One of my favourite toys as a child was a kaleidoscope.

Anthony Williams | 17:44, 29 Jul 2020

Rotational symmetries in designs produced by a kaleidoscopeDSCN2440" src="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/19/Rotational_symmetries_in_designs_produced_by_a_kaleidoscopeDSCN2440.jpg/512px-Rotational_symmetries_in_designs_produced_by_a_kaleidoscopeDSCN2440.jpg"> The One of my favourite toys as a child was a kaleidoscope – it must have been something about the mesmerising chaos of the constantly changing colourful patterns. And working in the NHS over the last few months has been a little like being transported into the middle of a kaleidoscope – the landscape seemingly changing almost hour by hour as services, teams and day to day routines were re-imagined and re-designed. Some aspects have been, at times, energising – the fortitude, ingenuity and goodwill of those inside and outside the NHS has been all too evident. Other things however have been so hard to get used to that the result has sometimes been dizzying confusion.

Many have experienced the sheer helplessness having to ... entrust the care of their loved one almost entirely to others.

One of these things has been the necessary but exceptionally difficult restrictions on visiting within our care settings. Before COVID-19 I had never conceived of a situation where the en masse prevention of families spending time with their dying loved ones would be necessary. Many have experienced the sheer helplessness having to, literally, stand back and entrust the care of their loved one almost entirely to others. And many in our hospitals, hospices, nursing and residential homes have had to experience the pain of illness compounded by separation from those they love.

... why is it that this separation is so painfully difficult?

So as the lockdown measures are beginning to ease, albeit slowly, and the dizzying spin of the kaleidoscope begins to abate just slightly, I find myself asking - why is it that this separation is so painfully difficult? And what does it tell us about the importance of being physically present with one another?

Well, no shortage of ink has been spilt on this but as we try to make sense of some the confusing and distressing situations COVID has led us to – what does the Bible have to say about this? And as the Bible is opened, right from the start we see a God whose desire is to be present with those that he has made – walking through the garden of Eden even as Adam and Eve are desperately trying to hide from his presence (Genesis 3:8). They are banished from the garden we soon then hear of God appearing to Moses – the bush still burning as his ears ring with the promise 'I will be with you' (Exodus 3:12).

God continued to dwell with his people, albeit in the seemingly socially distant circumstances...

God continued to dwell with his people, albeit in the seemingly socially distant circumstances of the Most Holy Place, in first the tabernacle and then the temple. And so the pattern of God being present with his people was established. But, as the Old Testament prophets looked forward to, this was all pointing towards a day when God would descend to be with his people "in flesh". The incarnation of Christ, Jesus living and breathing amongst his people, was God's great rescue plan and the biggest statement of human dignity this world as seen as he became one of us and was present amongst us (John 1:14).

It is as though being present in relationship is one of the threads that God has woven into the rich tapestry of life – we were made to be in relationship with one another. This is maybe felt most deeply and powerfully at times of greatest importance in our lives, such as the final moments of a loved one in this world. So maybe it is no surprise that separation in these moments of significance and, chiefly in the separation of death, is so difficult. We were not made for relationships that spoil or end, like autumn leaves that wither and fall off the branch. We were made to be in relationship that lasts.

So how do we respond? How to we begin to make sense...

So how do we respond? How to we begin to make sense of the pain of separation we are living through. Or try to support and care for those who have faced the, at times, tragedy of this new reality? Well, amongst all the pain and confusion – we can know that we have a God who understands. Who understands and has experienced the pain of separation. As Jesus hung on the cross, calling out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", we see him separated for the first time from relationship with his Father – experiencing anguish beyond our comprehension. And he did so for us. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). So, when the tears allow us to know nothing else, we can know that the God of the Bible, understands. That whatever road we have to travel, it is a road that Jesus has already walked down.

... that we live in the "now, but not yet"

Maybe this time too gives us the opportunity to more deeply understand another spiritual reality – that although the Lord is with us now, we do not as yet see him face to face; that we live in the "now, but not yet". For now, we remain 'locked-down' in our mortal bodies that are destined to frail and fail and limited in our spiritual understanding. But as we see this more clearly, maybe we will be able to fix our eyes more on where we are heading – that one day we will see him face to face – as 1 Thessalonians 4 tells us - to be caught up together in the presence of the King, never to be separated.

This is the reality that those who follow Christ must cling to both in and out of lockdown. And until that day, may and as lockdown begins to lift, may this cause us to be thankful and to cherish the one of the gifts God has given us for 'now' - of being present with one another. And as much as is safe and wise to do so in this time we should long to reflect the heart of this God who showed up and poured out his life for us by striving to fill the lives of those we love and live around with the sacrificial gift of our physical presence.

So as the kaleidoscope continues to twist round, with all the talk of 'second waves' and 'new normals' my prayer is that the radiant beauty of these truths would come into ever clearer focus despite and amidst the chaos of these times and that as we attempt to chart a course out of lockdown we would do so clinging to the one who we will never be separated from.

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