DURING the first week of the lockdown, I gave much thought to what I might profitably read during the days ahead, in the gaps between hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces, taps, doorhandles, mobile phone, and credit cards.
I wondered whether this would be the time when I read my way through Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, or embarked on a study of the writings of Maximus the Confessor, or tackled Rowan Williams’s Christ the Heart of Creation, which has been sitting on my bookshelves for more than 18 months.
Other possibilities presented themselves. Perhaps I should finish or rewrite the book on spirituality which I started 20 years ago, showing how various forms of contemporary spirituality have their roots in the ancient world. Or perhaps this was the moment for a ruthless edit of my digital photos. Or to read Dickens.
Of course, I did none of these things. Having cooked some casseroles and stocked the freezer, and having made sure I was unlikely to run out of gin during the next six months, I looked at what television had to offer — and discovered that the BBC had made available the entire ten series and 86 episodes of Spooks, the spy thriller that ran from 2002 to 2011.
Virus-anxiety responds well to thugs, bombs, and terrorist threats, I find. Traitors within and enemies without match a world in which other people are potential foes and the greatest threat of all is hidden from sight. In this household, we have limited ourselves to one episode of Spooks a night, and often take in an episode of Masterchef as a pulse-steadying dessert (although watching complex culinary activity against the clock has its own stresses). The need for fictional danger does not end at bedtime. I have been re-reading the Lisbeth Salander books, shocking for their vengefulness.
My current viewing and reading habits are somewhat out of step with the spiritual advice that I have been giving myself and failing to apply in recent weeks. I had assumed that mindfulness and the daily Office would be the disciplines for getting through.
But now I wonder whether I should be exploring the more paranoid side of Christian spirituality. There is a time for spotting the troops of Midian as they prowl and prowl around, and for beating down Satan under our communal feet. The fear-filled and vengeful verses of the Psalms (sometimes bracketed on the grounds that they are less than Christian) come into their own at such dangerous times. I am beginning to see the point of being a soldier of Christ as well as a handmaid of the Lord, and even why the Prayer Book describes the Church as militant here in earth.