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 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.