A space to reflect on our times
There has been much talk of what the pandemic lockdowns have both prevented and enabled over the past year. They have drastically reduced human contact but increased awareness of contact with nature. They have prevented live performances, drama, music and singing together whilst new forms of media have connected people to events they may not have considered. They have closed down local meetings and gatherings creating a vacuum into which the remote connection with people far and wide has just as quickly slipped.
It is as though the human need to connect is as irrepressible as the ingenuity that enables connection.
At times I’ve experienced a kind of online-overload: a sense of weariness with everything being mediated through a screen. There is only so much information that can be taken in, only so many people that can be heard. This feeling led me to scale down my expectations about online connection and paradoxically resulted in my using Zoom more often but for individual, personal meetings with friends and family.
It’s also why QVA’s small scale online events have worked so well for me and the participants who’ve joined them. We hold retreats for the number of people who can be comfortably viewed on the screen of a laptop, giving the sessions an intimate, conversational feel in which contributions to discussion are easier to make than were the numbers higher. The first of these retreats, creatively facilitated by Evan Welkin and Rosie Carnall, was described as one participant as a ‘chance to think about life in a different way’ and another as ‘reflecting on the gifts of lockdown’. In my own experience facilitating the second series ‘Sharing our Service’ in February and March, I found myself uplifted by the good will and open-hearted intent of participants as they gathered virtually to reflect on the possibilities for voluntary service in a time of lockdown.
“Possibility” is an apt word for our time and a good one to attach to online retreats. The simple act of gathering in small numbers online may seem a tiny contribution to the peace of the world at a time of multiple crises. However, for me it has been an exploration of possibility, in the way that all Quaker Meetings are. When we are constrained in our practical action, thrown back on our own mental and emotional resources, the temptation is to think we are also reduced in significance. But by starting with ourselves and the experience of our everyday, it’s possible to reconstruct our conception of what the significance of an individual human is and from there to reach out, touch the world again and do what we can to heal its wounds.