difficult and urgent conversations about the disease’s possible impact began to rule the day.
Churches were among the hardest hit entities in the unfolding change. Experiencing unavoidable changes in attendance, programmes, and operations, they scrambled to boost their online services. In large measure, this is because of the realization that even when church buildings are reopened, online worship will remain an integral part of church operations.
Many congregations now constantly share the respectful observation that, “the people haven’t disappeared, they’ve just changed.”
In the quest for transformation and new ways of doing things, one sees a parallel with personal growth and development. Personal, professional and social lives have all been impacted by restrictions on gatherings, cultural and sporting activities.
However, instead of nursing a debilitating sense of dislocation from others and society in general, both churches and individuals have the challenge of retooling and reskilling. The pursuit requires both discipline and intentionality.
Psychologist Geil Browning has said that, “reflection is a deeper form of learning that allows us to retain every aspect of experience – be it personal or professional – why something took place, what the impact was, whether it should happen again, as opposed to just remembering that it happened. It’s about honing in on what really matters to us.”
The new health environment with its containment measures summons us to find ways of combating social isolation. Further, it exercises us on matters of patience, flexibility, and setting the correct boundaries for physical, emotional and spiritual health.
The extended periods of self-examination and reflection, against a background of bewildering uncertainty, seem tailor-made for new conversations on the meaning and purpose of life.
English poet, Peter Abbs, has written that, “the recovery of self involves, therefore, the removal of social pressures, which by their nature generate not true self-affirmation but, rather, a competitive and anxious amour propre (self-regard).”
While many factors are known to clearly lie outside of human control, we cannot avoid the call of the dashboard of priorities. For, the writer, Anup Kochhar, argues that, “the fear of failure is the greatest fear of man. Even the fear of death is fear of failing to continue life.”