Here’s the second of our guest blogs as part of our #GBWildAtHome digital summer here at Greenbelt … This one is written by Hannah Malcolm. Hannah is a Manchester-based researcher and writer and is the winner of last year’s inaugural Theology Slam. This piece was originally written by Hannah for Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on 25th April 2020.
More than seven weeks ago now, my spouse and I began strict social distancing due to his underlying health condition. Suddenly I was forced to drop many of the coping mechanisms I’ve developed over more than a decade of mental illness: the company of others, highly structured days, communal prayer and worship, a recently begun course of trauma counselling, and extended time outside.
In her book The Wild Remedy, Emma Mitchell describes her own struggle with mental illness and her pursuit of wellbeing through a year of carefully recorded encounters with the living world. Like Emma, I find particular reprieve in the company of other creatures. But unlike Emma I don’t have a garden, and I don’t live in the Cambridgeshire Fens. I live in Moss Side, one of the most densely populated areas of Manchester. Our nearest green space is our busy local park. Walks there are fraught: my spouse’s health makes him vulnerable to COVID19, and we anxiously try to avoid all the other people who are anxiously trying to avoid us. But it is also one of the few places where I find peace from my own thoughts. There is a cluster of blossoming fruit trees near its centre, and I slow down my government approved dog walk just enough so that I can lift up my head to smell their fragrant flowers and hear the hum of bees. It is not a cure. But for a while it soothes the dizziness and dread that I struggle to shake from my limbs. I feel human again.
This park has become a lifeline, and I am acutely aware of the ways my mental and spiritual wellbeing are bound to each other. Franciscan theologian H. Paul Santmire suggests that Jesus’ words – behold the lilies of the field – were not just a convenient example to illustrate a point, but a commandment to his followers: you ought to contemplate the world around you. Live with it. Learn from it. Let it do its work. Let it heal you.
I have not found silver linings in this pandemic, or in my struggle for sanity. This lockdown is not likely to make me a better person. I believe that it is one thing for each of us to find meaning in our own suffering, and quite another to find meaning in the suffering of others. I do not seek meaning, but I do seek survival. And more than ever before, I am attentive to Jesus’ instruction: Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the field. Your Heavenly Father cares for them, and He cares for you.