A world beyond our walls

After leaving lockdown, Justine Toh considers our deep - and enduring - yearnings for another world.

A winter in lockdown was a long time to ache for the world beyond the walls.

Exercising outside or receiving a delivery from anyone, anywhere: both became unexpected lifelines after being cooped up for too long. These were small but cheering reminders that even if our worlds had shrunk to our houses and 5k radii, the real world went past even these government-imposed limits.

Joy was still possible in lockdown. But no one would expect to thrive in it.

We’ve left lockdown but – spiritually speaking – do we still live there?

We have our yearnings, sure. Inklings of another realm ambush us: in kinship with others, in the sight of mountains wreathed in clouds, in moments when mercy, unexpectedly, reigns.

But it’s too easy to distract ourselves and keep our attention fixed on this world and no other. In Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment, Benjamin and Jenna Storey describe this existential state as one of “immanent [this worldly] contentment”. Doubtful of a world beyond this one, we confine to this earthly life our hopes of life to the full.

For what it’s worth, the Storeys doubt that immanent contentment truly satisfies. It may be instead the reason for our restlessness.

There are no simple solutions. But the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ represents the ultimate arrival from elsewhere, an announcement of another world breaking into this one. As if God had reached down and lifted the roof off our locked down lives, peered in, and said he knew of a peace that the world cannot give.

If there is a world beyond the walls of our home, then why not a transcendent realm beyond this material world? Our hopes certainly outstrip our limits.