This phrase has emerged more than once of late, as politicians and others seek to help frame our expectations. Dominic Raab, in particular, told Andrew Marr on television on Sunday that the country would be ‘moving to a new normal’. One US news agency has called its daily coronavirus podcast ‘The New Normal’.
I am intrigued by the phrase. It originates in the United States, coined by economists in the context of the financial crisis at the end of the last decade. In broad terms it refers to the previously abnormal becoming commonplace. But it is a little more nuanced - and one key lecture given at the time has really struck a chord with me, defining the twin characteristics of ‘the new-normal’ (it had a hyphen originally) as an uneven journey and a new destination. It goes on to say
Our use of the term [the new-normal] was an attempt to move the discussion beyond the notion that the crisis was a mere flesh wound, easily healed with time. Instead, the crisis cut to the bone. It was the inevitable result of an extraordinary period which was anything but normal.¹
Right now we are all fellow travellers on an uneven journey. I wonder whether we might dare say fellow pilgrims? For some this is a via dolorosa, where pain and perplexity are overwhelming. For others this is an Emmaus Road, where profound truths are being revealed in a new reality. Both journeys keep company with Jesus. Both come with a cost. It may feel perverse to speak of journeying at a time when many of us are more static than ever. But as one wise commentator puts it, the journey towards God requires us to be still.²
The journey is uneven for sure. But what of a new destination? The destination of the via dolorosa seems to be the epitome of despair: the Place of the Skull. Seems to be - because there is a destination beyond that which is a new normal if ever there was one. Mary in the garden. Thomas in the Upper Room. Peter at the Lakeside. They all found themselves there.
And those who walked with Him who, destined for Emmaus, found themselves somewhere else, when bread was broken, and hearts set on fire.
Lord, we do not know where you are going - so how can we know the way? Jesus said to Thomas: I am the way.³
Whatever the new normal might mean for us, this gives me hope: that in Christ we have both our Guide and our Goal.
with love and prayers
1 Mohamed A. El-Erian, 'Navigating the New Normal in Industrial Countries', the Per Jacobsson Lecture given in Washington DC on October 10th 2010
2 Megan Daffern, Songs of the Spirit (SPCK 2017), p. 136
3 John 14.6