What is normal? This Thought for the Week for St James’ church explores what normal is at this time, what a new normal might look like, and how this is influenced by the early church when normality was turned on its head
You can view the video here or read the transcript below
I wonder how many times you’ve heard the word normal lately. At the beginning of lockdown there was a great hankering to get things back to normal as soon as possible. When it emerged that this was unlikely to happen for some time, we began to wait patiently for things to be normal again. In the meantime the things that we were being asked to do, such as stay at home, stay alert, maintain social distancing, wear masks, don’t wear masks, wear masks, began to become quite normal things to do. People then began to talk about a ‘new’ normal.
Now this idea of a new normal is not itself new. The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Martin Percy, recently pointed out in his blog ‘that pandemics have always re-reordered society’ and that following the Great Plague of the 1660’s, when over a 100,000 people, almost a quarter of the population of London died, that a ‘new normal’ emerged and society invariable re-boots itself when these type of seismic events happen.
This may well be what is happening at the moment when we look at the bigger picture, but it is also happening with each of us as individuals. Our normal is changing and it probably won’t be changing back.
If we consider what normal is, then we can see that it is simply to conform to a standard, something that is usual, typical or expected. As a society we have agreed either consciously or subconsciously the rules and laws for normal life. But for me as an individual, my normal will not be the same as your normal. My likes and dislikes, my experiences and my understandings, my prejudices and beliefs do not necessarily conform to what your idea of normal is; nor yours to mine.
Of course, the Christian faith has always embraced changes to normality. After all, a Trinitarian Godhead, a virgin birth and miraculous resurrection are not necessarily normal. For individuals too; think about a fisherman called Simon on a lake in Galilee; a name changed; a career changed, a personality changed; a heart changed – what did his normal look like? How many times did his normal become something new.
The beginning of the Christian church was in the hands of a small group of men and women, but the events of Pentecost that we have recently celebrated and the coming of the Holy Spirit, changed the lives of thousands of people, who in turn have changed the lives of millions. It turned normality on its head.
They only had to remember that Jesus said, ‘This is what I want normal to look like. I want you to respect differences, I want you to abide by the law, whilst challenging injustice, I want you to do all you can to ensure that the poor and the disadvantaged are cared for with dignity, I want you to look at everybody with the same reverence that you have for me, I want you simply to love each other.
If throughout all of these recent events we have begun to detect that our normal has changed, and actually what we have learned is that there is chance for a better normal now, then we should welcome it. If normal is now to slow down, to appreciate relationships and friendships more, to reach out to serve our neighbours in practical and emotional support, to comfort those who mourn, to act with more kindness, then let that become our normal.
Then perhaps there won’t be a need for a ‘new’ normal, because we will have already made it so.
We end in prayer
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Those who have God
Find they lack nothing;
God alone suffices.
St. Teresa of Avila
Link to Martin Percy’s blog