Forty days, forty nights
Yet for Noah and his family, it did not suddenly end on the 41st day. Noah’s easing out of maritime lockdown was gradual as the waters receded. The flood actually carried on for another 150 days: five whole months (Genesis 7:24).
They needed not only faith and hope, but patience. Birds were sent out, only to return empty-beaked, until eventually one did not return (Genesis 8:6–12). It was not until the seventh month that the ark ‘landed’ on Mount Ararat (Genesis 8:4), and the duration of the Noah family’s isolation in the ark at sea and then land was around eleven months (Genesis 8:14–16).
‘Noah’s easing out of maritime lockdown was gradual’
God made a promise
The analogy is poignant given some of the projections we are hearing. The initial spike of infections, hospitalisations and deaths may have passed, but there is a still a long haul of patience and protection ahead. God made a new promise of a new relationship with Noah and gave a rainbow as a sign. The rainbow is still a symbol of thanksgiving and hope, and many have reported seeing rainbows in the sky as they venture out on Thursday evenings to applaud key workers and NHS staff.
Adopt the rainbow as we may, we can also learn patience from the ark story, and from Noah himself we gain insights into what family life on board might have been like. For as in any family, there are troubled moments, as revealed in Noah’s case by the strange story of him making wine, becoming drunk and being embarrassed by Canaan, whom Noah consequently curses (Genesis 9:18–28). Noah was a righteous man in the eyes of God, but he was not perfect.
Family lockdown tensions
Nor are we perfect at this time: there are isolation-specific difficulties, family lockdown tensions and normal life issues that become exaggerated in close confinement. Many people thrive on a blend of social interaction, company, conversation, solitude and downtime. Alongside a balanced diet, we also need balanced interaction with others.
For some this makes the current lockdown an excruciating ordeal of claustrophobia, even danger. For when one person cannot cope with the situation, or has aggressive tendencies exaggerated by close and continual proximity to other family members, it can lead to agitation, short-temperedness, cruelty, violence, causing physical and mental suffering.
‘Normal life issues become exaggerated in close confinement’
Threats and fears behind closed doors
We have a sense of the immediate threat of the virus, but its virulence expresses itself violently in some domestic contexts, financially and physically. The unseen enemy is doing unseen harm. For some the tensions and insecurities are knife-edged, and the stresses therefore sharp and painful. Bankruptcy, unemployment, loss of status, purpose or security accompany the bereavement that so many have to face. Anger and depression are part of that grieving process and can affect us and those around us.
The range of family experience in lockdown spans from minor irritations and frustrated outburst to criminal domestic violence. To be imprisoned in lockdown with someone whom one cannot trust, of whom one is afraid or from whom one is in palpable danger is unbearably stressful. This requires vigilance and prayer from us all.
Action, supplication, kindness
In March, when the lockdown was imminent, I launched an initiative in the parish called the ASK Force. ASK stands for Action, Supplication and Kindness. These are the three things that can carry us, and be carried by us at this time. For whether we are home alone, involved in divided families where children ‘move’ between one parent and another regularly, or beginning to tire of the same relentless company, or even if we are holed up in domestic bliss, we can all ASK.
We can act for others, not necessarily outside our home (not everyone can distribute food and be the ‘heroes’ we applaud), but we can ‘act at’ home, with acts of kindness. The way we act affects how others live, and we can all do our bit.
Acts of kindness are simple, cheap and healthy. Kindness, like a smile, is free, but hugely valuable. It might require some effort sometimes. So be it.
Supplication (prayer) also requires some effort. Yet alongside kindness it is vital, for prayer is action, and all action needs to be accompanied by supplication, for then it can be kind in a distinctively Christian way.
‘Acts of kindness are simple, cheap and healthy. Kindness, like a smile, is free, but hugely valuable.’
The film Evan Almighty (2007) is a contemporary recasting of the story of Noah’s ark, set in the USA. One of the recurring themes in the film is that the world can be changed through Acts of Random Kindness – ARK.
As we continue to navigate the uncharted waters which we hope will lead us out of lockdown, let us be an ASK force, offering action, supplication and kindness in all sorts of both random and targeted ways, praying always for those for whom the waters are stormy and lockdown a terrible ordeal.
Loving Lord Jesus,
Who calmed the storm and guided your disciples to safe land,
Hear our prayers for those who are suffering in the silence of isolation at this time.
To the needy, grant relief, to the fearful, reassurance
And to the desperate, the hope of release that only you can give.
Written by Gordon Giles, May 2020. Gordon Giles will soon be taking up the post of canon chancellor at Rochester Cathedral.