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Bishop Martin Seeley says Christmas is a time at which we can renew our lives

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You would be horrified if you saw the state of my study. It’s the room I work from, or used to, and meet visitors, or used to.

Over the course of the past 20 months it has become the repository of meeting papers, books, boxes and other debris that I would normally try to keep reasonably tidied away.

Not that I need much encouragement not to put things away, as my family would testify.

The Right Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Picture: Keith Mindham (53886197)
The Right Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Picture: Keith Mindham (53886197)

And working from home has just meant that as seats and table tops became less and less evident in my study, I would just work from a different room, from the kitchen table, or the sofa in the sitting room.

All made very easy with a laptop and a mobile phone.

For the past 20 months there have been long stretches, as we all know, when we couldn’t have visitors, and my office colleagues have been working from home.

So the incentive to keep it all tidied away has diminished.

But even after the lockdown restrictions were lifted in the early summer – do you remember this happening? – I still didn’t get round to tidying up.

And now we are in the thick of it again, working from home, wearing masks, being careful, very careful, even if we have been triple jabbed.

But I have decided I cannot keep on like this, I cannot keep putting things on hold, and I need to get a grip – and tidy up my study.

The cluttered, almost unusable study has been a symbol for me of the impact of the pandemic.

I suspect that many of us have an equivalent, a corner of our lives that we have just let go, abandoned, as if we don’t have the energy or the will to change.

I don’t know what I have been expecting to happen, but letting this one room remain just accumulating debris and not bothering to touch it is almost like an expression of depression or even grief.

When we are depressed or grieving we don’t have the energy to take care of aspects of our lives, and leave things to just be.

We probably don’t even notice that we are doing this, and they creep up on us. I am sure I did not make a decision to abandon my study – the untidiness did just creep up on me.

And it would hardly be surprising if we all weren’t carrying some measure of depression and grief.

This has been the most extraordinary time for all of us, a time of massive and continuing loss, of profound grief which we may bear personally, or collectively through the huge number of deaths this past twenty months.

Sometimes that collective grief can be expressed around a particular loss, as it was in April when Prince Philip died.

We all shared in the grief, and we all reached out in our hearts to the Queen as she bore her profound loss, a solitary figure in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

And the grief we shared was the grief for so many who have died, and so much that has been lost these many months.

And we have all felt in so many different ways that our lives have been put on hold. So why not let the mess accumulate, we might think to ourselves, nothing much is going to happen anyway.

We may be youngsters at school where our education and our social development has been drastically interrupted, or we work in the hospitality industry and have been through furlough and the uncertainty of the future of our job.

Or we just live a long way from our grandchildren and have had long stretches when we can’t visit.

In so many ways our lives have been put on hold. And that is depressing for all of us, so no wonder there are corners of our lives we have just let go.

But we are in the Christmas season, celebrating birth, not grieving death, celebrating lives turned upside down, as all parents know happens with a birth.

And we can stay – I can stay – in my clutter and unusable study, or I can decide now is the time to get out of this state.

“Now is the time to awake out of sleep” is a refrain during Advent, the four weeks before Christmas.

And this is the time to do that, to awake out of the sleep that has numbed part of our lives.

This may seem odd to say as we are experiencing the worse wave of coronavirus by far with the Omicron variant, but this surely is the time to decide we are going to tidy up those cluttered spaces, air those stuffy rooms, and get on with lives that cannot be on hold for ever.

Yes, be careful. Yes, keep others safe. But yes, take the gift of new life that we receive in the birth of Jesus, and live it – live it well, live it with kindness, live it generously and lovingly, but live it.

So I am going to celebrate Christmas – by tidying my study and getting on with the life God has given me, and which this Christmas has once again renewed.

-- The Right Rev Martin Seeley is Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich