Amy Scott Robinson wrote BRF's Advent book for 2019: Image of the Invisible. In this lockdown blog she thinks about why she misses being in church.
I’m sitting in my tiny study – really just a corner of our bedroom - surrounded by the paraphernalia of lockdown. Because my church children’s work, performance storytelling and writing workshops all moved online for me in March, I have the tools of all the various things I do within arm’s reach, ready to be picked up and squeezed into the tiny square of a video screen: my face to face work is now pixelated, buffering and reliant upon technology. The mess looks like a collection of symbols for my life. My ukulele for the children’s songs, puppets for ventriloquist sketches, crafts in various stages of completion, and the candle I light for the school’s weekly collective worship are displayed higgledy-piggledy atop the piles of notebooks and shelves of reference books I use for my writing. The effect is of a still life by a Dutch old master, a haphazard pile of meaningful clutter.
This, I realise, is why I've been missing the church building so very much. It’s like my study, but on a much bigger and older scale: lectern and font, altar and pulpit, candlestick and communion cup, every item heavy with meaning and rich with centuries of use. God, of course, is everywhere, but there is good reason for us to meet him in a space set aside for worship, and for those of us brought up on such symbols, the necessary closure of churches is a strange and painful exile. It’s not that it is impossible to worship God elsewhere; it’s that we have trained our spirits to respond to touch, taste, sound and smell, in the same way that we don’t get that holiday feeling until the first glimpse of the sea, or that we remember Grandma best when we smell her perfume lingering on her favourite soft scarf. Some things are so linked to our senses that we feel lost without them. We’re designed that way: that’s why God provides us with senses, and a physical world.
Easter was especially odd: with no Easter fire or Paschal candle, my husband, children and I all gathered in our bed, opened the windows to hear the dawn chorus and watched the sun rise while listening to a dawn service streamed by the Bishop. At the point of the Easter noise, we hooted and clapped, waking the neighbours who were camping in their garden. The sunrise and the songbirds, even older symbols than the candle and the fire, combined with the emotions of a world in lockdown to link us in an unexpectedly visceral way to the events of the first Easter.
For it is not just church buildings that are filled with divine metaphorical meeting places. Throughout scripture, God plants himself in concrete reminders of his character. One country walk can show me dozens of these: a tree planted by a stream, a bird’s nest, wildflowers and the rocks along the path are all biblical ways of describing God (and all mentioned in my book, Image of the Invisible). Even confined to my house, I’m surrounded by scriptural God-symbols: clothing, bread and water, music playing, the fact that I switch on a light in the morning and take a shower. Just as each object in my messy study reflects a different aspect of myself and what I do, so everything in God’s creation reflects an aspect of its creator and his relationship with us. And though it may not be the old, familiar way of worship, perhaps this exile can encourage us into new, life-giving encounters with our heavenly Father.
Even the lockdown becomes a metaphor, although it may not be precisely what St Paul was imagining. For now we see through a video call, darkly, and with a buffering picture and a poor connection; but then we shall see face to face. Now we know only in part, one message notification flashing up at a time; but then we shall know God as well as he knows, and always has known, us.
Amy Scott Robinson is an author and performance storyteller. After studying English at Christ's College, Cambridge, she trained as a teacher and began writing for charities and providers of liturgical resources, before publishing her own works on puppetry and story.
She is married to the rector of four rural parishes in Suffolk, where she is also the benefice children’s worker. She lives in the Rectory and has two children, two guinea pigs, and at any given moment, a half-finished cup of cold tea.
For more information about Amy's book and to order click here.
To find out more about Amy and her work, and to follow her regular blog, visit her website here.