Locked Down for 38 Years

In the course of the past eleven months, we in the UK have experienced fifteen weeks of lockdown so far, in three different time periods.

It has been tough: on the Church, on mental health, on families and schoolchildren, on single people, and on jobs and finances.

But in a Zoom prayer meeting recently, I was reminded of the story of Marie Durand, whose eighteenth century “lockdown” puts our current struggles into context. It helped bring a sense of perspective to me, at least, and it may help you.

Marie Durand was from a well-known Huguenot (Calvinist) family, at a time in French history when it was illegal to be an evangelical. At the age of fifteen, because of her whole family’s gospel activities, she was imprisoned for her faith in Jesus. She spent the next thirty-eight years in lockdown.

The authorities were particularly cruel. The door of her prison cell was left open. At any time she was free to walk out of prison. All she had to do was renounce her faith. She chose to stay in lockdown.

She was eventually released from prison aged fifty-three, which by eighteenth century standards made her an old woman. When her prison cell was examined, they found scrawled on the stone walls the word ‘Resistez!’ This was her default position during her imprisonment: I will not give in, compromise, or bail out. She was absolute in her commitment to Jesus, however challenging her circumstances. And they really were challenging. On one occasion, rats gnawed part of her foot off.

One of the things that sustained Marie during her imprisonment was a book of Psalms, which Calvinists used as their main tool for worship in this period. If you open her little book to Psalm 42, you can still see the tear stains on its pages. As I meditated on that Psalm a sense of grief at the loss of our corporate worship overwhelmed me:

“My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be:
I walked amongst the crowds of worshippers, leading a great procession to the house of God,
Singing for joy and giving thanks
Amid the sound of a great celebration.”
(Palm 42:4 NLT)

If anyone had told me last March that we would go a whole year without face to face singing and corporate worship, I would have laughed in their face. This has been a profound loss for all of us. But if my grief is palpable, then what must Marie’s have been, as decade after decade of her lockdown continued?

But the Psalm does not end there:
“Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again – my Saviour and my God”
(Psalm 42:11 NLT)

In all that we are living through right now, let’s keep a sense of perspective. And let’s keep our hearts and eyes focused on him.

Andy Johnston