Normal Never Was

I hear a lot of us saying: ‘I’m tired and I want life to get back to normal’.  I get that.  If normal means going to my local coffee shop, being with friends and family, going to school and church, taking a vacation, being employed….then, yes, I want that too.

Yet, I think this difficult time provides and opportunity for us to think about what we want a post-pandemic life to look like.  Do we really want to go back to normal?

What if what was normal wasn’t all that great?

Is it normal that the 30 million Americans who lost their jobs in the past month, many of whom get health care through their employer, no longer have health care? Is it normal that millions more who have health care can’t afford to seek care because their deductibles and copays are too high?

Is it normal that those we call heroes during this pandemic (those who sanitize our hospitals, pick up our trash, stock our shelves, deliver our packages) too often, don’t have paid sick leave?  Or don’t make enough income to survive on one job?

Is it normal that an EMT named Jason in NYC, works 7 days a week, 14 hour shifts and falls in bed at night worried for those he treated that day.  And worries whether he will wake up with the virus, knowing that he doesn’t have health care because it costs too much?

Is it normal that we lack a robust public health care system? Or, that our government rolls back protections for the environment, that we all depend upon for life?

Is that the normal we want to return to?

In the Navajo religion, the purpose of a life well lived is to learn to walk in harmony. To walk in harmony with the Creator, with one’s neighbors, with creation and with oneself.

What can it look like for us, individually and as a society, to walk in harmony?

Sonya Renee Taylor, a poet, author, activist offers these prophetic words:

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return my friends…We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.  One that fits all of humanity and nature.

What do you think? Are you ready to stitch a new garment?

To create a new way of living and being informed by our values.  Built upon the truth that we are mutually dependent.  This pandemic has stripped away the illusion and myth that we are self-made, independent, islands unto oneself.

It’s not true. It never was.

Jesus cut to the chase: ‘Whatever you do (or don’t do) unto the most vulnerable, you do (or don’t do) unto me’ (Matthew 25:40).

Dream with me of a new normal:

Where access to health care is a basic human right.  Where quality affordable health care is accessible to everyone.

Where workers receive a livable wage.  So that a mom or dad doesn’t have to work 2 – 3 jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table.  Who at the end of the day, has enough energy to read to their child at bedtime.

Where clean water and air is considered a sacred trust. Where citizens insist on policies that ensure the health and well being of all.

Where no one is considered illegal or less than. Rather, Imago Dei, created in the Image of God, each person with inherent worth.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not going back to normal.  Normal never was.

Richard Rohr, the Franciscan monk and activist puts it this way:

I wonder what we will be like after this pandemic? But I really don’t want to get back to normal.  I hope that in facing my fear and anger and learning new ways of being in relationship, there will arise within me, a more willing spirit to embrace ‘us’ rather than ‘me’.

What new normal can arise from this moment in history?  What new garment can we stitch together?

Truly, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  The promise of a new normal, rests with us.

May it be so.

COVID-19: A Kairos Moment?

This pandemic has thrown everything into disarray. Some of us are fortunate to be able to shelter in place in a home with room to move.  Others of us live on the streets, or live in crowded apartments where sheltering in place for safety is a fantasy.

Those who work on the front lines: First responders, medical staff, grocery workers, delivery drivers, sanitation workers put themselves at risk from a spirit of service and because economically, there is no other choice.

Others of us are newly unemployed or run a business that may not survive.  Graduating seniors wonder what their future will hold.  We worry over loved ones that we can’t visit.

And so it goes. The list is endless as we worry over our health, economy and future.

What do we make of this time in our lives?

In ancient Greek culture time is defined in two ways.  Chronos refers to the ways in which we are shaped by time.  The word chronological is derived from this word. We have schedules, calendars and to do lists that help us manage our time and provide structure and meaning.

COVID-19 however has disrupted our sense of time.

The ancient Greeks viewed such disruptions through an alternative concept of time: Kairos.  Kairos in contrast to the familiarity of chronos is unpredictable.   Ancient Greek philosophies offered this definition:

Kairos: A passing instant when an opening appears which creates a new opportunity.

This pandemic is a Kairos moment.

In the midst of the disruptions and losses, can this moment offer opportunity? For you? For our society?

In my Christian tradition Kairos is used 86 times.  It refers to an opportune time, a moment, a season, when God enters and acts.  Jesus was referring to a Kairos moment when he said: ‘The Kingdom of God is near’ (Mt 3:2; Lk 17:21). A reference to a time of justice, healing and hope.

What do you need at this moment in your life?  What do we need as a society?

Who are we when health and wealth and status is stripped away?

It has been said:

We remember who we are, as we remember the One and the ones, to whom we belong.

This is true.

Could it be that this Kairos moment is reminding us of what we’ve too often forgotten?  Namely, that we belong to God (who goes by many names) and to one another.

This Kairos moment has made us painfully aware of the injustice in our economic and political system. That those who clean our rest rooms and buildings, who pick up our trash, who staff our nursing homes, serve our meals, who stock our shelves and deliver our packages, are the ones who make our society run. These are the ones who to often don’t make a living wage and can’t afford health care.

Could it be that from this pandemic will come a reallocation of resources built upon a new way of viewing who has worth and value?  Could it be that we have a renewed sense of responsibility to and for one another?

Imagine people having time to spend with family, friends, neighbors. A time when people can make ends meet with one job (not 2 or 3).  A time when everyone has access to quality health care. A time when our environment is not viewed as a commodity but as a gift to steward for a healthy present and future.

If this is to be a Kairos moment, we must seize the opportunity to reflect on what in our heart of hearts, that we know to be true: We belong to God and we belong to one another.

As we claim this truth all things become possible.  All things become new.

May it be so.

 

 

 

COVID-19 and the Thin Place

In Celtic theology there is the concept of a thin place.  The Celts believed that there is a thin place, a permeable membrane that separates the conscious world from that of the Spirit.

They believed (and believe) that there is another source of reality that is distinct from the world of the mind: Plans, projects, pride, worries.  This world of the mind is defined by the Greek word chronos.   Chonos is the root for chronological, defined by that which we are aware of and guided by.

The Celts believed that beyond the life of the mind, beyond chronological time is a separate realm.  It is the world of that great mystery of many names:  Spirit/Sacred/Wisdom/God/Higher Power/Creator /Presence/Source.

This other realm has a different measurement of time, Kairos time.  Kairos transcends calendars and to do lists.  It is a time beyond time which breaks into our carefully constructed lives and reminds us that there is more to life than we can imagine.

The Celts speaks of such places of awareness as thin places. A place of awe, wonder and blessing. Ever been in a thin place?

I’d like to suggest that this bizarre moment of pandemic that we find ourselves in, is just such a moment.  Allow me to explain.

This pandemic has created a moment of profound unsettledness and fear for all of us.  Such a moment (stretching into weeks and months) pulls us out of our structure of ‘normal life’ into an unstructured time.  It is here in the midst of this profound unsettledness that we may become more spiritually open.

What am I talking about?

Let me suggest that many of us have more experience than we may be at first aware.  Here are some examples of thin place moments:

Holding an infant for the first time.

Seeing a rainbow after long wet and grey days.

Standing at the beach during a storm as the waves pound.

Watching a whale off the coast.

Hiking above the clouds.

Sitting on the ground with a 3 year old and seeing the world through their eyes.

Moments before and after surgery.

Falling in love.

Holding the hand of a loved one as they take their last breath.

Such moments are profound.  They pull us up and out of our self.  Time is stopped. Feelings are heightened.  We may experience fear or joy.  Hope or despair.  All with greater intensity.

When was the last time you cried out ‘Wow!’ or, whispered into the silence ‘help me’.

During such moments of awareness, we may experience what I call a ‘felt presence’.  An awareness that there is more going on than meets the eye.  An awareness that can’t be measured or quantified but only felt.

In the work I do, there are times when I’m with a person and their family when they take their final breath or soon there after.  We gather in a circle and offer a prayer.  In such moments, often but not always, we look up and at one another and ask: ‘Did you feel that too?’  A moment of oneness, communion with the one who has died, with those we love and with that Source to whom we all one day will return.

A thin place.

This pandemic has that effect for many of us.  It strips away the illusion that we are in control. Even those who haven’t thought of themselves as spiritual may sense something deeper going on.  An awareness that we need comfort and peace and that maybe, just maybe, it may be found in a place we never imagined before, a thin place.

May peace be yours during this unsettled season.

May it be so.

Good Friday and the Illusion of Control

For Christians like me, Good Friday is often that day in Holy Week to easily move past.  Many of us are more comfortable with the joyous entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, than we are with Good Friday. We’d much prefer moving on to the joy of Easter.

Part of our discomfort is that we simply don’t want to deal with the pain that takes place between these two events.  Who wants to focus on betrayal, arrest, crucifixion and death?

Our society in the USA (at least for white middle class folk like me), is built on the illusion that we are in control.  Captains of our own destiny.  This illusion teaches that power, possessions and accomplishments will make us happy and give our lives meaning. Our economic and to varying degrees, our political system, is built on this narrative of the rugged individualist.  This illusion also permeates and to often warps Christian theology

The pandemic that we are living through, has laid to rest this illusion.  We aren’t in control. We have a profound sense of dislocation. We worry over our health and economic well being of self, family, neighbors, nation and world.

This pandemic has made the Good Friday story relevant and real. We can relate to the despair that the early disciples felt on that Good Friday as they watched Jesus take his final breath.  Many of us have lost family or friends to COVID-19. We too know grief.

The story of the cross is of God entering into the pain and brokenness of the human condition lived out in the life and witness of Jesus.  People who live on the margins know this to be true. (For the Passion story, read Luke 22 -23)

In the 1970’s a group of Catholic bishops in South America, led by Gustavo Guttierez spoke of God’s solidarity with the poor and oppressed.  They chose the phrase ‘Liberation Theology’, to reflect God’s accompaniment with the vulnerable.

Liberation Theology is rooted in a theology of the cross, in particular Jesus being crucified at the hands of the Roman Empire.  This complements Jesus’ other teachings, such as Matthew 25:40:

“Whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers, you do unto me.”

Such words, coupled with Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross, reflects the heart and essence of God.  As Jesus says in John 15:

“No one has greater love than this, than to lay down ones life for ones friends.”

Such teachings and witness have so much to say during this pandemic crisis. We belong to one another and, we belong to God.  It was true at the time of Jesus and it is true now.

Parker Palmer, the Quaker theologian speaks of  a tensions between an ‘economy of scarcity’ as compared to a ‘gospel of abundance’.  During this pandemic we see the economy of scarcity being lived out as affluent nations gobble up ventilators, while poor countries struggle to respond.

For example in Nicaragua I’m on the board for a public health ministry called AMOS: Health and Hope (http://www.amoshealth.org).  It is estimated that there are less than 100 ventilators in a nation of 6 million people.  The AMOS staff are gearing up to be on the frontlines of COVID-19 with few tools to draw upon.

Cross overlooking volcano in Managua

Truly the vulnerable in such nations are living out the pain of the Good Friday story.

Yet, there is another way.  The path of sacrificial love as expressed by Jesus. A way of living and being that teaches that we belong to one another.  That love transcends national boundaries.  That when we see each other as connected, we become responsible to and for one another.  This is what Parker Palmer calls, a Gospel of Abundance.  This radical love is in part, what the cross symbolizes.

That few countries, including my own, will respond in such a way, does not make it any less true.  Or, any less compelling.

Those who live on the margins know the truth found in Good Friday. During this challenging time more of us are discovering this truth too.

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On Staying Emotionally Connected

This pandemic has brought dramatic changes to society.  None more so than social distancing.  Experts tell us that staying at home and keeping apart 6 feet is essential for flattening the curve of the pandemic.  I have no doubt that they are correct.  Like you I’m doing my part.

How then can we stay emotionally connected?  One elderly lady who walks in our neighborhood noticed that people were not only practicing social distancing but also avoiding eye contact, as if fearful of the other.  This lady lives alone and walking is one of the few opportunities she has to connect.

What then can we do?  Here are some suggestions, based on my own  practice or what others have done that inspire me:

  • On your walks, from the proper distance, wave or say hello.
  • Greet your neighbors when you see them outside or text or call to let them know you are thinking of them.
  • Stay connected with friends and family using the many social platforms available (ZOOM, SKYPE, Facetime etc.).  These are uncertain and anxious times and it is a gift to one another to know that we are not in this alone.
  • Use snail mail to send a note of encouragement.  Taking the time to send a card with a personal note is ‘old school’ but carries good emotional weight.  This is important too for those not on social media to let them know they are remembered.
  • Cultivate your spiritual life. Draw from your faith tradition or create rituals that allow you to feel connected to the needs and pain around us.  This is particularly counter cultural.  Our culture has reinforced the illusion that we are in control, captains of our own destiny.  COVID-19 has shown that illusion for what it is.  What is REAL, is this:  We are all fragile and live in a time of great uncertainty that in many ways is outside of our control.  What is real, is our need and moral calling, to take care of one another. That our meaning is found in how we foster community. Community of the heart.
  • Here’s a ritual I find helpful: I carve out 10 – 15 minutes at the beginning of the day to be quiet. (For those with kids at home, find the quiet when you can).  Oftentimes, I’ll scan my local newspaper or news feed to be aware of some of the needs locally and globally.  Then, in my time of silence I sit with my hands in the shape of a bowl.  Slowly I place each of my worries and concerns in that bowl. In doing so I acknowledge the need in my own life and in the world.  Then, I ask God to ‘be with those dealing with a particular situation, to ask God to bless those involved each according to their need’. I often pray for those in the medical field who risk so much for the well being of others.  In doing so two things happen:  I enter into community with others like me who are fragile. And, I enter into communion with that loving Mystery people call God/Spirit/Creator. Afterwards I feel more centered and more emotionally connected.

I want my elderly neighbor and all of us to know, that we aren’t alone.  That we belong to one another.  Perhaps one positive change that will come out of this pandemic is a reminder that we belong to one another and we belong spiritually to the Source of all that is good, lasting and true.

Be well.   Know that I have your back and I trust you have mine.

 

 

 

Faith in a Fearful Time

Our Governor just signed yet another executive order, setting further parameters for what people can and can’t do.  The purpose is to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 which is replicating at a dramatic rate here in Massachusetts and throughout the nation and world.

Only essential services are open such as hospitals, gas stations, grocery stores and liquor stores.  The liquor stores in particular are doing a booming business as people try to cope.

Which of course raises the question, apart from self medicating, how best to manage the stress that we all feel?  Allow me to remind us of an ancient antidote to fear and uncertainty: Faith.

Faith is often taken for granted.  Some see Faith as a crutch, something to lean on, when you can’t make it on your own.  Others may see Faith as wishful thinking, what one cold war leader in the 20th century called ‘the opiate of the masses’.   Some suggest that Faith is a lazy substitute for scientific thought and reason.

Yet, for all these tropes, Faith remains.  Particularly during times of crisis.

Why?

For me, Faith is as real as the air I breathe.  When the illusion of control is taken away (such as now with COVID-19), what remains is Faith.  Friends in the recovery movement know this to be true.  They understand that their sobriety is based on the need for community and reliance on a Higher Power, according to each person’s understanding.

Faith is a choice. A stance.  A way of leaning into the uncertainty and fear of any given moment.  Rather than making one helpless, it empowers us to be engaged, to be involved.  At its best, Faith calls us to work for the common good.

The theologian William Sloan Coffin, put it this way:

I love the recklessness of faith, first you leap and then you grow wings.

Faith reminds us that we journey not alone, but in the company of that which is greater than oneself.  That which is greater, goes by many names: Wisdom/God/Spirit/Creator.

Cultivating Faith is simple and profound. Faith invites us to ‘take a leap’, to open oneself to an eternal  source of wisdom To let go of the illusion that we are in control and rather, that there is presence, a Source that wants us to be well.

To believe this, is of course, a choice.  Yet, if we say ‘yes’, when we open ourselves up, then all things become possible.  Hope and healing become real.  Just ask a friend or family member in recovery, they know this to be true.

This time in life, with COVID-19,  is a time full of uncertainty and questions. Yet, we journey not alone.  We journey in the company of one another and with that eternal Spirit, the source of all that is good lasting and true.

I believe that God knows us by name.  In my Christian tradition, I take to heart the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do unto the most vulnerable among us, you do unto me.” Matthew 25: 31 – 46.

This is where I hang my spiritual hat.  These words give me hope and purpose.

What about you?  What do you believe?  Where do you turn for wisdom?

These are challenging times.  May you find a Faith that sustains you and offers hope.

May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

Having Faith in a COVID-19 World

Each day, seemingly each hour, we receive news of escalating efforts by government leaders, both national and state, to contain and mitigate the effects of the coronavirus crisis. We worry about our health, livelihoods, savings and the well- being of loved ones and our community.

How does faith speak into the context of such a time?  Each of the world religions offer wisdom and sustenance for the challenges of real life, in real time.

Within my Christian tradition, I draw upon these words from John 20:19

On the evening of Easter, when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of being arrested, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!’

Jesus entered into their fear and spoke a word of peace…a word of hope…a word of blessing.   So it is for us today. We too, caught up in our own worry, anxiousness, fear, are invited to open our hearts, minds and imagination to the infinite ways in which faith sustains, even as we seek to offer healing and hope to one another.

‘Peace be with you’.

Here’s few ideas for cultivating a faith life, regardless of which faith tradition you call home:

  • Find a prayer partner. Ask someone you are comfortable with, a person from your faith tradition , to keep you in their prayers. And, offer to do the same for that person. Be specific as to what you’d like them to keep in prayer. Once a week, via email, text or phone, let each other know how you’re doing. Allow your prayer life to evolve and grow.

  • Read a Scripture passage each day. Consider reading a Psalm a day or a chapter or two from the Gospel of Mark, or from a source of wisdom that resonates for you.

  • Lectio Divina (meditating on Scripture),  For Christians I suggest starting with 1 John 4: 7 – 21 (this also works with any sacred text and or, poetry). Once per day, select 3 or so verses. Read the same passage three times, interspersed with 5 minutes of silence. Focus on the gentle rhythm of your breath to help you relax into the silence. With each reading ask one question: 1) What word or phrase intrigues you; 2) what insight/wisdom do you hear; 3) what wisdom will you carry with you?

  • Take a mindful walk (in the woods, garden, neighborhood, beach). Walk in silence. Notice what interests you on your walk, notice what thoughts and feelings come to mind. Don’t judge, simply notice and give all this up to that great Source we call God/Creator/Spirit.

Each of these practices invites us to sense/hear/to drink from a deep reservoir of ancient spiritual wisdom, reminding us that we are not alone…that we are known, remembered, cherished.  A reminder that the uncertainty of any given moment, need not be the final word.

Do you believe this to be true?

“Peace be with you”.

May it be so.