Fr Josh Miechels: Peace possible despite restrictions

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Feeling we’ve lost control of our lives is disturbing. But assuming we were in control of them in the first place is a mistake. PHOTO: 123rf

Sydney priest Fr Josh Miechels shares his lockdown lessons from France

Lockdown is not fun. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be lived peacefully.
Especially when you’re in another country, in a language you speak clumsily, missing basic goods like your friends and favourite places and argileh and sunshine, doing a new task which deprives you even of the people around you.

This was my experience arriving in France six months ago, in the middle of Covidfest with a 6pm curfew, a 10km movement radius and most things closed – a situation which endured for some unwelcome months.

Six months later the weather hasn’t changed – despite being in Summer Luxemburg, Belgium and Germany are currently flooding – but all the rest has, finally, changed.
And yet there are already whispers of a return to restrictions upon the conclusion of Summer. Still it is possible, if we want, to live such situations in peace. The key lies in our decisions – of attitude, and taking the proper means.

The key lies in our decisions – of attitude, and taking the proper means.

What do I mean by attitude? I mean that if one’s attitude is ‘O my God this is so terrible, I am locked in my home, I am all alone, and it is too much for me, and I am so bored and I can only be happy and free when they lift restrictions” – then certainly my time will be a challenging one, especially as these thoughts don’t reflect the truth – they don’t reflect reality.

So often many of our problems are because of the way we think about things.

I am not a psychologist and I humbly leave that domain to them. But writing as a pastor, my experience is that, fallen, warped and wounded beings that we are, we are very good at creating, consciously or unconsciously, our own boxes and locking ourselves inside and then saying how terrible they are.

Often the hurts we have suffered, as well as the vices into which we have immersed ourselves, deeply affect our freedom to see our situations as they truly are. To already recognise this is being on the way to the solution.

Fr Josh Miechels
Father Josh Miechels. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

There are many reasons the situation is hard. One is that human beings are simply not naturally wired to not socialise and not push boundaries: it’s part of what makes us so noble and beautiful. Another reason is simply because it’s new: like anything new, it’s hard at first.

Part of the reason is the collection of injustices about the situation: I didn’t cause it, I may not agree with the measures, and, as one writer has highlighted, some regulations – like those which simultaneously banned me from my family but permitted me to sleep with strangers – are genuine headscratchers.

Part of the difficulty, and even the extremity of some measures, is that in the West we have been getting too used to getting things our own way – too used to controlling things.

Filled by our riches, beneficiaries of what Warren Buffet refers to as the ‘genetic lottery’, feeling so smart and clever about our science and technology and procedures – we can think we can control our lives. This is not a strength but a weakness.

For to try to control everything in my life is a dangerous fraud. Partly because it’s an unattainable goal on earth and even in heaven: you just can’t do it. And partly because in trying to control everything in my life I start trying to control others too – what they can say, what they can do and even what they are ‘allowed’ to think, firstly in public, and soon after in private. I ‘have’ to control them, if I am serious about controlling everything in my life, as to live in this world is to live surrounded by others – and if I can’t handle their differences, I end up either alone, or surrounded by people who bend to my wishes.

It kills my relationship with God because soon enough God is no longer God, someone whom I must obey, and Jesus becomes a convenient mirror of whatever I think.

It’s the cardinal sin and classic trap of Sauron: that “I will be free and happy when I control everything”. This is not true. It’s not possible. It’s not even true for today. And, since I’m limited and fallible, my ‘control’ will always be a limited and fallible one.

It doesn’t mean we can’t be responsible: true freedom is being responsible, and making decisions. But a condition of living life is receiving it.

I will speak more about some decisions we might make in my next column.