‘How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!’ and so starts the book of Lamentations. It’s a book of displacement, exile and anguish as an ancient people lament the loss of a city. Jerusalem was razed, the temple was destroyed and the people taken into slavery. It’s a book of loss and one that feels resonant to me in this moment.
Last week I turned the lights off and locked the door of an eerily quiet St. Peter’s House. How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! The days before had seen an exodus of tenants leaving carrying their computers and essential files home, it had seen Milk & Honey (the ancient land of the promise) getting quieter and quieter as many volunteers made their last dash home, and the team at SPH preparing for life in the strange land of home-working. The posters advertising events that will now never happen still hanging on the walls like an old ‘Wanted’ poster hung in a deserted frontier town, a programme of activities that became obsolete overnight, friendships that have been built-up with laugher, comradeship and tears now gone – some forever due to the seasonal and international nature of University life – and a community on hold as we wait and see….And my overwhelming emotion is one of loss. It’s all gone.
Now of course, on a very pragmatic level the destruction of Jerusalem and the enslaving of a whole nation is nothing like our experience. Yet at the same time we have seen our way of life changed and we are held captive by a force that threatens to overwhelm us, and so I turn to the wisdom literature as within it there is a deep well of resource from which we can drink. The lament of the people of Judah is one well that we might fight helpful to drink from.
The educational year is one that provides a rhythm for many of us. The new year starts in September and builds until final exams are sat, more widely schools close and the academic timetable takes a breather and whilst through Zoom and online teaching methods the learning continues the University experience isn’t just about the learning. It’s the first step of independence – paying the bills, finding a new house, it’s the forming of life long friendships, it’s the nights out, the societies joined and the volunteering to make the world a better place – it’s life shaping, it’s where dreams are honed and vocations formed. And whilst we will restart and find a new rhythm it is also right to lament the loss.
Perhaps we should resist rushing into finding a new way of recreating the old rhythm, perhaps we should take a moment to breathe, to lament the loss and to find a new life giving beat to walk to. I don’t know what that will look like but I do know that it is a moment to pause and lament. As Qoheleth from another book of Wisdom wrote – A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. It feels it is the time to shed tears for those who have lost the last term of school and university, for those who won’t get the rite-of-passage that marks an end, for those who have had opportunity snatched away, for those who live in isolation, for those who live in fear, for those who have no shoulder to rest on tonight, for those who fear loosing control. And then we realise that is all of us, we are in this together and that I, am them.