Quarantine. Isolation. A bed, a chair, a writing table and a window. Three meals a day, an hour’s exercise in the yard, and periodic testing by lateral flow or PCR. Access to the internet is poor and phone signals are not good either – unless you are in the exercise yard – actually two rugby pitches, and an all-weather football pitch. The regime might seem to be very similar to prison life – long hours locked up with precious little to do. There are about 130 people here although apart from the few brave souls who I can see from my window exercising in the rain I only see the 16 quarantiners on my landing (sorry slipping into prison terminology here) who I am allowed to eat with each day… and the staff (it is tempting to call them warders) who escort us from the barrack to the food hall.
But as I sit looking out of my window I am thinking as much about the monastic life… the simply furnished small cell, the communal meals often in silence, the freedoms from many of the distractions of modern life.
A few months ago I listened to a talk by Bob, a Tornado navigator, who was captured when his plane came down in Afghanistan. Bob, a committed Christian, talked to the officer cadets at Cranwell about how he took control of the few bits of his life that were not controlled by his captors. He created structure to each day. He made plans for the future, organised dinner parties in his head, plotted a future career, constructed his perfect motorbike from a multitude of variables, set times for prayer and re-calling hymns, psalms, and Bible passages, and had a daily conversation with his family… well the call did not happen but he though about what he would say in the imaginary conversation every day.
As I sit in my cell, remembering Bob, I think now, as I did then, about the monastic life – a life of structure. The daily life of the monastery is founded upon set times for prayer – the daily offices. The rest of the day consists of eating, resting, working (in the kitchens etc) and thinking (study and reflection), but it is the daily offices that are central and everything else fits around that.
In the modern world there can be so many demands on our time, so much imposed upon us that any sense of structure can be lost. A period of retreat has long been recognised as an important spiritual discipline… to step back from the pressures of the world to find space for prayer and reflection. Quarantine is, for me at least, an opportunity for retreat between the parish and what lies ahead in the Falklands; an opportunity to find a structure to fill the long empty hours and to choose what takes priority. For many Lent is an important part of their spiritual life… an opportunity for some re-structuring to make prayer, Bible study, and spiritual reading more dominant. As we begin Lent, I would like to encourage you to find some time to think about how you might create more space in the structure of your day for prayer.