I have more time lately, and reason, to meditate on all the “What If’s” and “Instead Of’s”. Some days, this is instructive and hopeful, such as “What if we realize people in essential services need to be paid more in the future and billionaires need to be paid less?” And some days, this is mind numbingly depressing and futile, such as “What if they win again, and Canada still has closed borders?” Perhaps we all have been made more aware of this frame- work of Possibility Thinking during this “Impossible- to- Imagine- It- Could- Happen-In-Our-Lifetimes” Time. I mean, even dear John Lennon, didn’t “Imagine” this. I truly hope and pray that with all we are all thinking, writing, experiencing, doing, that we, the human race, or at least The Good Guys and Gals, decide to use Possibility Thinking for a better world for all of us. A healthier, saner, safer, kinder, more peaceful, restful, equitable world would be a nice “Instead Of” Outcome.
Though I am rather obsessed lately with the What If’s of the Future, we most often use this rhetorical device for thinking about the Past, and not the Present or Future. It’s human nature, after all to pick over the spoils and pick at the scabs incurred in our Pasts. And of course, it is vitally critical to look at the Past — or should I say, Pasts — plural. We have all gone egregiously and just stupidly wrong in not learning from our individual Pasts, our communal Pasts, and our national, religious, planetary, and world-wide Pasts. It is one of the things that elevates us as humans, this ability to change course, to envision something better, and yet we foolishly continue to so seldom use it. Rather than evolve by learning from past mistakes or last night’s sins, we so often choose to devolve into either helpless or stubborn beast-like creatures, chalking it all up to some other beastie’s problems or some innate inability in ourselves to grow and change. But being a human being was meant to be a glorious thing — a unique thing, a godlike thing. As human beings with souls, we are uniquely placed on this planet to live into the reality of “If-Then’s”. And therefore, when we go wrong, we can live into the miracle of “What If Instead Of this, We do that Instead’s?”. We can choose differently today than we did yesterday. We can regret. We can repent. We can hope. We can imagine. We can change. We can ask, What If we did this Instead Of that?
Now the “What If’s” are closer to home for many of us on a day to day basis now they seem to be more personal and more a very real matter of life and death. We don’t have to imagine quite so hard what it is like to walk in another person’s fragile, vulnerable shoes. We don’t have to try so hard to think what it is like to be afraid of going outside, of being imprisoned, or of not having enough money for the future or even the present day, or what it is like to work among dying patients in a war that makes no sense, or what it might be like to be very ill, afraid of dying and physically impaired in a world meant for only healthy people. Some of us don’t have to rely on memory alone any more or try to imagine what it is like to have pollution- free skies, or birds singing in the morning, or time to just be still and relax and rest. Some of us are finally experiencing a small sense of the prejudice and injustice that people of color have experienced their whole lives. Some of us are mourning over the senselessness and randomness of death.
Some of us are finding out the joys of the “Insteads”. We are finding that it is freeing to make do with less. That love starts at home but you have to be there to be part of it. We are discovering that creating things is vital for every human being and that everyone, no matter how faceless and nameless, matters deeply and intimately to each of us personally. A few of us may be realizing the “Instead-Reality” that we were meant for more — maybe it isn’t completely clear yet, but it is glimmering up ahead as a faint, dream-like Possibility. Most of us hopefully have some clue that instead of getting ahead for just me, myself, and I, Life is more fulfilling, and the Future more plausible, if we realize that we are all in This together.
And so, we may find ourselves asking, “What If we want things to be more like this in the Future?” What if I want to care more about others less fortunate than I, now that I have a better idea of what their lives have always been like? What if I want to help heal the planet from the outrageous things we’ve done to it? What if I want to work less and live more, and try to make sure that everyone has that same opportunity — to stop living for our work and start working so that we all might live — more equitably, more freely, more safely, and more joyfully? What if I want to spend more time in creative pursuits and supporting those who create art — whether it is on a stage, in a gallery, or in a garden? What if I want to spend more time outside in a world made for our enjoyment? What if I want to help protect the things in nature that before I have endangered? What if every day, I want to look at those I love and be more forgiving, more accepting, more understanding, and more selflessly helpful? What if everyone I love becomes Everyone? What if everyone I love includes you? And what if everyone I love includes myself — me?
What if I carry the lessons of the Past into Today to change myself in order to be a part of a better Future for the world? What if I become an “Instead Of”?
At this crossroads time in the history of humans, we are forced perhaps like never before in most of our lifetimes, to look backwards and wonder, “What If”. We ask it of the whole world: “What If they had done this Instead Of that?” We look at our leaders and weigh them in the balance of this equation. But it will never mean a thing if I am not asking the What If’s of myself. If we are at all honest and seek any kind of life of understanding or at least desire something better up ahead, we must look within our own hearts, our own minds, our own individual wills. We must peer with intention into the very essence of what makes us human — we must look within our souls. While we have been picking at the Past scars of What If’s that we can not change: — What if I hadn’t let Grandma go to work that day? What if I hadn’t gone to that birthday party where that woman was coughing all over the buffet table? What if Uncle Pete hadn’t gone to sing in the church choir that Sunday? — We must now let the scars heal over, and begin to seriously look at the “Instead Of’s” from here on out going forward. The What- If’s of our past choices should be given a very short shelf life. They are rather useless “what if’s” unless we can create a Time Machine and go back in Time to change them. (Let me know please, if you do. But I must warn you, I have a rather long list of changes I’d make.)
Some people spend a life-time on “What If’s”. What if I hadn’t married her? What if I had taken that job? What if I had majored in something else in college? What if I hadn’t gotten drunk? What if I had told him how I felt? What If’s can only change the Past-Self if we let it change for the better our Present-Self in order to grow into our best Future Self. We can evolve, we can be born again. That is the glory of our status as sentient, sensible souls. What If’s can pull us under with regret, remorse, anger, sorrow, lack of initiative, brokenness, and a host of other short-term and long-term emotions and ploys for convincing ourselves and others that change is impossible. Emotions without goals for change merely serve to sap our desire for a better life and deplete our energy for action. What If’s are only helpful if one understands that “though I didn’t know it then, I DO know it now”. What If’s are only helpful if you look at the Past and decide that Today, you will choose “Instead Of’s”.
If you grew up “back in the day”, when I did, with any sort of Biblical or Judeo-Christian Worldview, you have grown up to believe that every thing is, in fact, a “life or death” decision. Ideas like, “what does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?”, or “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life”, used to be the bedrock of a belief system that supposedly was based on a Savior who lived and died in such a way that the whole world might be changed for the better. Tragically, this isn’t at all a popular or wide-spread belief among the most vocal of those who claim this particular religion these days, so please don’t be fooled if you look to those who espouse a religion in name only, and not in deeds. Unlike what we hear today, the Judeo-Christian belief system was meant to be pretty much completely a religion of straight-up, unadulterated, no excuses, no holds barred — Love-First actions. I say that with a great amount of regret and repentance before God and other humans, for my own Past, a deepening humility for my Present lack of virtue, selfless love, wisdom and dearth of loving actions, and my plethora of selfish wrong-doings. I say it with a great desire for a Future that is definitely based on a lot of “What If’s”. What If — I can change — be reborn — starting today? What If — God is real? What If — human beings are meant to live most practically and healthfully when we love others as we love ourselves? What If — we were put here to care for a planet? What If — we will only keep our human souls alive if we make sure that the least and most struggling among us is as essential as the highest and most powerful? What If — Jesus was an example of what we all could be — Miraculous?
So Today, I look outside my window, and hear the little grey sparrows and the large black crows, and I say, “What If God’s eyes are on the sparrows and the crows, and what if I can trust that like a Mother Hen, She is watching over me?” What If I truly have nothing to lose by living in love for all others, by doing right and speaking truth, by choosing to do Good, by changing my worldview, my heart, and my actions, and by hoping and praying that the whole world might be “saved”? What If I have everything to lose if Instead Of that, I choose my freedom and rights over other people’s safety and health? What If I choose my will over their lives — “not Thy will but mine be done”? What If I choose my convenience over the planet’s safety and health, if I choose my pleasure over other people’s needs, if I choose to be right rather than righteous? What If I gain the whole enchilada, but piece by piece, day after selfish day, lose my soul?
Ah, hurrah, hurray, it’s another grand day! To be alive! To be alive to choice and change and chance! To be alive to the idea of being a better human being today than I was yesterday. What If — ah Glorious, Glory-ing thought! What If by believing whole heartedly in the lessons of the Past, by studying them deeply and with humility, I can change. What If by making less of me and more of others Today, there will be something of me Tomorrow? What If by loving others with heart and mind and will in the Present, I can save the very essence of who I was created to be, I can save my soul, and have more than a temporal happiness, have Instead, an eternal life of love, and light, and joy?
What If today instead of Death, I choose Resurrection?
What If my Future, and the Future of the Earth and the Human Beings that inhabit it could, Instead of This be……………? Imagine……
It is time for each of us to plan for the “new normal” of our First Post Corona Virus Pandemic Lives. I say, “First”, because there will be more, not maybe, but definitely, if not Pandemics, then other world-wide paradigm-shifting events. My advice – Get Your Inner Kid Back On.
If we all begin to think and act like children again, I think we might have a better chance of not only survival but more enjoyment of life. If we hark back to attitudes, behaviors, warnings, and beliefs from when we were kids, we might deconstruct and then reconstruct where we have gone wrong as adults. Time to get our inner-kid and outer-child in gear, ramped up, and ready to roll.
I have included a minimum by the way of explanation or example in my list below of Lessons from Childhood. I figure every reader will have their own of both. If you have forgotten what your parents tried to teach you when you were a kid, ask them; they will not only remember but probably still have your score sheets for how well you did.
A lot of what we learned as children wasn’t learned from our parents, but from our time spent with our friends, and it has been interesting during this Pandemic Sheltering-in Time, to find out who our real friends are, and what we can learn from each other. Popularity doesn’t matter so much right now and neither does being the teacher’s pet. So, we are all reassessing, maybe a bit. What cliques do we want to belong to when we get out of this “thing”? And what purpose do we want to find in life beyond “grades” and “praise”?
During this world-wide sheltering-in, we haven’t gotten as much play time with our friends and family, but we have learned a lot and found creative ways to stay connected. We’ve actually had to be a lot more like kids again. We’ve managed to get to bed on time, and make our own lunches. We’ve had to find something to do if we get bored. I think a lot of us have remembered how fun doing simple things can be, and how much we love the people we live with.
There are many lessons that we can learn if we remember the lessons from our childhoods. They will be very helpful – critical even – for our life in “the new normal”. Here are some I think we should start with.
Important Life Lessons Learned from Childhood
Treat everyone close to you as if they might have cooties. They might.
Don’t let the people close to you breathe your air. It’s yours and your little sister can’t have it.
You can talk to strangers but don’t get close enough to them that they might grab you. Or give you cooties.
Smile with your whole face.
Enjoy every time you get to wear a mask by imagining every day is Halloween. Go up to people and say: “Trick or Treat” and see how much candy you can come home with.
Treat your money like a stingy allowance your parents give you. Remind yourself that your parents only give you an allowance so you can “learn how to take care of your money”. Remember, you won’t get any more until next week, so save it up for something you really, really, really want.
Save whatever you don’t spend of your allowance, along with any loose change you find on the sidewalk or in the couch where your dad usually sits. Keep it at home in a jar on your dresser. It will earn at least as much there as it is earning right now invested in the stock market.
Make good choices. You almost always have a choice. Some are good, some are better, and some are best. Take time to make the best ones.
It is better to be safe than sorry.
Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
Spend every free moment playing.
Get your work done fast, so you have more play time.
Go outside and play.
You have to include everyone and let everyone play, even if you don’t like them.
Everyone gets to be on a team.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you’ve played the game.
Clean your plate. There’s going to be a lot more starving children “over there”. Think of them and finish everything on your plate. Which will remind you to not let your eyes be hungrier than your stomach. Take only what you can (should) eat.
Eat your vegetables.
Don’t chew with your mouth open. It’s disgusting (and spreads viruses).
Clean your hands. You actually DO know now where they’ve been. Wash them. A lot.
Stop picking your nose. In fact, stop touching your face.
Practice makes, if not exactly perfect, at least makes you good enough to stay in the game. Keep practicing and you’ll get there.
You have to share. Period.
I call shotgun! (That has nothing to do with good lessons from childhood, I just wanted to call it first before we’re allowed to travel again.)
Turn the lights out when you leave the room, do you think I’m made of money?!
God helps the one who helps himself (and who helps others).
Honor your mother and father so you can live long on the earth.
Parents, as long as they live, will never stop being totally irritating for trying to tell their children how to live. We owe it to our parents to irritate them right back so that they know how to live.
Remember, our parents brought us into this world, and they can take us back out. Of course, now we know that we can take them out too, if we aren’t careful.
Do as I say, not as I do.
It is time for us, the “children” of the world to appreciate the lessons of the parents, and to do the right things they have tried to teach us to do (whether they actually did them themselves or not). We should all be grateful for what we learned as children and appreciate the life-lessons of our elders. We should grieve for all the people who didn’t have parents, or at least, have good parents, but all that means is that those of us who did have good parents, need to do the heavy lifting and the hard work. As the good parents told us, “we should know better”.
No matter who our parents were or are, we can try to believe that they tried to do their best with their children, and now we need to try to do our best for the future of our children, and our children’s children. It is a critical time for us to do much, much better. Better than our parents, but also better than we were all doing before this whole thing happened.
Whatever the unsettling, even catastrophic “thing” is that happens in our lives, our families, or our world, we need to remember and re- believe that human beings, like children, have an infinite capacity for creative do-overs.
Let’s call “do-overs”, okay, Kids?
Adult Friends of Mine Playing – 2016
We are a world-family, and if we didn’t know it before, we should recognize it now. We can do great things, if we all work together like a happy, hopeful band of children. Let’s begin to look at the world with the same eyes and hearts that children do when they are rebuilding a fort, singing rounds in the back of the car, going on a team scavenger hunt, making breakfast to surprise mom, working in the garage with dad, making mud pies in the yard, selling at a lemonade stand, playing hide and seek, or jump rope or hop-scotch, or doing any of those things we used to think were fun and important because we were doing them with people who were our friends and our family.
If we get our “inner-child” back on, we might find that the greatest games in this Game of Life, are played best, when we play nicely with others.
Let’s love each other as if every older person were our very own beloved parent and let’s love every younger person as if they were our very own beloved child.
Let’s act like children again in all the right ways.
And finally, the most important lesson of all that we can take away from this time, and that we need to believe as sincerely and as deeply as children do is:
You are the very, very, very best gift in the world. You are loved to infinity and beyond.
My son, Gordon and I playing, wearing noses he made for us
I am posting this every where I can think of in the hope that a lot of people will find energy to keep fighting other “bad things” in the world, even in this strange time of Corona Virus. I hope people of conscience will continue to be outraged about the racism and injustice that continue to spread like a deadly virus throughout America. I hope people will read much and do much. I hope when you read this, you will like I, try to find ways to stand up and stand with.
This is from my friend, Tamara Horton, about her thoughts today on being black in America:
“I am silent because I am always silenced by the violence that continues. The louder I get the more fear of violences creeps in. My fear for myself and my family is real. Everyday that my husband walks through the door unharmed is a blessing for real. Some in America do not walk around with this fear but I carry this burden it seems everywhere. Some want to argue this fear that I feel isn’t real. If they just took a moment to acknowledge the real, They too would tremble with fear. What’s interesting is they tell me it is me that they fear. I wonder why? A long time ago they made it clear that life, liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness was never for me for real (not here anyway). I pray that this fear would be shared for real. This burden is heavy and I can’t carry it myself on the real. Please stand with me and stand for me because I can’t stand the waves alone on the real.”
My friend, Tamara
I wrote the following in my own pathetic attempt to try to stand with and for Tamara and others who once again are carrying a burden they should not have to bear.
Dear Tamara, This is so tragically and beautifully said. I thank you for your willingness to open up your heart on this on a social platform. The fact that our country’s deeply embedded racism and treatment of people of color in this country as if they were still slaves, (or “illegal”) — still lesser because of their skin color is not just an historical shame as some would like to make it, but a current outrage and an eternal shame in the eyes of God.
I apologize for my own ignorant acceptance of my white privilege throughout my life. I can not imagine what it is like to see day after horribly unbelievable day, a person who is killed by a white man or a white policewoman or a gang of white thugs — killed just because of my skin color. I weep to think of you waiting at your home to see whether or not your husband will return home safely.
To see our prisons filled with people of color, while white privileged crooks go free at alarming rates; to see our country slide into an immoral pit where it is okay for white armed terrorists to protest the government’s desire to save their lives, while a black man who peacefully takes a knee in protest of the continued treatment of human beings is mocked and scorned; to deny black citizens the right to vote as if they were still slaves; and to think that we allow the institutionalized injustice against people of color to continue to effect the most basic rights of all human beings — no let’s say it — our immoral treatment and sanctioned racism — especially of black people — no let’s say it — especially of black men — this is our shame and if ever there were a reason for judgement against us, this is it.
I know, I know — I confess this is easy for me to say, which is why I say, thank you, Tamara Horton. Thank you to all those who are living with dignity and purpose, even while fearful of the cost of being black in America today. Thank you to all those who continue to speak out, even in discouragement, even in fear, for saying what costs you more every day than I will ever know. Please –Forgive me and continue to believe that you can help me do better.
The abrupt crash between idealists and opportunists, that has occurred at the intersection of the Corona Virus Pandemic meeting the onrushing onslaught of our climate and planet abuse should wake us all up. It’s rather a shock to me, who grew up in a very different kind of American Christianity, that so many who still claim that faith, are like lazy servants, putting their heads under the covers, and pointing their crooked fingers at PNLU (People NOT Like Us). Like bridesmaids in Jesus’ story who don’t think they have enough oil in their lamps to spread light, or the complacent servant who has told himself convenient falsehoods for so long about his Master that he no longer knows what his real job is, or what The Master is like, we who would claim to have the corner on Religious Truth have gotten used to sleeping-in or taking a break from our labors, hoarding our resources, and shirking our duty. For more on what our “duty” is, one could start by meditating on Christ’s summation of the commandments of Moses’ YHWH, or conversely, taking to heart the prophets of old who foretold what a real Savior of the whole world would be like.
It is difficult for some of us to do anything more than choose to survive another day, especially for those throughout the world who are suffering in unparalleled ways during this 2020 Plague, with the sure knowledge that more suffering lies ahead. I have been quite ill, probably with the Virus, and because so far, I have survived, I have been granted another chance to stare at my imminent death (everyone’s death, actually, is imminent from birth, if you think of the length of your own life in terms of the life of the world and the planet). I know I am not alone, in considering this current World-Event, to be much like other catastrophic and reality-bending historical occurrences. And these types of events are for many tragic and sobering, and strangely, for some with “eyes to see and ears to hear”, fortuitously salvific, reviving, and energizing. Or they can be, if we let the tragedies, uncertainties, and fearfulness at this crossroads we all have arrived at, to become each individual’s and our communal renewed determination to make new and better paths forward to a new way of living into our new lives. This can all seem like a revelatory nightmare if we awake to much healthier and Goodness-oriented physical, relational, planetary, and spiritual realities. We have to stop hoping and dreaming for a better world, we have to make and create a better world.
Like lying half asleep, and hearing outside the safety of my own home, an horrific accident, a loud and near car crash, with grinding brakes, blown-out tires, engines exploding, glass and metal smashing into cacophonous, roaring explosion, I have been startled into wakefulness. I have been forced to be more aware of what is “going on out there”, outside of my small reality, the very real clashes and collisions of values, morals, and needs of our human species. And like many other wee warriors in the daily battle to make sense of the world, I have struggled to interpret what is really happening out there. Although the destructive forces of human beings wrecking their very own living space, the Earth, has been a more quiet, less recognized, but more insidious catastrophe; compared to the dropped atom bomb of the Corona Virus, the destruction and dismantling of our planet for personal gain, like an advancing army of drones who wreak havoc across the world, seemingly with a will and mind of their own dronish-selves, has caused throughout the world, a mindless vacuum of virtue, and a soulless species of what might have once been human beings. But now that people have relegated our culpability to others, and our own responsibility, in the Earth’s destruction to people we can label, “them”; some of us suddenly wake-up in time to understand that “them” is really, in the end “us”. If this Corona Virus lockdown has revealed anything, it has revealed the truth that “we have finally met the enemy, and the enemy is Us”. This quote originally about the War of 1812 was rewritten by the cartoonist, Walt Kelly, and used on the very first Earth Day in 1970 to with tragic irony, describe what humanity had become to itself in terms of how we were treating the Earth. We had become our own worst enemy. Fifty years later, and most of us have not only not learned anything about our own destructive enmity towards the Earth and our species, we have stopped caring.
One of the things, I have had time to think about during this strange season, is what in the world Jesus meant, when he said a bunch of stuff about God and the Earth, and about human beings and about death and about the future of the world and about His different sort of “Kingdom”. I call that only “One-thing” to think about, because everything, in the end, is part of a Whole, or, it isn’t. We have found during this Corona Virus and the crazy abilities of small cells to defeat our greatest minds, and we have found during the economic depressions and repressions looming once more and throwing off balance some systems that we thought could survive it alone, and we have seen during this time of enforced sheltering in, how the world’s interplanetary eco-systems, and everything including dependent human beings, are connected. None of us can go it alone, and all of us will eventually meet the same fate, and all of us need each other to make things right again, and everyone is connected to everything, and nothing will stand alone for long, and what will be left standing in the end, is up to all of us.
With more than enough time to be restful and perhaps paradoxically, during this period which has turned into a very tiring, and somewhat sleepy time, in some profound ways, my “eyes” have been jerked open, and my eyelids which often function as blinders, have been propped wide with the pain of having to look at Really, Real Reality. My vision has been cleared, with the pandemic functioning on one side, as a sharp toothpick propping open one eye, and the planet’s dire condition as a log propping open the other eyelid. In this way, one thing that the wise Teacher said that has taken on new meaning for me is, “why do you try to remove the toothpick in your neighbor’s eye, when you have that giant sequoia tree propping up your own eye, dearie?” The Visine of platitudes won’t get the red out of eyes opened by a frightening pandemic. Vaccines against our willful blindness won’t save us from eye-popping Truth.
This morning I began my day much as usual. First, I pray my “praising psalms”, which are often third-rate words of praise sent out blithely to Someone Out There, thanking Him for all my “stuff” and achievements, otherwise known to some people as “blessings”. These days, after Someone Out There has wacked me upside the head with thoughts about what’s really going- down in the World, and I have noted another day with an increased heartrate thinking about what happens after the day that I die; my praising prayer is set to the tune of “Being Alive” from the Steven Sondheim prayer book in his musical, “Company”. I am truly finally, just so peachy keen happy to be breathing and aware, that I have to believe there is Someone Out There I should thank for that.
Then while waiting for the coffee to brew, this morning as I have had more time to do, now that I’m not rushing off somewhere every morning, I looked outside my back door, while the dog, Daisy, did her nose-led tour of the yard, and I prayed my “help my family and me” prayers. These prayers are tuneless mewls, and at 5:00 AM are silent for the neighbors’ benefit, done with the sound turned off everywhere but in my own head. Because in fact, the Help Me Prayers, that I pray to God, sound like two feral cats in heat – all screeching desire and mindless animal-need. “Gimmeeee, gimmmeeee, gimmmeeee, helphelphelp!” Finally, as Daisy saunters in, never having had anywhere to rush off to in the first place, and I give her a treat for not needing toilet paper to do her business. I have that delicious, first sip of the elixir of the gods, laced amply with milk and honey (as all Promised Land drinks should be) and I move on in my habits of seeking spiritual connection or at least a kind of solace. Now, as I think about what is going on in the world outside my kitchen, I begin the final round of my life-long attempt at “thoughts and prayers” to a God Who Hears. I begin the Cursing Psalms.
I confess, I have had many days of speaking cursing psalms to God about people I actually know. Don’t deny it, I may have done it – but you thought it. These days my Cursing Psalms are almost exclusively reserved for the World’s titans of industry and kings of nations – in other words, the Pharaohs, Herods and Pilates of our Times. I am not often as extremely violent as the Hebrew Cursing Psalmists were, being weak of stomach and low on horror fiction images. I have a hard time praying, as the ancient Jew did in Psalm 137, that the current political Darth Vaders and religious Sarumans will have their “children’s heads dashed on rocks”. However, I have found a deeply felt connection with the revenge motif in Psalm 109:8 “may his days be few; may another seize his position”. I mean, c’mon, the cursing prayers in The Bible far outweigh one misinterpreted line by a biblical Paul-wannabe who wants us to “obey un-named authorities” because then we won’t “get in trouble” and we can keep tithing and being taxed.
Like the Psalmist, the prophets, like Jeremiah and Nehemiah, also have quite a lot to say about what they would like Providence to do to the wicked, or to those people who, even if they aren’t downright evil world-players, that God would do to anyone, even the little no-named soldiers and spouses, who are connected in wrong-doings (or by their silence?) to the “powers of this world”. Cursing prayers were prayed often by saints who saw the harm done by those who instigate or just allow “bad things to happen to good people”, and by those who deny direct involvement but are implicit by their profiteering silence.
For any one who is apt to think of this idea as too Old Testament, too “old style God”, best to read the curses of that currently trendy commentator, St. Paul himself, who says of his fellow “Christians” who are foisting their legalism and religious false interpretations on others, “I just wish that those troublemakers, who want to mutilate you by circumcision would emasculate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). Yowza! Something for those who want to rush their paying audiences back into death-trap churches and temples and mosques to think about. Or for the Biblically so inclined, read John in Revelations 6:10 or Peter in Acts 8:20. Of course, people today who want to claim some kind of belief in what is called Holy Scripture, or Torah, or the Bible, people who want to claim a kind of belief especially in that human/god we call The Son of God, Jesus, The Christ, have only to look at the words of Christ himself in Matthew 23 about the greedy and proud religious and political leaders of His time, and prophetically of ours. And of all time. To put Jesus’ words into a handy Spark-notes version, Jesus asks for and foretells “Woe”; which means Jesus requests and foretells a litany of bad consequences, for these people who were leaders and authorities in Jesus’ religion and of both of his countries. Jesus prays they will actually incur and experience a judgement and real future of “great sorrow and distress”. Woe to those humans among us who are enemies to Truth and Love. As I think about these things, I feel a personal type of uncleanness that far surpasses the way I feel having not taken a shower for the past few quarantined days. I still feel a righteous anger looking at the people I want to curse, but I also feel like a leprous dark cloud of disease, in the presence of a Holy God and a Perfect Savior. And all I want to do, is pretend I don’t know what any of it means, and that I can’t be responsible for the whole world, let alone, somehow judged for my own insignificant actions, and I just want to go back to watching a comedy on Netflix or eating my way through what remains in my freezer.
This morning, as I was winding up (or was it winding down?) my daily devotions of reading The Guardian, The Washington Post, the Bible, and some readings in mildly radical social, theological, prophetic works on spiritual realities, in other words things written by those who have explored Meaning throughout our human history, and people wiser than I who discuss “what in the name of earth and heaven does everything mean? And what is the answer to Why?”; I was once more beginning my rounds of prayers.
Let’s try again, I told myself. Okay. First — Praises for a growing understanding of God’s presence in the Universe. Praises for new insights into what it means to follow The Way. Next– some more conscience-stricken, gentle, humbled “help me” prayers. Prayer asking for the grace and health for me and mine, inside and out, to live through just this one more granted day. Prayers of asking for help that admit that though I do not know what is best for those I love, I will pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and change them in the ways they need to be guided and changed. The Serenity Prayer fits nicely here, the one that Reinhold Niebuhr so beautifully wrote and as it always does, today it moved something in me, when I recited the whole thing, including the hard parts, like the line “taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would wish it to be”. And because I meant it, it changed something incrementally important in my own heart and soul.
Finally, I was ready to move on in my prayers to the Cursing Psalms, with the intent of simply asking that those people out there who thought they were too important to wear masks around sick people or too rich to wait in line or too smart to listen to people much smarter than they, or too free to be servants of Christ—that they would all just get the real-life consequences for their choices. I was just going to pray as the Psalmists and Prophets did, “please just let what they allow to happen which can kill others, what they do without caring who suffers because of it, what they take when they don’t need more instead of giving to those who have so little – please just be fair, God and let those things kill them instead of others; and please, God, harm their lives instead of the lives of the least of us, and just let their hoarded storehouses be taken away from them and distributed to a world in need; and while You are at, get rid of all the nuclear stuff and end the wars and if possible, stop the nasty viruses. Please God, just give enemies what they have worked so hard to deserve.” Woe, woe, woe. And then of course, that “Good Friend Jesus” of mine had to remind me, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God sent His only son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to die and live again, so we can all be cleansed from unrighteousness, and that what I think in my own heart, is what I really am, whether I act on it or not and that I am to go into every little corner of my own world and speak Good News of light, and hope, and love, and forgiveness, and faith — and once, more it all became One Thing, all the dots connected to the whole, and the whole thing of both evil and good, sin and righteousness, hate and love, cursing and praise – the whole thing led inexorably, unmovably, unignorably back to Me – the only “dot” that matters, the elephant in the room, the stone around my own neck dragging me down, the one “enemy” that has to lay down her weapons, and give in to The Unsearchable Goodness of A Good, Good God.
Over the years, I have perfected the ability to pray to myself and call it praying to a God. I have honed a sort of sing-song prayer life which is mostly like one person trying to sing a musical-round by oneself. Sometimes, though from the back seat of the Life-Car I am driving, I hear the Holy Spirit pipe-up. So, now and then, when I am praying at God or whining at the world in the Name of God, I let God or Jesus get a line or two in. It can be quite unnerving to suddenly realize that I am finally having an actual dialogue with Otherness. It is quite different than having a monologue with the various personalities that inhabit my mind from day to day. Back to this morning. Once I recognized my own need for forgiveness and change, I was able to listen to something outside of myself. And this morning was one of those times that prayer suddenly became conversation and not soliloquy.
Like a whisper across an ocean, like a butterfly appearing out of a tempestuous tornado, came the words of Jesus: “love your enemies”, and then the footnote –”because they do not live in reality”. In this barely discernable moment, shot like an arrow through the permeable membrane of my brain/heart, The Real World, of life, of myself, of other people, of the planet, and of God, was for a brief, but very sense-able moment, completely seen by something inside me that I can only call “soul-vision”.
That moment when The Presence was real, was like looking at one of those ambiguous images that at first look like a vase and then, when you squinch your eyes a certain way, is suddenly revealed to be a woman’s silhouette. The dire forecast of what I knew would be the consequences of humanity’s actions and inactions was completely turned inside out. Like the Upside Down Kingdom of Christ always does, suddenly the pandemic and all cancers and diseases, and the abusive, greedy, corrosive powers throughout history and currently running the world; and the rot of religious hypocrisies used for personal gain; and the communal ignorant destruction of our planetary home; and all the sins great and small, done and left undone; all of these were for just for an instant revealed as one big smoke-screen, one giant chimera of lies about what was and is and will be in The Kingdom of Meant to Be. My point of view – and it was just a tiny point on a long, long line of crooked and miscalculated points in my own life and worldview—that tiny momentary point was Trued, was like a little creaky craft sailing due North, was the small speck in a traced circle of new life. That moment became, not the end of the line but a chance at beginning all over again.
What I connected that little point to, was the small dot in a swirling mass of human life-thought-dots of what Jesus Christ meant when he said, “My Kingdom is not of this World.” And what true followers of Christ mean when we pray to God the Father, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. On earth. This earth. The one we have almost – but not quite– destroyed. With these people. The godlike imago Dei in humanity, that we have almost – but not quite – destroyed. His Will be done, not theirs, not ours, not mine. There is a spark of that reality still ember-ing throughout the world. We just need to stoke it back to life.
We are meant to recognize beyond the pollution and rape of our resources, beyond the racism and violence, beyond the greed and pride, beyond the carelessness and uncaring, that we live in a place like we imagine a heavenly one to be — not somewhere else, but here, available if re-created, restored with the help of other human beings – not some other kind of species, just human ones like us. We are meant to look around and get to work making a reality of our longings for a good, heaven-like place here, now, with normal people, who if we look close enough, reveal themselves as angels, who have abilities for goodness and recreation and healing, miraculous works beyond our wildest dreams. We don’t need “them” to change, we need “Us” to change, and when we all work together for a truthfully Good life, “they” won’t have any choice but to join us. When in this moment, we choose God’s Kingdom on earth as His Reality is Everywhere Else, we will live as we were meant to live eternally. Because that is what Jesus Christ did. That is what Jesus Christ does. That is what Jesus Christ will do.
Because, thankfully, other human beings throughout history, have been much more attuned to moments like that butterfly moment of mine this morning, we have the examples of certain people throughout the world’s history who have been able to live lives connecting the dots of a different sort of Kingdom, a different sort of reborn life, a different reality in a world of justice, peace, sharing, health, miracles, love, and care for something bigger and more lasting than temporal and fleeting treasures. It is to my shame, that I so easily focus on those sad, mistaken, misguided ones whose lives are lived in the false doctrines of humanistic, individualistic self-centered Team-Me-ness. Because of some small communities throughout history, and some very special women and men, there have been bold, brave, fantastical, “Heavenly” forays into the enemy camp of the illusory world of false treasures, and there have been brash takeovers of the predatory, prejudiced profiteering of the temporal wannabes, and the building blocks have been laid in the construction of that which is worthwhile because it is eternal. Some of these heroes of the world, and communities of faithfulness to The Way, are in fact, people who have given Jesus Christ the credit for their world-changing vision and actions, and others weren’t and don’t. That, though, in the end, won’t matter one bit, because what any of us really believe, will be revealed when our hearts are laid open to God.
This time of a world laid open, like a patient on an operating table whose chest is opened up for the Doctor’s exploratory, surgical intervention, will allow us to open our eyes and minds and hearts to the reality of our actions and the consequences of our choices. It is painful and scary; it is also, the way forward, if we keep our eyes focused on the flickering of a hopeful light at the end of another dark tunnel in our history.
We can choose to focus on the crashes and cacophony outside, or we can tune our ears to the calm assurance that is found in the quiet, still voice of The God of Second Chances-Jehovah, and The Creator Who Loves Her Created World – Our Parent, and the Son Who Lived and Died as One With Us- Emmanuel. That God will not leave us alone. But of course, if we keep insisting to have it our way, He will get out of our way. And despite our Enemy’s best tries, there is A Way, there is The Way, there is only One Way for us to survive, to live, to prevent the death of our planet, and if not our physical, at least prevent our spiritual death. There is One Reality.
This morning, I realized for a small moment, that I should feel sorry for people who live a fiction, a false life, a continual version of themselves as the protagonist of a show that they think of as Real, in the same way they think that what they see on Reality TV is real. I should feel pity for those who do not live the right kind of life, as I have so often not lived the right kind of life myself. I understood that I am asked to forgive what seems unforgivable, because that is how I am forgiven. This is the miracle of repentance and restoration of my own soul, that by praying for the souls of others, I am healed.
I realized that the “biggies” and the movers and shakers of the world are never going to be convinced to give up their “stuff” so that the planet will survive. But I can. I realized some people will never understand how demeaning it is to the very basis of what being human is all about when they care only about themselves. But I can. I realized that the only reason to vent cursing prayers to God, is to cleanse myself from all unrighteousness, so I can finally be still and peaceful and centered enough to hear what God has to say to me.
And someday, when the Real Kingdom comes for good, we who have tried to be like Christ, Will Be. When only the little Davids are left, and not the Goliaths; and when only those who care for Creation as their Creator does are left, and when only those who have loved others as Jesus did are left, then they will inherit the New Earth. When we love our neighbor as ourselves and love God with every morsel of our being, every moment of our day, every dot on our life-line, then there will be no more pandemics, no more war, no more sorrow, no more suffering – no more death. When the world is made right as God intended it to be, then even death will have been conquered.
So, rather than praying for an end to the lives of the bad people and an end to all the bad stuff destroying us, I had best get started on being alive. I had best spend however many moments I have left, becoming one of the Whole, part of the community of good people, and taking care of whatever I have of the stuff that will last.
I should pray for the enemies of my own silly self, and those enemies of the world, not because I think they will change, but because by praying for them, I will change. I should love the enemies of God who take His name in vain, and whose pride has led them into a raging current of hypocrisy, because I am also, hypocritical and abusive of God’s intended purposes for this world. Loving doesn’t mean being silent in the face of lies. Loving doesn’t mean not speaking the Truth boldly, even angrily, when we must. Loving does not mean I think there is no such thing as bad people or sin or sinfulness. Loving means I recognize daily that I am part of both the problem and the solution. By loving even those whom I can see for what they sadly actually are, I can see my own egregious sins more frankly. I can repent and change who I am and pray for grace for those people who are yet unchanged, and ask for a bit of God’s grace for me as well. I can focus on the “YET” not the “never”. I can live as a truly grateful servant of Christ, and as a humble, dependent child of God.
In my dialogue of prayer this morning, this is an interpretation of some of what I understood God to be saying. I let God get in a few words edgewise in my thoughts and prayers this morning, and My Parent-God said something like this:
Child, feel pity for those people who are intent on destroying the Earth– they will not inherit it. Remember that only the meek will live to see a restored creation, so be meek and learn with those who are learning how to care for the planet I entrusted your species with. Child, you must try to learn more about caring for your planet, and love those who are too foolish to know that when they die, they will receive only what they have planted- dust.
Child, feel sorrow for those who claim they know my Son, Jesus who stretched out his arms on a cross for the whole world. Feel sorrow for them, for they do not see Him in the outstretched hands of the needy, as Christ commanded them to do. But you, my child, have another day to seek My Kingdom. Remember that only if you begin to love others as you have long loved yourself, will you enter into My Kingdom. Know that only if men and women are poor in spirit, will they have the Kingdom of Heaven forever.
Child, you see the Truth when you understand that the world is full of soul-less ones, of zombies, who think they are alive when they are really dead or dying inside. You too, have spent far too many days, trying to gain the world, and losing your soul. Be humbled, and be on guard, against the Devil and his hungry wolves who prowl the earth looking for easy prey. Do not let your heart be hardened against those other people, but love them, not for their sake, but for the sake of the New Earth, and the New Heaven, that I have in store for all those who follow The Way of The Light. To be persecuted for seeking righteousness, is the Way of my Son, and if you die to yourself, my child, you will be resurrected, now, and in the future, to a glorious Reality.
Child, you must not despair, but also, you must not hate. Despair and hatred are mere illusions of something, and are in fact, only the absence of something. This reality that is full of fear and suffering, wrongs done and left undone, of anger and violence and disease and, yes even death, are no more real to God, than any evil ever could be. These things, created by us, and not God, have been passing away from God’s Created Universes, since Adam’s Fall. They will pass away from the earth, as blades of grass blown by A Sovereign Wind. All that will remain for those who will inherit a restored and healthy world, in a reborn humanity, and in the Kingdom of Christ, God’s Son, will be all that has ever been truly real. All that will remain will be “faith, hope, and love.”
And, My Child, the most powerful, lasting, eternal, overcoming, over-whelming, greatest thing that will remain – is Love. So, my Child, focus your life on Flourishing in The Way, just as Christ lived out The Way for you. Seek to Love as We Love you. My foolish Child, so full of self-righteousness and desire — Today, love Me like a small child loves her Mommy. And work harder at loving others, even when they are destructive and evil, because that kind of Love will someday destroy all the evil in the world, even that which is in yourself. Forgive people who are naughty, in the same way you want to be forgiven. And always Remember– Love Will Win. So, Love other humans, especially the ones that no one else seems to care about, in the same way you love your own children.
And then, dear Little One, Leave the rest to Me. I’ve got this. I’ve got you. In fact, I’ve got the whole world in My Hands.
And so, my morning has ended with a pause in my cursing of my enemies. And as I try to figure out what loving enemies has to do with the rebirth of our world and the future of our souls, I end my prayers and start my day, by admitting, I have no idea what it all means, but I can trust that there is a God Who does. And as the Psalmist in Psalm 139 did after he cursed the bad guys, I can pray for God’s help to be one of the good guys:
A friend of mine wrote today about crying, laughing, eating and drinking, and then crying and laughing some more, and feeling alone, and feeling overwhelmed by the few family members she was stuck with at home for the past forty days. She wrote about how “40” is a symbol in numerology and is the number of “completion” in Hebrew mythology, and how she woke up distressed that this whole sheltering in, pandemic, quarantine, is not by a long stretch “completed” after forty days (or more depending on where you live).
This friend of mine is one of the truly great “livers”, in my opinion. Just to give you an idea — She and her husband plant a thriving garden of veggies and flowers that they enjoy all year long and share generously with others, they raise bees and sell honey, and make products from the honey and other natural sources grown in their yard, all while running two thriving small businesses in the Middle of American, and while caring with honesty, panache and deep love for an adult child with special needs who will always need their care. I wish I were half as amazing as the woman my friend is. And to top it off, what she writes and journals and then shares, especially during this time of Corona Virus, is so much all around just better than what I have ever written. So, when she wrote this one thing today, in the middle of another delightful, meaningful, moving post, I was rather stunned by it. What she wrote was:
“Maybe I have been looking at it all wrong. I have been looking at the outcome, and not the journey”.
And I was stunned, because if this A+ friend has been “looking at it all wrong”, then I must have been getting worse grades in living than the C + I was grading myself!
What I realized when I read her words, is that this should not be some new idea to me, but it always seems to blindside me, just like this viral pandemic seems to have blindsided the world. I keep thinking, I have taken pretty good care of my spiritual health, in the same way I keep thinking I have taken good care of my physical health, and then something happens like my amazing friend saying this about herself, or I start suffering extreme physical pain, (or a worldwide quarantine could do it), and I realize – “Well, drat! I really wasn’t doing such a great job at either the spiritual or the physical. Darn it!”
And the thing is, you can’t go back and change any of it. As much as I wish I could, I don’t get do-overs. But my fear is that, I won’t take the past seriously enough, to change the present. Because the Present, at least to a large extent, is the only thing that we ever truly can change. If we can’t change the circumstances of the Past or Present, we can certainly change our attitude towards them and our decisions that we can make in the Now in order to have a better Future. My fear for our world is that we will try to change things only in order to protect the Future to remain the same as the Past. And surely we will realize after this, that the Past is unsustainable as it was, both spiritually and physically, individually and world-wide. I fear that we will keep trying to move too quickly forward, forgetting what we have learned when this is the Past, and that we won’t make different decisions that can profoundly change things because we will rush willfully and blindly toward an un-different, indifferent Tomorrow. My fear is that we will try to keep looking for the same outcomes, and we will not have learned that we must look at the journey instead.
And so, the fear is that because we can’t seem to recognize the journey’s importance, we will once more mess everything all up, all over again. We are so anxious to move on, keep moving, move life along, that we keep forgetting that we can only ever live in this very moment. So we should try to do the best we can with it and in it. We also forget, that we can as humans be so much better than we think we can be, if we think we must be. I want to remember the feeling of accomplishment lived into the “Must” of this momentary time.
The problem is that I still spend too much time wishing something would be over or conversely, that something would arrive. Like hoping for an ending to an illness or counting the minutes until I will receive a Next-Day Package, I waste a lot of my life in “Not Nows”. Today, throughout my part of the world, people are “chomping at the bit”, as we used to say. They are ready to have this be over, and the world to “return to normal”. And it is hard not to want to rush out there and pretend it was all just a glitch, a nightmare to wake up from, a time of sleep, not action; a time of pause from life, not life. As the weather warms, and the birds sing more sweetly, and the bulbs planted last fall rise to show their glorious blooms, and we miss more and more the hugs and smiles and meetings at coffee places– it feels like we should be past this time and on our way back to accomplishing our goals, getting on with our lives, rising to the new challenges. We are in danger of thinking this is a pause, but it’s not a pause. This is the where and when of the real action. This is the real life we are meant to live. This is in fact, the only life we can live. Right Now.
And maybe only a very few of us will realize it, but we can try to encourage each other as friends, as survivors, to believe that for this time of confinement, of sheltering in, of enforced care of others, and healing rest and being alone in a reformulated communion with oneself and those we cherish most– that this is exactly and fully how life was meant to be lived. Always. Every day.
Maybe a few of us will hold on to what we have begun to learn during this season of learning. Maybe some of us will finally remember what it is to actually just “Be”; to just “Live”. Not just being as a self-satisfying panacea, but just being as a life provoked into purpose. Being alive in the journey of one more lovely step, in the allotment of one more chance, one more moment, one more “now”.
The true tragedy that may finally either destroy our species or the whole planet will be that not enough people come out of this time of repentance and renewal changed enough to change the world. The vastly more horrible thing will be if we come out of the time too soon, and that people we love will have died in vain, served in the health and food supply front-lines in vain, remembered what love and life really feel like in the joy of being alive – all in vain–and we not only start up another pandemic, but end a time of reflection about what we need to do – must do! — that will radically change not only our own course but the course of the world. What will be the very worse outcome of this Corona Virus will be if we all continue to live as if each of us is only worth what we accomplish for ourselves or the outcomes we seek only in terms of the fleeting importance of money. What will kill us in the end, is if we continue to squander our very lives today, by living for what we can never own – tomorrow. What will be the end of true physical and spiritual forward motion, is if we think we only had to temporarily love others as we would have them love us; that this was merely a “war-time” measure that was inflicted only in order to protect our bodies from a pandemic, and not the more important “peace-time” measure needed to keep acting in determined commitment to loving others and caring for the world in order to protect our planet, our neighbors, and our own very souls.
I have been “emerging” slowly for the past years into this same, profound idea that my friend wrote in her post — “It is not about the outcome, it is about the journey”. But this pandemic and the quarantine and safety rules, should help me understand more deeply, not only that each moment is precious, but that the journey was never meant to be about “ME”. It is not a journey of “self-actualization” or “self-realization” or “personal salvation” or any of the other self-centered religions we have created. Surely some of us will realize that the religions who claim that by saving myself I will have a good “outcome”, are based on deeply and immorally flawed theology. Surely some people may have a eureka moment and realize that it is pure foolishness to continue to act on the political systems that base success on the idea that more money will solve all our problems. Hopefully many of us will make new and better decisions by seeking only that which we truly need, and maybe we can then save the planet and other struggling communities from our greed in “going after”, all that we think we want.
Surely some of us will be willing to keep living after we are back to our “normals” by deciding that “normal” is better when we are changed by the past, and committed to a future world for our children, by living more wisely, graciously, honorably, nobly, and lovingly, in this precious moment.
This latest experience in this Journey of Life, makes me realize that I have far too often tried to heal myself and still hang onto my profound misunderstanding of what life is about. I have believed the Big Lie and continued to lie to myself about the importance of outcomes. I have not committed wholeheartedly to the Strong Medicine of Being, and the Paradoxical Natural Cure of Joying in the Journey. I have instead numbed myself with spiritual palliatives, emotional over -the -counter medicines, and a life-time of self-medication of false hopes, selfish pride, and anxious strivings. Then, with the ramifications of the Corona Virus Worldwide Pandemic, it is as if, suddenly, I am rushed into the emergency room for surgery.
This metaphor of the world’s population being in a spiritual hospital is paradoxically all too real for a world with loved ones being hospitalized in frightening numbers, and loved ones risking their own lives serving as medical professionals, support staff, and emergency personnel. But metaphorically, for each of us in a very real way, living in the Time of Corona Virus, is like being in an emergency room at a hospital. The World is our Hospital, and the stories we tell make all of us into characters in the unfolding plot. You may be the child, who has to wear a mask to “sit next to” your ill relative, or you might be the family member in the “waiting room”, who is still able to go to the “hospital canteen” for food for the others waiting it out. You may be the person who works to supply the food for the people in “the World’s Hospital”. You may be the exhausted “hospital” worker, still able and willing to care for our World Family by supplying the “Hospital’s” needs or by saving the lives of the patients. You may be the surviving mourner, grieving in a world that is unable or that has forgotten how to mourn with one another other.
You may even be, the antagonist, the fool, the enemy, who spreads or derides the consequences of the World’s illnesses, the World’s evils; the character who wants his rights and own success and selfish ideas of personal freedom, over the triumph of Goodness; the one who doesn’t care about others’ suffering, and who will stand up for his own rights even when it will eventually be the thing that kills him too. You may be the one who lives for yourself or your beliefs against the good of the whole world, in order to gain – what? Are we not able to finally look at the antagonists of the World’s Story for what they are? Pathetic excuses for what humans were created to be.
But we mustn’t be too proud. For we all play the fool and the antagonist at various points in our life’s story, whether we like to admit it or not. But today, we are faced with a paradigm shifting new story – the action rising has reached a climax we did not anticipate – there has been a foreshadowing of this Time of Corona Virus, but we missed what the signs meant; and now the Climax is here, and we as the only protagonist we have in the writing of our own Life Story get to decide – what path, what story-line, will I choose? What will this catalyst of change do to my story? Will I be the hero in The Journey’s great Quest? When I finally get to leave this time of “symbolic hospitalization by fiat”, will I continue to seek a purpose in my journey and meaningful opportunities to give healing and love to others? Will I live with a sense of joy in the journey, only “on the page” I can live in today, without cheating and flipping Life’s Pages ahead to rush the end? Will I live as if the only outcome that matters, is that Love wins?
Each of our homes, during this pandemic, has become a “waiting room”, and each of us characters in the unfolding drama. In another sense, each of us is the person who has been “rushed to the hospital”. We have been trying to live a life where we treat our spiritual ailments on our own, and now, we are “forced” to face the fact that we need outside expertise and serious intervention, and we need each other, in order to live. We have to finally make the tough decision to “operate” on what ails us. What is wrong with us, won’t get better without some serious professional intervention and tough decisions and sacrificial love of people whose names we may not know or those we may never meet.
We must commit to incising the bad stuff, surgically, painfully even, removing the diseased parts of our souls and of our world. And then, with equal parts skillful study and hopeful faith, we must replace the bad stuff, with some good organs, like a heart of love, or good blood, like a throbbing, flowing zest for living in the Now, or a good something that we might simply call a Second Chance or a New Life. And this New Life or Second Chance, we have discovered, has to be available for everyone, everywhere, if we want a healthy life for ourselves; and it has to be applied to the Planet of Natural things and of animals if we want this Renewed Life to continue in the World and in a viable future world for the children.
We are all a part of one Big Story. Except for those trying to rush to the end, who keep living into some kind of on-demand commercial break. Tragically, some people still believe that they are the only character in the World’s Story who matter and so the outcome for them becomes more important than the plot line of the World’s Story. And they will continue to think and behave this way, to the World’s great loss. But I don’t have to choose to continue that way. Although I cannot choose the outcomes, as long as I am so privileged to live one more moment, I can choose the way I will journey.
I hope I can come out of this surgical necessity, this time of “extreme measures”, with more understanding and acceptance of what life is meant to be in the Now, and more joy in the journey of the moment. I hope I can sacrifice for others and therein find what Love truly is. I hope I can be a daily “organ donor” of my heart, for others in this world who are in need. I hope I can donate my Life’s blood to the flowing course of The Tao. I don’t think I will be completely healed; there will still need to be a lot of my drinking of the bitter medicine of humility and suffering, and of the palliative care of struggling to put others before myself. I will need to remind myself that happiness is fleeting, but joy in the journey is profoundly and truly found in some mysterious way, in the Forever of the moment.
In all moments, with enough wisdom and love, life is good. And yes, paradoxically that means an acceptance that Life must continue to include tears and mourning, sorrow and pain, confusion and feeling alone, doubt and fear; for these also are the things that make us more human, more a part of what happens to each individual part of the whole, and more in recovery and restored health, along with all of those others who lie in a sort of Spiritual ICU Time, waiting to be transformed to a New Normal Life and released back into the World’s Wondrous Story.
I will have scars large and small left from the surgical intervention of Corona Virus Time; but I will be remiss if I cover those over with business as usual and self-medicating measures. I will feel all the things I have felt for the past forty days, and not have a quarantine to blame it on, and it will be tempting to find a scapegoat or to vent my boredom or sorrow or anger on someone else. I will find happiness in the small things, but I will be tempted to not let that be enough. I will be tempted to use the excuse that I am only human, without remembering that a human being is capable of great and glorious things, sacrificial things, lovely and true things, and yes, even Godlike things. I have seen humans do those Godlike things during this frightening, worldwide-suffering time, and though it will be easy to forget, I must make metaphoric plaques on my soul’s memory walls of all that occurred in the name of Love during this “Hospital Time”.
I must determine today and every day that as long as I still have life, I must remember that there are great human beings in the world, doing amazingly great things; and it also true that there is the enduring reality that in this moment, I and each of us, can do small things, with great love.
So today, on this day of “completion”, which even after the complete number of forty days that my friend noted, still is so very incomplete, we can, if you like, make a sort of “ending”. We can make this the day we end our ultimately hopeless, purely self-centered care, and begin to see our lives as so much more important than that. We have a whole “Hospital of a World” to care for, to be part of, and to do our part for. We must each of us accept that there is little we have ever truly been in control of in terms of our unknowable futures, so it is best to live well and in loving-wellness with ourselves and others. It is best to live this small life, with great love in the only thing we have for sure — this very, single, precious moment.
The Hebrews have a good word for that sense we long for, of completion or “wellness”. It is called “Shalom”, and to me, it is a shorthand word for something like “a bigger than life, bigger than just my life, bigger than all of our lives, a great and good and Godlike kind of Peace-giving, soul-satisfying Wholeness”. Shalom means a completed circle of one’s life in this moment. All the dots connected. The circle’s center protected. Shalom.
I can come full circle in this very moment at least, and make a pact with myself, not to forget. Not to leave this time with a broken circle. To remember to keep connecting all the dots, one journey’s step at a time.
Just as after forty days of wondering in the wilderness, the ancient Hebrews committed to “Remember”. Just as the Native Tribes after the colonial genocides, and the persecuted Jews after the Holocaust, and the Armenians after the War of 1920, and the Rwandan Genocide of the 1990’s and on and on and tragically, historically on – we can determine, that the deaths as well as the surviving lives of this Corona Virus Pandemic will not be in vain. We can determine to Never Forget. And although humans seem determined to foolishly, selfishly put behind them history’s lessons in atrocities and pandemics alike, as if somehow by forgetting, we can “move on” to different outcomes; we can help each other to remember what we’ve learned. Because though we can not change the past, we should learn from it. History proves that the Outcome will always be tragically the same, if we continue to forget and dismiss our best Teachers and Most Important Lessons. But we are given a chance today, to remember The Way, to live in Good Health spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and willfully. We are given the opportunity to step forward and to walk rightly and righteously in the Great Journey. I can do all I need to do for now. I just need to take the first step.
We can determine, today, this time around, when this metaphoric Hospital World is a thing of the past, and the Story of the Corona Virus has ended this chapter, to Not Forget; to Remember how we should have been living all along. We who get a new chapter to live in, after this one is over, must not take lightly our continual and precious presence in The Big Story.
Even if I am merely a rather unimportant, bit character in the World’s Big Story, I am responsible for the plot line and character development of my own little life and tiny soul. It would be a horrible shame if after my time on the “operating table” of this Time of World Sorrow and Loss, I would survive only to go back to not caring for myself as I must and not loving others as I should. It would be such a waste of “good medicine” if I don’t change even further by living physically rightly, and spiritually righteously.
I can determine that this time I have spent during the lock-down, will not be something I want to “get through”, like a pause in my life, but something I want to “go through”, like a passageway in my life’s journey. This unique chapter in the World’s Story may complete the cycle, that metaphoric “forty days” or forty months or forty years; but no matter how long this troubling, difficult chapter in our lives lasts, it will not be a “completion”, unless we build truthfully and lovingly on the story line. The true troubles of this time, will never end, unless we make a new start. Many of us will choose to let this chapter end and we will force ourselves to move on by forgetting the lessons we should have learned. We will all be tempted to make the next chapter of our own plot-lines, and of our planetary setting, into an ultimately unsatisfying selfish progression of our own hubris-fueled desires, and it will end up as just one more tragedy in a long endless tale of the tragic outcomes of history. But some of us, can hopefully, let this time in our lives be the beginning, not the end.
The World is ready, is desperate, for a New Story with new adventures and new journeys and determinedly brave and spiritually healthy heroes that all combine to lead up to a new final outcome, and a satisfyingly, almost heavenly, one might say, ending. Are we ready to start right now, in this moment, to live like we want to be a part of that Story?
When I was a child, I read the world like a child’s book, to be entertained, and to be careless with, dog-earing the pages, and not caring whether I lost borrowed stories or even remembered them. But now that I am an adult, I must read the World’s Story as an adult should. The World’s Story — and my neighbor’s story — and my neighbor’s neighbor’s story, and even my supposed enemy’s story — should not be some fiction I put away blithely while I remain unchanged. Every story of the world, every tale of the planet, every memory of a life, should help to change me to be spiritually healthier and more committed to a Good End.
Every day should be read like the label of a life-saving medicine, and each moment I am so privileged to live, must be treasured as a precious blip on my soul’s heart rate monitor.
Are we ready to let our Time in Spiritual Surgery, convince us to take this new chance at life, this new step on our Life-journey, this new chapter with all the gratitude and a deepened desire to “play it forward”; all the love that this very, precious moment of Now deserves?
When we get out of “Hospital” will we let Providence guide our moments to help create in our Beloved World and for our fellow journeyers, a New Beginning at Life?
And Just Like That — We Might Finally Get That “Jesus Thing”
And Just Like That –We Might Finally Get that “Jesus-Thing”
By Jane Tawel
April 11, 2020
And just like that – — we might finally understand the meaning of the Season.
Thanks, Corona Virus.
There finally comes a time — a true, even though foisted -on -us time — when those who want to follow the Son of God in His Passion, in those final days — not the first euphoric, “this -is -fun” days — but the final ones when Jesus accepted willingly the full spectrum, the end results of human sin and suffering — now there is a time when we who are completely human, can get a glimpse into choosing to suffer as the Son of God, did — in other words as we claim that He who was human by choice suffered.
Just like that, Christians are forced to celebrate the final Holy Days that Jesus celebrated which of course were not “Christian” but Jewish Holy days. Passover. As we put the sign of the cross on our doors in hand sanitizer, and huddle around tables with those family members sheltering from the plagues, fearing what might be our final plague of viral death-cells roaming outside and destroying the world’s largest economies in the process — as we decide whether to keep throwing in our worldview with the current reigning Pharaohs or whether we will seek a whole new world by following the poor mumbling, stuttering Moses-es who would lead us to literally only God-knows-where, and possibly to a new world order out beyond our cultural norms, a world which we distrust now as what sounds like a socialist, spiritually-demanding community of equals living out in the desert with only what we can carry on our backs and a faint hope that the Promised Land will be better than the Land of the Brave and the Free.
Now in the Year of the Corona Virus 2020 — this Christian season like none other in our bonnet-wearing, basket toting, bunny-worshipping lives is actually something we might have to rethink in the same way we had to rethink playtime, worktime and now, worship time while hunkering down at home. Now we finally know what the people of God have celebrated since Moses led them out of Egypt and away from locusts and flying frogs and Amazon rivers and Michigan waters filled with blood. We celebrate another day of being spared. We celebrate the Goodness of Providence. We celebrate life — l’chayim!
Now we see our part in all that has gone wrong on our planet and in our neighborhoods. We can choose to ignore it, but not if we want to continue to pretend that this particular weekend — Friday through Sunday — has any significance at all. Now we see ourselves for the lazy Egyptians, or Romans, or Americans we have become — for the kind of people who want to claim to be God’s Chosen People but only if we don’t have to keep up our end of God’s bargain; only if Jesus keeps the covenant for us, not with us. We finally must look at our destructive abuse of God’s world and the real consequences, our destructive abuse of our own souls and the consequences, our cheap love and grace towards others and the consequences. We must own our years of complicity — in worshipping a nation, not a Kingdom, a religion and not a God.
We may understand at last, Christ’s warning to those who would follow him: “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees”. Yeast won’t make it to the Promised Land, any more than a religion of pride and greed will. Neither travel well. As we find ourselves in our own wandering wilderness — apart from all the comforts, separated from the parceled-out bread and entertaining circuses that the rulers sell us as nationalism and numbing panacea, as we pull back the historical and currently polarizing wizards’ curtains to see the false prophets for who they really are, those with their emerald-green worlds made by money-making machines; those that if we don’t want to stay in Oz, that too many religions will re-sell us as tickets to Kansas or Heaven.
At last we may realize that God is out there — in the wilderness, offering only the manna we need. At last we realize as Dorothy did, as Jesus did — that we have always had it within our own power to go Home. But first we have to leave Oz, leave Egypt, leave the comforts even of our own parents or community.
First, if we want to understand any kind of “Holy” time or “Holy-ness”, we have to walk the Yellow Brick Road of trials, and fears, and bad things and bad people and of suffering. And we have to fight all those soul-destroying things in others and in ourselves. We have to learn how to share love with those we meet on the journey, even if they are nothing like us — even if they are Tin Men or Scarecrows or Cowards.
First, before we can live again in a new Corona-virus-in-the- past world — we have to learn to take only what we can carry with us in this world — a few loaves of pita bread and some leftover hummus maybe. We have to have enough faith, without caring what anyone else thinks of us, and we have to use our own hands, our own abilities and put the Blood of the Lamb on the doors of our hearts.
First, we must humbly pray that this plague passes -over our family, our loved ones, the People of God, the whole world — that this ends, so we may have the chance to begin again. Passover. Then, as The People of God have always done, we must promise each other to “Never Forget” and so we have to learn to suffer more willingly in the wilderness with other human beings. We have to believe that God will provide, if we provide for each other, and that there will be enough manna for all of us today, if we don’t hoard it for tomorrow for ourselves.
We have to not only pray for immunity from this current plague, but we must keep doing those things that we now do to make us stronger, and our immune systems more effective in fighting pandemics. We must also find truth in those words and people throughout history and alive today, that make our spiritual immune systems more effective in fighting evil. We must keep doing those things that make us better inside, as well as outside. We must find the same strength to make our hearts, minds and souls more immune to hate and sin and pride and greed. Then we must re-learn how to live rightly, in fear of a Holy God, with love for the natural world of creation and a selfless care to restore it to wholeness, and with a renewed sense of love for our very lives and the lives of all others; and with a contentment we might find in knowing that we have a soul headed for a place of perfection that we can only imagine.
We must accept that God has already provided the vaccine against the diseases we all share caused by fear, and hatred, and self-centeredness. It is called The Way, The Tao– but we have to trust it to heal our souls and to insure our real lives against death by the shiny things that tempt us into soul-destroying things. We have to willingly get vaccinated from evil, for love to conquer all.
Now, perhaps, in this unique Holy Weekend, we finally know that if we don’t do the right things, we will die. We should remember that nothing has actually changed — we will die. There is no way that any single person will ever do enough “right things” so that he or she can live forever. There has only been one human who chose differently — who chose rightly — only one since Adam and Eve first chose their own serpent’s version of fake news over God– since people chose The Lie because it gave them more justification for getting more stuff — more physical, intellectual, emotional, political or religious stuff. And ever since Eden, most of us have kept choosing the intriguing complications of our lives over the simplicity of eternal life. As Leonard Berstein wrote, “God is the simplest of all”. We, however, continue to prefer the puzzles of forbidden fruit. We have a chance to realize, during this enforced simplification of our lives and an enforced simplification of our chosen means to worship God, that simple can serve us better, and that we serve God better, when we choose to live simply.
Only the Messiah, Jesus the Christ got to choose whether he wanted to die after living on this planet. The Father gave only His only begotten Son the choice of whether to die or not. This weekend we celebrate the fact that Jesus chose to die for sins he never committed, and he chose to give us the opportunity to die with him in his cause or to allow God to leave us behind in the dust.
This weekend we celebrate our free will on this planet, and we can use that free will today to ignore the cautions about what is the right thing to do to protect — save — ourselves and others, or we can offer our own wills on the altar of a God who waits for us on the other side of the Red Sea, a God who has prepared a place for us, a God who loves us enough to send His Son to live with us, eat with us, celebrate God’s provisions throughout history with us, and a Son who will choose to die with us so that we can have hope once more that Sunday’s Coming and the Tomb is empty.
Today our deaths may be due to a virus cell, tomorrow it may be from a heart attack; tomorrow we may die from our hatred gone amok, the next person might die from gluttony, and the poor we will have always dying because of our own appalling lack of love.
We celebrate a day that in too much lapsed time, too much hindsight, too much cheap-grace theology, we have dubbed “Good Friday”. But it’s not all so “good” standing alone — it certainly wasn’t for Jesus. Why do we think we can leave him hanging there for all time, saving us from our sins? Do I really think that if I live in Boston, Massachusetts, that the Doctor at the hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, or a nurse in Sacramento, California or a researcher in Wuhan, China can save me personally from the plague that has infected the world? No. I am saved only by what I am, what I seek, what I have recourse to, what I live into and by and for and amongst — I am saved by a whole lot of luck in what I’ve been given and what I can survive. I am saved by the strength of my immune system, not my sister’s or brother’s immune system, not my pastor’s immune system, not my president’s or governors, or guru’s or shaman’s. And it was long past time for many of us to realize we should have been taking better care of our health, our immune systems and frankly the health and immune systems of everyone within six feet of us. We have all become quite the “evangelicals”, during this Corona-Virus plague, have we not? Sharing warnings, sharing tips, sharing encouragements, sharing the Gospel of how to live through and after Corona-Virus? Quite the over-night prophets and pastors we all are now from the safety of our social media fortresses. Quite the love we seem to be overflowing with — from a distance. What will be our evangelical good news for a world struggling to survive the consequences of this time? Will we finally celebrate the Jewish Jubilee that Jesus claimed he came to install as God’s Kingdom on Earth?
I should have been building up my immune system all these years. I should have been taking care of my health and the health of the homeless people in my park and of the grocery clerks and the people I worked for that I thought weren’t important enough for me to stay away from when I had the flu, and then I should have been fighting for the rights to a living wage for all the people who are still out there risking their lives because they can not afford to stay home from a job that doesn’t pay them enough. I should have been taking only what I need and not hoarding. I should have been asking for forgiveness and begging for mercy all these years. I should have been loving my neighbors and my enemies enough to save us all from “what’s out there”. I should have been reaching out in love to everyone. I should have been not worrying so much and loving more every moment of this wonderful God-given life. I should have been reducing my stress and increasing my faith.
I should have been putting on armor against disease — just like God advises me to do with sin. If I am saved from the Corona Virus, it is only by a current bit of luck, because of course everyone is going to die of something. I am saved, perhaps also, by my willingness to keep the contract with the rest of the world that I should have made as soon as I could reason. The contract is that I will be a good citizen of the world and think of you all as I would like you to think of me — do for you all as I would like you to do for me. Jesus taught us this, not with words only but by deeds — “To live, you must love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and will, and you must follow this as the first rule of being a human being. The second rule is like this one, because your fellow human beings, whether you like it or not, are created just as much in god-images as you are yourself — so love everyone, just as you would love yourself and treat everyone as you would like everyone to treat you, and behave towards all, and connect to all as you would like them to be in relationship to you.” Do those two things, Jesus, says, do them as He did them — and you will find your way from the garden, to the Passover, to the crucifixion, to the tomb, to the Resurrection, to the Promised Land, to Christ’s side and to the completely healthy, virus-free reality of God’s Kingdom.
And now we see that we have been worshiping a Golden Calf and we better once more let Jesus into the temples and churches and small group Bible studies, and hand Jesus the whips of rope to turn over our money tables. Those tables of those that sell cheap salvation for a price, who have too long been blocking us from worshiping the True God in spirit and in truth.
And now, as we live in our own tense, stressful, worrisome, Garden of Gethsemane, we see how fearful we are that Jesus can’t really pull it off. We are finally aware, perhaps, of how tired and drowsy we are. How lazy. How cheap we think prayer can be. How happy we are that Jesus is somewhere else, somewhere back there, so we can rest. Now we see we have fallen asleep. We thought we wanted to follow Jesus to Calvary but we can’t even stay awake in a Garden, long enough to pray with him. We don’t need to wait for the rooster to crow, we have betrayed him with our willingness to believe God’s grace is Walmart-priced and Christ’s plan is for us to relax while he does the heavy lifting.
And now we see that the Saturday between the Friday of Jesus on the cross is the longest, longest, longest day in the whole world for any one who thinks they want to follow a crazy rabbi who claimed to be a Jewish Messiah and who finally claimed to be The Only Begotten Son of YHWH, but who on a Friday, before the Hebrew Sabbath could begin — died.
And this King of the Jews died of the same thing that we all die of, no matter what our beliefs. He died because of what we have done to the world and the earth and to each other. Jesus died, as we will, because of our choices to pretend we are not responsible for the ills of the world; because of the evils of pride and greed that we have let infect our most profound human ideas — those that make up our religions and our overseeing, ruling governments. Maybe we are those nationalists, those who want to make ourselves “Great Again”. Maybe we are the religious groups, who like those of Jesus’ people who were only too glad that Moses went away for a while on the Mountaintop with G-d, so we can deal with Aaron who will give the people what they want to believe they can worship and so that Aaron can keep his job.
Maybe we are glad to believe that Jesus has gone away for awhile and we can do whatever we want until He returns? Maybe we don’t believe that Jesus will come down from the Mountaintop as Moses did, and be as righteously angry as a God to find us worshiping gold and cheap entertainers like Aaron was — like too many of our leaders are? Maybe we don’t believe, just like the Golden-Calf-worshipping, bored with God’s provided- manna, unwilling in faithlessness Hebrews didn’t believe, that we will really die because of what we choose to do? Maybe we’ve given up on walking for forty long years and we don’t want to relearn what it takes to be the kind of human being who will be useful and happy if they someday live in a perfect land of milk and honey and community and love? Maybe we’ve forgotten that not everyone makes it to the Promised Land, even if they say they “believe” in Jesus? Just like everyone who hid at Passover behind the Blood of the Lamb didn’t make it to the Promised Land, Jesus warns us that “not everyone who comes in my name will enter my Heaven”. Maybe we can, in our sheltered, quarantined time away from the world out there, remember that Jesus knows only those who “do unto the least of humans, as if you were doing it unto The Christ”. That’s scarier than a pandemic to my mind.
Maybe our enforced sobering in the face of a pandemic, and the joy we find in living in this different kind of life we have right now — a life forced on us by the plagues we have fled –a joy that comes not from getting something new or more, but from being grateful for having what we need just for one more day — Manna — “this is my body given for you, take, eat in remembrance of Me” — maybe all this will sober us to find joy in a message that we can start living, out there — and not put our lives and love back on a shelf with our other scriptures and self-help tomes. Maybe we will defy death this time so we can go about life as if we really have been Reborn to New Life.
Jesus died because we grow easily bored, and restless with simplicity, and we prefer to be a palm-waving, cheering participant in the mass hysteria of the people who want to make Jesus a Reality TV Star. “Go, Team!” is so much more acceptable than “Repent!” “We Win!” means someone else — the other team, the other gender or color or creed or socio-economic strata — “They Lose!” So, what do we do now without teams to watch and cheer for; without churches whose doors are either open or closed to us depending on who we are; without even wars to continue to fight “safely”? What do we do now that we have proven, albeit without our consent, that we can live simply and in peace and by sharing more with others?
The scary truth, is that the veil has been torn — and we see people hoarding, disobeying God’s law of love, ironically, there are those who are still convinced they have to go to church to find the right God, even if they kill their neighbors for it. The torn veil shows us a world sorely lacking in not only protective gear for sacrificing health workers and life-saving medicines for poor people, but not even the right antidotes for price-gauging drug companies, and not even enough expensive ventilator machines for the famous and rich who have always assumed that only poor homeless, worthless, 401k-less Lazarus-es lie at their doors with unhealthy sores and cells; we see that no one escapes, and that even the very wealthy, with their rich warehouses of stuff can’t save themselves from death.
People are all for freedom if it means they can do whatever they want to whomever they want. People don’t want freewill in a Kingdom with a suffering, truth-telling, overly-loving-of everyone Savior. People don’t want the King who says he belongs to a “kingdom not of this world”. We want a King like the one we elected on Palm Sunday — the miracle-making Santa Claus King that we can cheer for, while we stand on the side of the road to Jerusalem; we don’t want the King Jesus really was — is — will be — we don’t want to have to carry our own crosses beside Him while we walk with The King to Calvary. And if Jesus won’t bow down to our expectations, why, then — we will find someone who will. And we will call him, not Jewish Messiah, not Old Testament Son of God, not present King and coming Ruler — but we will make our own images of gold, and will cheer those who are only too willing to pose as our god-substitute sacrifices for us. If we leave here, lucky enough to be Passed-Over, then we may find our way back to Jesus as God-lite. But we will have a new choice — a new Egypt to leave — a new wilderness to cross — and a new Savior for a new day to follow. We can as Moses did, ask God to show us the future — the Promised Land — a healed and healing world — that we are meant to carry our brothers and sisters to live in — along with us. We can as Jesus did, pray that we don’t have to die from this death in particular, that “God takes the cup from us” in this time of pandemic, and allows us to live with our friends and family and in the joy of a wonderful world for a bit longer. But, as Jesus did, we can also pray to endure, to suffer willingly even to the point of death, to walk the road, and enter the tomb even if we don’t feel God’s presence at all. We can with only a tiny bit of hope and faith, pray, “Thy will be done and into Your Spirit- Father Hands, I give my life, my soul, my all”.
So, we live not as if Jesus is still on the cross, and as if we are wandering afraid and alone in the wilderness of this world, but as if it is always Saturday and Jesus is still in the tomb. Because tomorrow, that day of Easter we are so anxious to celebrate, should be the really scary, sobering, choice-inducing day. Tomorrow, when Jesus rose, is the day we have to decide whether we are going to leave Egypt once and for all or not.
Tomorrow is the day when the disciples of Jesus were still found huddled in terror behind their closed doors, afraid of the death lurking around every corner — death by Roman empire, death by religious leaders, death by unemployment and lack of the most basic of necessities or funds. And so today, whatever day it is now, as we huddle behind doors, and tomorrow as we, as the early disciples did, must continue for our own safety to huddle behind doors, we must not think that because Jesus chose death, that we won’t have to. We will.
This year won’t be like other Easters for most of us. It won’t be a Passover for Jews like it usually is, although the Jews of this world are much more acquainted with short and long term suffering than most of us, which says a lot about why Jesus chose them as His People. And so –
On a day like Easter, after giving our token-worship to a Savior that died on Friday, Easter arrives like a party-day, one that we usually see as — Oh, yay, rah Team Christian! — here we go, back to the Egyptian — I mean, American — values of Easter bunny-idols, and exorbitant amounts of moneys spent, not on God’s work of caring for the world, but on candy and fertility-rite egg hunting for children, and salaries for public speakers in robes behind lecterns, and large dinners at home or at fancy restaurants; and in a belief system with a manufactured, fake grace so small and cheap it can fit inside a brightly-colored plastic Easter egg. But this year, tomorrow — if you are a good person, and are truly following Jesus, and not following some preacher or rabbi more worried about their career than about your health and safety — tomorrow you will have none of those trappings of “celebration”; none of those rites of religion or rites of Spring; none of the passing pleasantries of friends and family who come and leave again after a rich meal, loved ones who may leave you without leaving barely a trace of what is still missing, hungering inside them. Tomorrow there will not be those who are gone away from your home without filling those universal yearnings for a love that lasts longer than a large hollow chocolate bunny. Tomorrow, we will all still be behind closed doors, waiting for a Savior. Tomorrow, we may simply be celebrating being alive for one more day.
But, finally, tomorrow, this year of 2020 Worldwide Pandemic “Resurrection Sunday”, might just actually feel like what it felt like for the disciples of Jesus. Tomorrow we might wake to the sorrow and sadness of another day behind doors closed in fear, doors locked in vain attempts to keep death out. Tomorrow we might feel an aching loss of a loved one, that we will not see in this lifetime again. Tomorrow we will wake to less extravagances, to another day of only the food /the manna we can “carry”, the things we need just to survive. Tomorrow we will look outside and feel the kind of fear and anger we should have of those powers and rulers who play with our lives so carelessly. Tomorrow we will realize that this is what God intended every Sabbath to be — rest from labors, and maybe it’s time we stopped working at the idea of working, and started working at the stuff the whole planet and everyone need to live well. Maybe tomorrow, this year, we will be content to do nothing, and to let our Sabbath be a time when God actually meets us right where we are.
Tomorrow we will realize that we have all that any of us really need, if we truly want to worship God right where we are. We will wake to an understanding that He has given each of us His Word, the Truth, the Light, and while it has always been nice to expect someone “official” to bring us to the Promised Land, and to hear nice music, they aren’t with us now. And really, in the end, it’s always been about my choice, my life, my decisions, my relationships. In the end, even after all he did for the People of God, Moses didn’t get to leave the quarantine alive. I think now that that was the most loving thing God could have done for Moses — to choose to protect Moses’ soul for God’s Eternal Promised Land, over what had become Moses’ self-centered dreams of ruling the Hebrews in what could only be a temporary way-station, anyway, a nation that would at best, be a passing illusion of what God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven would someday be.
If we leave these upper rooms of fear and hiddenness, like Jesus’ disciples did days after Jesus rose from the grave, we will always have more choices, more decisions, more moments to live as God’s People in God’s Worldview. We must walk-on in our own strength and paradoxically only with strength from outside ourselves, we must journey on toward the Promised Land. The Good News about Jesus is, He came to show us how by doing it himself.
On this Easter Sunday, when we will not yet know what it means to be resurrected from fear and loneliness, from sorrow and pain and disease, from sin and death — this Easter — we may realize that this sense of waiting and watching that has become our new normal in the time of the 2020 Plague of Corona Virus, this watching and waiting was always supposed to be the life-enhancing philosophy of the People of God. From Job to Abraham to Moses to David to Mary to Jesus — the long arc of the Messiah is the arc of watching and waiting. Watching — our Salvation is at hand. Waiting — the Kingdom of God is among you like a pearl hidden in a field — Seek and you will Find!
The disciples of Jesus ran away from him on Thursday, betrayed and denied him on Friday, despaired and doubted everything and everyone, especially their God, on Saturday, and on Sunday, the disciples hid and regretted their decision to give up their jobs and families — to give up everything to follow Jesus. On Sunday, when Jesus was dead, his disciples hid together or alone, and tried to figure out how to deal with an uncertain tomorrow but a tomorrow that would one day, certainly mean their death. They behaved like we do, like we are, at least now. They behaved as we do, because they didn’t believe that what they had been watching for, the One whom they were waiting for — Messiah, Savior, Son of Living God — would ever come.
Jesus was dead.
And then. . .
Not because the disciples had the right theology. Not because they were faithful. Not because they were pure and loved well. Not because they had a great heritage. Not because they went to temple or church or tithed or were baptized or prayed the right prayers. And not because Jesus had died in their place so they wouldn’t have to. And then, not because any of us had followed the right rules, or practiced the right rites, or believed in the right Constitution. And then…
On Sunday, after the Jewish day of Rest, Sabbath, and very early in the morning, and just when some that the world considered tainted and useless, some grieving women came to Jesus’ tomb, and those women who were also afraid and in despair said, “Nonetheless, we will persist”. And these women went to care for a dead body according to the Jewish burial customs because even when someone we love dies, we keep their memory alive and we care for their legacy as best we can. “And when they came to the tomb, the women found it empty with someone who was maybe a gardener and maybe an angel nearby, and they said with agony, “Where is the body of our friend, Jesus”. And the angel, who might have been just a man, said: “Don’t look for him anymore here where dead things and dead people are. He has overcome death by dying, and he is risen just as he promised you, and he is waiting and watching for you to come to Him today.”
And then on this day we celebrate on Easter, all these years later…
And not because of us or anything we can achieve…
But because of God’s great love for His Child, who we call Jesus…
and His great mercy on His children, who are all of us….
— the whole world shifted.
Even though we may follow all the right sanitizing programs to protect us from COVID-19, there are no guarantees. And it will not be merely because of anything we do or believe that we will be saved, or that will ensure that we will have an eternal life in a new earth and new heaven — a Promised Land. And yet, our very souls depend as much on our inherent spiritual immune systems as they depend on the health, the need to consistently sanitize our worldview, and the rules we follow to live justly with others and walk uprightly before our God, and of how we love others. Our souls depend on what we do and believe just as much as our physical health depends on it at this time and throughout all Time. That is the paradox, the mystery of the Passion of The Christ — it all depended on what He did, and it was completely out of His hands to do anything. “Father, you know I can do nothing apart from You.” “Father, you and I are walking in this world as one.” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why must I suffer and die?” “Parent -Mother-Father-God — into your very enormous holding hands and loving Self, I give you my all.”
We will be saved by the Blood of the Lamb that WE choose to identify with, even behind closed doors. Our world will be saved by how we choose to die. Will we die trying to take as many toys and chocolate bunnies and plastic baubles and rolls of poop-wiping material and armaments and experiences and mansions with us when we go? Or will we die trying to do unto others — to the least of the least on this planet, in this world, in this nation, in this neighborhood — as we are hoping other people will do unto us? Isn’t it when all is said and done, sacrificial Love, that is the real “Jesus-Thing”?
Will we die for the same things we have learned to live for in this time of sheltering in –for something, even if we can’t see it now, that may well count for something bigger, more important, more lasting, and beautiful than our own small life?
Jesus was just another small life, after all. A nobody, a poor despised Jew, a person who didn’t follow the unhealthy, unloving, ungodly rules of the Pharisees and Sadducees and Roman rulers; but rather followed the rules we have all been given to keep the planet healthy, to make people truly believe and know that there is hope and love and help along the way, and Jesus followed the rules and The One Way that God has given us in order to keep our very souls from death. Jesus died just like we all will, and from the same thing. Jesus died from what we have done to the world, not what God has done for it. And then Jesus rose from death, so God could show us what He is still able to do for and through and in us.
And so Saturday, is our day. A day to decide if we will watch and wait or if we will hide and despair. Because tomorrow is the day that Jesus comes back from The Promised Land to invite us to let Him help us find our way to eternal life there, too.
Tomorrow is the day Jesus had the biggest Surprise Party of all time. Jesus walked into the room where the disciples hid frightened and angry and lonely and lost and yelled, “Surprise!” Easter is the Surprise Party Jesus throws each year in God’s honor, and yet — though all are invited, not all will come.
Tomorrow is the day, that disciples had their whole worldview turned upside down on its head. Corona Virus has done the same for many of us in the world living today. Tomorrow is the day of “Shock and Awe” when Jesus shows the world that Love can win over hatred, that peace can win over violence, that meekness beats pride, and truth destroys lies. Tomorrow is the day that Jesus shows us that He lived as “the way, the truth, and the life” and that that Way can lead us to God. Tomorrow is the day that Christ’s Life defeated Christ’s death and that God’s Love defeated the World’s Pandemic.
But Today — this holding-pattern day — is the Everyday of not just our new reality behind the closed doors of Corona Virus sheltering-in. Today is the Every-Saturday of Holy Week. Because every day of this lifetime, is the day to choose whether we will die with Christ, in order to be resurrected into His Kingdom.
And just like Jesus instructed us to go into the world and wash each other’s feet, so today we choose, again and again and again, will I wash my hands to love my neighbor? Will I humble myself enough to let God show me how dirty my feet are because of how I’ve chosen to walk in this world?
Will I choose today to live as if Jesus is no longer dead, but is risen and alive in this room where I am still trying to hide from fear and still trying to hide from Him? Because The Kingdom of God is now. It is here. It is both here and also that for which we watch and wait. Just like my life today, when I am seizing this moment with grace and gratitude as all I can be really sure of; while also longing for the moment we will be reunited with the ones and The One that we love.
Jesus spent a lifetime dying to himself, and living for His Father. I struggle with even a day spent dying to my own wishes, yearnings, grubbing, or worrying, or self-care preening or just giving up getting out and about. During this time of Corona-Virus, I have learned how pointless so much of it has been and how much of what I have done or who I think I am, is useless here and now. I am not even strong enough to “stay awake” and pray for those truly in need. As never before, I am afraid of dying and also more aware of my own impending death. But I am also, as never before, more aware that I am not alone, and that no matter what I go through or what happens to me, there is a Savior who has gone before me, and is here to help me take one more step forward in His Way. Christ bears the Lion’s share of what ever yoke or burden I carry today.
Today, I am grateful, to be imprisoned in this living tomb of worldwide plague, because I am given another chance, a new choice, another opportunity, and a seedling of hope. I get another chance to truly listen to what Jesus means for me when he calls: “Follow me”. They are hard words, but Jesus promises that although “With human beings, this is impossible, with God, all things are possible”.
Because it is finally oh so very probable for me to believe in the inevitability of my very own death — It might even be possible for me to believe in Resurrection.
And just like that — death’s victory is hanging in the balance.
Yes, it is true as perhaps never before in most of our lifetimes, that this is a great time and opportunity to really look more deeply into our beliefs about our lives, our souls, our jobs, and minds, and hearts, and relationships, and communities, and countries and planet. Not necessarily in that order, but. . .
And by “looking more deeply”, I mean, assessing the importance of things we have taken for granted and weighing the consequences of past behaviors and attitudes – behaviors and attitudes we all had a mere couple of months or weeks ago. For most of us, there has been a paradigm shift in thinking about “What do I want for the future?” to “What do I want for Today?” There has for some us perhaps been an opportunity to meditate on the question: “Do I really want to keep my beliefs and actions from Yesterday”? Most of us are at a minimum needing to look at Time in whole new ways, as our Time both contracts and expands in rather mind-bending, choice- assessing, and relationship-shifting ways. This is something that many of us are finding, would have been a better way to think all along, and so we have a unique opportunity if we survive this latest means to death (there is always some means, don’t forget). We have an opportunity to change the way we think and live, and to determine, “What are the things I want to keep doing”? “What must I really stop doing for the benefit of any of the stated arenas of a life as listed in the first sentence of this essay”? “How do I want this gift of Today to change the World’s Chance at a Tomorrow?”
I like the philosophy that has been going around in various constructs, that as we hope to someday return to normal, we should decide what of “normal” is worth keeping. So, although I didn’t feel like writing today, I do feel that writing about things and sharing ideas with others, is a normal I want to keep. Hence, I started a list of things I have been doing while quarantining, and fighting the Corona Virus one immune strengthening regimen and protective action at a time; and a list of a kind of “off the cuff” reassessing of what I would like to change, if I am lucky enough to have a tomorrow to change for. I started thinking about what I want my new “normal” to be more like than my old “normal” was. I highly recommend you start your own list, much as people used to do with Bucket Lists. Maybe share your list with people who will stay important to you in tomorrow’s normal, and find out what they hope will change or stay the same for them. May you seek goodness and find love wherever and whatever your normal is today.
My “Return to a Better Normal” List
I want to continue to be a better “reacher-outer” to friends and family. I want to keep calling, texting, face-timing, emailing them about their health, both physical and spiritual and mental. I want communication to be both more important as well as something that feels normal, not special. I want to listen more and enjoy more the little stories and shared perspectives. I want to keep giving advice to people I love and taking advice from them seriously. I also want to stop giving advice, and just “be” with others. I want to just enjoy the presence of another human being in that very moment as the most wonderful miracle of my day.
I want to keep believing that it is important to take care of the animals that we let into our lives. I want to keep spending ridiculous amounts of money for my old dogs’ care until they just can’t go on living their happy little lives. I want to forgive their incontinence and grumpiness and Daisy’s Sundowner’s barking at all hours of the night and morning, and hope some human will do the same for me when I am like that. I want to treat the neighborhood cat that comes calling as the majestic beast he considers himself to be, and enjoy his willingness to hang out with me sometimes. I want to really listen without commentary to the songs of birds. I want to mourn the death of every bee and feel anguish at the wild animals displaced from their homes by people’s greed and ignorance. I want to think of the friendly beasts as my brothers and sisters, and regain some sort of native spiritual relationship to their presence on this planet. And I hope someday, that when I am on my way out, that I will die with the same amount of dignity and love that animals die with, leaving behind as much joy in people’s memories of me, as our animals do for us.
I want to keep listening to music, but I also want to keep making music, even though I am not good at it or famous and never will be. I want to sing and play guitar and piano more often, and be an active participant as well as an appreciative, listening audience. Music feeds. That’s all that needs to be said. We need music like we need food, and listening is nourishing, but creating music is like cooking a homemade dish to enjoy. I don’t need to be a competitive or famous chef to make a meal that I and others enjoy. I don’t need to be a concert pianist or a rock star to make music that feeds me. I just need to enjoy “eating” it. This is true for my writing as well. I thrive on reading other’s writing, but I grow from writing myself, not as an ends but as a means.
There are many things in the world of art or nature, that you might want to substitute for my thoughts on music and writing. Whatever it is, take time to feed yourself and feed others with those things whenever possible. If you are never going to climb Kilimanjaro but you love hiking or walking, do more of it, for the sheer pleasure of feeding yourself. Nature is Eternity’s Best Artist, after all.
If you love museums or movies or plays, imbibe more of them more often, and then find your own way to create. You don’t have to be a great artist to enjoy painting, or quilting, or gardening. Using our senses to see and taste and hear and touch and move are those things that most deeply feed our souls. Using our abilities to create, no matter how small or humble that creation, is a gift – to ourselves, to others, and somehow, mystically and spiritually, to the Created Universe. Food is meant to help us grow, after all. So dine on what best feeds you and grow by creating it yourself.
I want to stop buying so much stuff. I want to accept that except for food and drink (and of course, now we realize, toilet paper), I have enough stuff to last me three life-times, probably. I want my new normal to see constant shopping, as the raging addiction it has become in America, at least, and in my own life. I want to believe that true simplicity is something I can still accomplish, even though I will never realize my dream of becoming Amish. I want to believe that it is better to “hold things lightly” in my hands. I want to stop grasping so much and so hard, and walk through the world with open hands and an open heart.
I want to keep focusing on the humanity of anyone who is within six feet of me at any given time. I have long thought it oddly frightening to see people pass within “hello-ing” distance of other people – on a sidewalk, or a grocery aisle – and not even make eye-contact, not say “hi”, not even admit that there is another sacred, valuable, important being right there close by. To me, that has been one of the most telling indications that we have become zombies. During this quarantine, people have ironically been friendlier and more connected now that we are more aware of the community around us and have more time on our hands to stroll outside with six feet of separation. But there are still people who think that even if you are six feet away, they will still “catch something bad” from you and I have no doubt these kinds of people will, once released from quarantine, continue to wear the Mask of Stranger, and wield the Protective Weapon of Busy with My Cell Phone, and be The Inhuman Zombies who no longer act human except for the fact they can still locomote. My family laughs at me for being a “stranger- magnet”, and I hope if I survive this illness, that I will continue to be that person who considers another human being important enough to take note of, even if they don’t take any notice of me. I hope I will still find even a stranger within six feet of me, more valuable than anything but the most important of cell phone calls. I hope I will not give up my humanity, even when we are all back to long lines at stores and jam-packed freeways.
When and if, I get to be one of the privileged ones to return to normal, I hope I will continue to think about dying soon. I hope I will, as the ancient monks used to do, “keep death daily before my eyes”. Some monks used to have a real human skull kept on a shelf in their bedrooms to remind them that death is only a heartbeat away, and that we are to “die daily” to the bad things and live for Good. Thinking that today is possibly my last, is a good way to embrace life. But I want to embrace a life worth living – more worth living that my life was yesterday. I want to live for Good. I really want a more normal view of the importance of a life that strives for truth and love in equal parts, that speaks out against injustice, ignorance, and lies, that is kind and forgiving without expecting anything in return, that is spiritual without being proud or hypocritical, and a life in this very moment, that is humbly accepted with joy – a momentary gift that is given, not as something I am owed, but as a great and miraculous gift for this glorious day.
In the new normal, I want to remember this time as the time I learned that you have to care for others if you want to survive. I want my new normal to be putting others before myself. I want to understand that the World’s Great Golden Rule, is exactly that: a rule. Loving others as I would have others love me, is a rule like sheltering in place, like washing my hands, like coughing into my elbow, like only taking essentials and not hoarding, like taking better care of first-responders and medical personnel, like caring for the least of the least, like old people, and homeless people, and like giving up something I merely want to do or have, for the good of others, to protect them and care for them, and treat them with the respect for their lives, hearts, souls, and health, that I would like others to do for me – living into the idea of a perfect world for myself as I do for others.
This Great Golden Rule is meant to be a rule, like our communal rules for survival during this pandemic. I wish that religious people had been living according to The Great Rule, but now we may understand that the Great, True Rules of all Beliefs, All Peoples, and for Eternity are not rules for religious reasons. Just like rules during a pandemic cross all political and religious barriers and lines, so must I believe that the rule of “Loving God and Loving Others as I would be Loved” are not held uniquely by any belief system but by a Reality that crosses all Time, all History, all Space, all peoples –All . We are not following rules right now for our own selfish gain, but for survival reasons. And that is what the new normal must realize– that true, even sacrificial, loving is necessary for the survival of the planet, for the survival of our very lives, and, if one does believe in a spiritual world, for the survival of our very human souls.
I want my new normal to be as slowed down as these quarantined days and I want the world’s children and this young generation to realize they can – must!—slow down. There is nothing worth more than this very day and this very day is all there is. I hope the metaphoric treadmills across this nation will stay as still as the gym treadmills have been during our stay at home times. I hope this time of enforced slow-down, will make a new generation (and my old one) realize that we have been speeding our lives along to no purpose; we have allowed ourselves to work too much and take play too seriously. We have forgotten how to live as we work ourselves to zombie-like existence. I hope when we all return to normal, that we won’t allow power and money and fear to keep telling us how we have to live to get ahead. I hope we will value much more the people and professions that truly add value to all of our lives. I hope resistance will be the new norm, and that by resisting together, we may find rest together.
There is actually a town I used to live near, called Normal, Illinois. I want to think of the future as a place as real as that city of Normal in that Midwestern State. I want to think of Normal, America (or whatever country one finds oneself in) as a place that we will make better, clean up, care for, think of as our home that we share with others. I want to make a home in Normal, The World, and help others realize it can no longer be a place where living as a loner is accepted, or where being an individualist, while it may take you far in terms of money and position, will not protect you from pandemics, from loneliness, from unhappiness or despair, and will not protect a single human being from the inevitability of death. I want Normal, The World, to be a place where we love our community and realize how much we all need each other. I want the tombstones in Normal, to all have this epitaph: “We Cared for Each Other. We Put Love First. We Live-On Forever Because We Loved.”
Seeing the future as a real place is a little like people used to see Heaven or Shangri-la. I say used to, because now people see Heaven as a reward for certain beliefs, rather than a place we are meant to work for. I want to believe that this Earth is also meant to be, as the prophets say, “The Kingdom of God” and I am meant to work for it, in it, and for all those here, now as if they too, are meant to be in a different kind of Kingdom, a different kind of Normal.
If we can learn anything from this pandemic, shouldn’t we learn that we are all connected, all in this together, all worthy of life and love and all a part of making the world a better place? And most importantly, can we not at least remember what is truly better – what we truly need for a better world, what we need to start doing? Can remembering what was good and best about this difficult time, not help us take that good and best into a new normal? Can keeping the new normal of our sheltering, quarantined days, please help us create a New Normal that, with a bit of imagination and individual sacrifice for communal survival, can be a Real Place? Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to walk out of these dark days into A Kingdom of Heaven here, among us, a new normal of love and light and kindness and hope and joy and sharing and peace?
My List of Items Today for a Better Normal:
Joy in the Journey.
What will be my new Normal if we survive?
And now, for the closing “ditty” to lighten your load perhaps.
I’ve found myself uprooted,
Cuz going out’s been booted,
Not to the curb exactly,
But since matter-of-factly,
We have to shelter in,
If Life is going to win,
Rather than think this strange,
We must decide to change.
Let’s buckle up and live right,
And let this dark, sad night,
Help us to stop our moping,
And get-on some group hoping.
It hasn’t been too easy,
And most of us feel queasy,
From fear and boring pursuits,
But let’s put down some deep roots.
Let’s plant seeds in our souls and hearts,
And make some headway, or a start,
In caring for each other,
And for the Earth, Our Mother.
And while we talk morality,
Is that the same normalcy,
We really want to have again,
For future X, Y and Z Gens?
This is it — our only time.
So please forgive this silly rhyme,
But please find ways among these days,
To toss the bad, and keep the good always.
And may your best loves guide you,
And when I hope you’ve got through,
I’ll see you on the other side of sorrow,
To make together, a better Tomorrow.
Stay strong. Stay sane. Seek love and joy. Seek change. Be healthy and hopeful. And care for others in the way you would like the future world to care for you.
About a year ago, before this “WHOLE THING”, you know, before the pandemic that shook the foundations of everyone’s world, I started giving myself little talks about how I should live if this “were the last”. As an old-school grammarian, I find it best to use the combo of “IF- WERE”, as good grammar used to have it, because using the subjunctive form ie the hypothetical philosophy of projecting things onto the future of my dreams, desires, or hypotheses suites my worldview best. And I think especially this idea of using the plural form of a verb implies that this is just a hypothesis – IF – and not a done deal. There could be many things that happen in the future, IF. But I digress…
I belong to a particular group of worldview enthusiasts who have this idea that we should live each day as if it could be the last day. Well, yes, and no. This “as if it could be your last day on earth” doesn’t really mean you take unacceptable risks with your life or anyone else’s. It also doesn’t mean you waste all your money on a frivolous pursuit or go skydiving if you really hate the idea of falling from any height at all, especially with only an oversized handkerchief inflating above you – hopefully. But there are many, many good attitudes one can adopt towards oneself and towards others, if we really live as if the end of the, or at least our world could come at any time. Living as if it could all be taken from us “like a thief in the night”, as the wise Teacher said, has many advantages. And doesn’t it seem, really as if this latest thing, this corona virus, has snuck-up on us suddenly and caught us completely unaware with our moral, ecological pants down and our treasures stored away with Wall Street con artists rather than in things that really might last and stand the test of eternity? Just like a thief in the night, this virus has robbed us of what we were literally banking on and figuratively secure in. Our treasure ended up being stored in plain sight and rather useless and flimsily secured against the thief. Indeed, it seems to make a bit more sense now to meditate on the truth that where our treasure it, there our heart is also.
What I have done over the past year, though is more in the practical arena than the philosophical. I have tried to live a more aware and caring life in relationship to the planet I love, and the home I inhabit and love, because long before the virus, I began to realize that I am responsible for how I live my life, my day. And if I lived my day as if something could be the last of something, then maybe the naysayers are right, and while I wouldn’t exactly save the planet, — I could possibly save my soul. And who knows, maybe just one person or a few persons, doing the right things, doing the moral things, doing the things that need to be done, willsave the whole world. After all, it’s been done before.
There are a few people in the world who are connecting this horrible pandemic to the ills we have long foisted on our Mother Nature and on the Earth, but it’s hard to hear them when you are afraid you personally are going to die. But we are all going to die, aren’t we? Or did we forget that? But should we be allowed to keep ruining the planet for the people and animals and fruits and vegetables and flowers and insects who want to live after we are dead? Should that be an option for any one, no matter their age, nation, income, religion, politics, or worldview? If nothing else, this whole thing about toilet paper, should surely make some kind of dim light-bulb go on in everyone’s faulty-wired, blinking chandelier. Shouldn’t it?
So, as I said, about a year or so ago, I started doing some things as if they were the last – not everything – mea culpa, pleaseforgiveme, really I feel truly sorry and I need to apologize to the future children of the world who hopefully will have a world to inhabit. But I did start to do some things as if they were the last. And it sort of began, ironically with toilet paper.
I have a friend and long, long ago before either of us married or had kids, she told me about how her father would make her, my friend and her five siblings count the sheets of toilet paper they were allowed to take in to do their business in the bathroom. If their business was the Number 1 kind, then they got two sheets of T.P. If their business was the Number 2 kind, they got four sheets. Now, this family was rich, but the dad I guess still believed that even if you are rich, there is no need to waste either money or toilet paper. He also really believed in that old adage of “waste not, want not”. Might be how he got so rich even with that many kids. He wasn’t an environmentalist or a religious person at all — he simply thought that his family should do what he considered to be the right thing to do – for the family.
Now – aren’t you wondering if all those people out there hoarding toilet paper for some godforsaken reason or other, are at least, for God’s Sake (and I mean that, For Her Sake), making sure every one is using only enough TP to do their business? Are you a little bit wishing that everyone out there who bought up all the toilet paper will conserve it, use it wisely, not waste it – so that if there really is a shortage, they might be convinced it is in their best interests to share it with the rest of us? Aren’t you hoping that if we really have seen the last of the toilet paper, that people will conserve it and use it wisely?
The real question that I started asking myself about a year ago, and that maybe we all need to ask ourselves as we take a closer look into our own hearts is this –
What am I hoarding or wasting? And how do I stop doing it?
Isn’t is horribly strange that many of us live in nations and cultures who think nothing – NOTHING!—of hoarding or wasting? We hoard money, we waste food. We hoard space, we waste time. We hoard stuff, we waste relationships. What kind of insane, unbalanced Society? Community? Culture? Worldview does those things? Shouldn’t we have figured out a while back that any group of people who do that for long, won’t exist forever? That any species, any planet that does that for long won’t exist forever? Shouldn’t we have figured out that “like a thief in the night”, death eventually comes and all those things will one day be taken from us? And then what? Have we really become so amoral, so heartless, so short-sighted, that we really don’t care what happens to anyone else after we ourselves die?
I do believe it is important to do the BIG MATH IF’s. Those are the “If this were my last moment with this person, what would I want them to know?” or “If this were my last day at work, how would I want my coworkers to remember me?” or “If tomorrow is Judgement Day, what should I change about myself today?” Those are good ways to live, indeed, and we should all take more time to live by them, and waste less time on the things that get in the way of the BIG MATH IF’s. We need to. BUT – we also need to realize that the LITTLE MATH IF’s are actually just the yin of the yang, the flip side of the coin, the reverse view in the mirror of all those BIG IF’S. What I do with my time and money– and my metaphoric and literal toilet paper– may some days seem small potatoes to me, but it’s really at the heart of all my Big Worldview Answers to Life’s Big Questions.
When I am more aware and mindful of what I do in relationship to the small things around me, things that on a daily basis might seem small in comparison to the Big Things, then I am in fact, doing what humans are truly meant to do as beings with souls and spiritual essence. When I think about how much toilet paper I really need to go Number 1, then I am actually practicing a spiritual discipline in order to form a habit in order to create a self-sustaining worldview about how important I think a single human being is to the planet, to other people, and possibly even to Whatever, Whoever is Out There in The Universe.
Imagine?! What I do with the small things has endless significance and importance to the Big Things. This is the Butterfly Effect Theory, the small pebble in the shoe of the king or the fork in the road, the drip of water that starts a flood, or the stone that kills a giant. Or maybe the virus cell that changes the heart of the world.
This reminds me of a book I read long ago, and whose title I will riff and satirize here – Imagine – “The Unbearable Lightness of Toilet Paper”.
So now for the nitty-gritty. Here is the way I have tried to change my way of seeing my life, my things, my belief system: By asking What – If questions about The Last Days. It works for me, a strange nerdy, geeky lover of Literature and Writing and as a believer in an ancient and ever-evolving worldview that There is Something / Someone Important – more important than I, but also that makes me more important – “Out There”. Whatever you call that “More Important” thing – please find it – Whether it is your God, your loved ones, your future, your planet, your people – please find that which motivates you to be better than you were yesterday and less better than you hope to live to be tomorrow. I find asking myself these If-Then Questions helps me. I hope they do you, too.
If this were my last roll of toilet paper, how much would I use right now to go pee?
If this were my last loaf of bread, how much would I snarf down now and how much would I save for tomorrow or for someone else, and how much would I enjoy each bite while I eat it?
If this were my last light-bulb, would I turn the light off when I didn’t need it? Do I need it on right now?
If I were only allowed a few gallons of water per day to use, how long would this shower be? How would I wash my dishes? How much do my clothes really need to be cleaned? How long would I let the water run to get hot? Or cold?
How much would I enjoy drinking this glass of water, this cup of tea? How sure would I be to drink it to the dregs and not waste one drop?
If I were only allowed to be on the computer, online, on my cell phone for one hour per day, what would I do with that time? Or if my computer or cell phone was on a timer and if it were left on for ten minutes when no one was in front of it using it, it would self-destruct, would I remember to turn it off when I walked away?
If I had the choice to walk to the store and get all the benefits of being outside moving, to slow down and enjoy the journey, and reduce my carbon footprint just a little bit – would I do it? Don’t I often have that choice, if I’m honest? Shouldn’t I make that choice whenever and wherever I can? What if this were the last time I could use my legs, my eyes, my body to walk somewhere?
What questions can you add? And how can you let those questions inform your choices in order to create habits in order to create character in order to live a more meaningful life?
How can we help each other, see the world differently, even after this whole pandemic has, I hope, receded into the past? I am hoping that we do remember, that though this time may pass, and this danger may recede, there is never an end to the real Human Condition. But alas, there is also never an end to the dangers to our health and our souls and the dangers to the health and the soul of our planet. Can we ensure, can we plan, can we be practical, can we be in this together, and can we try to also make sure that there is never an end to what we of faith, hope and love, and some good old practical uses and conservation of our stuff and our time — are willing to do to make all things better. Just better. Not perfect, no, but surely, truly, oh please yes — better. Here is to a renewed joy in the journey in this present age and present danger. Here is to many people grasping the “IF I’s” so that the “Then We’s” will thrive for a better brighter and healthier future for everyone – now and for our children’s children’s children.
I have long pondered the questions that Cat Stevens raised in his iconic song, “Moonshadow”. I am quite partial to my sight and being able to see the world around me and to read books with words and watch my loved one’s faces. But I confess, I often take my sight for granted for most of the day. I am wrong and wronging, sinful and sinning, and guilty and judged of taking so many, many things for granted. Let’s start with owning up, with confession to each other, and then let’s humbly help each other do better.
I had a high school friend who was born without one arm due to her mother’s taking thalidomide before anyone knew it was dangerous. Her poor mom didn’t know, she is guilty of nothing but bad luck. My own mother had an old-school doctor who didn’t believe in giving drugs for natural things like pregnant nausea so that is the reason I and my siblings lucked out. This friend learned to do many amazing things with one arm, and she could actually snap her toes really loudly – a “feat of feet” we all thought pretty cool. She had a great life, married with kids, but I won’t ever let myself think that if she had had a choice, she wouldn’t have chosen to have been born with two arms and hands. So if her mother had known about the dangers of thalidomide, there is no doubt in my mind she would never, ever, ever have taken it for what ailed her.
People, we know about the dangers of thinking that we can take whatever we want for what “ails us”. We can not plead ignorance that what we are continuing to do to the planet and to other humans is not dangerous and just as life-changing as if we lopped off all our limbs. We must stop. Change. Turn Around. Make Better Choices. We must ask ourselves the Big Questions and make all the Big People hear us when we ask them to do the Big Things. And we must ask ourselves the small questions and we small people must do all the small things, daily, “never growing weary in doing good”. And then maybe, just maybe, the children of the future will be born with all the advantages for living on this planet that children have always deserved. We must suffer the pains of first-semester nausea, now, while we give up dangerous habits and practices, and we must know that even though child-birth is painful, at the end there is the joy of healthy birth and thriving life for someone that we suddenly realize — hopefully not too late — someone — our child –that we love more than anything. Someone we would do anything for. Maybe even stop hoarding and wasting toilet paper for?
While you are stuck sheltering and maybe feeling irritable or scared today, think about all the things you have right now – at your fingertips, in your sight lines – and yes, these are real physical blessings most of us have as well as metaphors for how we should be more mindful and aware of all our gifts, joys, abilities, etc. We must ask ourselves what it would mean to have them taken from us and what it means about our responsibilities to them, and to each other.
Enjoy and Seize the Importance in what you have today, and if you are willing, enjoy your stuff as if it might all be gone tomorrow. Enjoy and Seize the Importance in the world around you today, and if you are willing, enjoy it as if you were put on the earth to take care of it wisely. Enjoy and Seize the Importance in your time today, and if you are willing, use each moment as if it could be your last. Enjoy and Seize the Importance in your people today and everyone in it, and if you are willing, treat them importantly enough, as if tomorrow you might wake up to find them gone, or they find you are gone. Enjoy and Seize the Importance in your very own life today, and if you are willing, understand solemnly, as true (and if anything is true, this is), as if someday your life will be robbed from you like a thief in the night — so ask yourself — Where shall I store my Treasure? What if this were the last day on earth?
If you like, listen to Cat Stevens while you love your life, and I hope, while you begin to use less toilet paper.
And back to good grammar, which I guess isn’t a digression after all — If It Were — the Last…… then subjunctively, hypothetically, with all the options still on the table — How Shall We Live Today? Because this is not (yet) a done deal, people. There is hope and a dream for tomorrow — IF?
Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if I won’t have to work no more
And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh if I won’t have to cry no more
Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg
Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh if I won’t have to walk no more
And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh if I won’t have to talk
IMPORTANT NOTE: My poem below and this post are not meant any way to make light of people with ongoing depression. It also is not at all meant to imply that people with depression or who are sad, should not seek help professionally, personally, from the experts, and from friends and family who love you. This poem is merely an attempt on my part to address my own dealings with loss and sadness at the current time as I am having to deal with certain issues.
Perhaps because you are more isolated and alone, you too, need just a small reminder to look on the bright side of your life as soon as you are possibly able. Perhaps you are feeling more vulnerable in yourself, or your relationships, or your beliefs. When the world seems dark, keep looking for the light. And if you can’t find the light yourself, follow the person with the flashlight or the candle. Believe in your heroic ability to do what you need to do in such a time as this. And if you can’t believe in your own abilities, lean hard on and use without guilt, the gifts and guidance of those people who have suffered much and still managed to have big hearts and a lot of love for other people.
I often have felt, at least in my own culture, we lack the ability to truly grieve and truly angst. We do need to go completely through the process of completely grieving or mourning the loss of something or someone, and that takes time, which we are seldom given enough of to do it all properly. If you are feeling down today for big or small reasons, or even for reasons that you can’t even put your finger on to explain what and why they are – let yourself feel sad. Let yourself feel down. This too is part of the journey that leads to something and somewhere and sometimes Someone or someone. We can’t always succumb to fear of sadness in the same we can not always succumb to fear of viruses. Neither one is something we want, but neither will any of us remain unchanged by the reality of both in the human experience. Change can be good, even when painful. But as one of my favorite quotes, says, fear can be a super-power if you use it the right way. And so can sadness and even a manageable amount of depression.
I am not recommending that you fast-forward to denial and I am not recommending that you skip ahead to self-medicate yourself with a false sense of happiness. It is not wrong to grieve or feel scared, or even to feel depressed, if you go through these things with the idea that it is for a greater purpose than wallowing in them. And if you make quite certain that you know somewhere inside your deepest self, that you are never meant to stay there in any of those things – not fear, not sorrow, and not depression. You are meant to go on to that feeling that makes you know you are bigger than anything small enough to live inside you – virus or fear or depression. You are meant to believe that hope and all of those actions and that particular life that only you and you alone – that all of that can come out of suffering to be something better.
Believe that there are big good things waiting for you, and that those things are strong enough and plentiful enough to defeat the small bad things — big things like smiles and laughter, and kindness and trust, warm food and warm touches, and lovely smells and lovely sights, and sweet dreams and sweet words, and of course, there will be the biggest most powerful weapon against all the bad stuff, the greatest of all — Love.
We may have to wait, and we may not like waiting, but perhaps we should remember that it is better to be out here pacing in the waiting room, than in the metaphoric surgery or morgue. Waiting means there is time to learn and learning means there is hope, even perhaps, in life after the surgery or morgue. So if you are feeling helpless, imagine instead that there is something, someone that needs your love. And love is worth waiting for.
You are the piece of coal today, that tomorrow can be a diamond. You are cocooning today, so that tomorrow you can be the butterfly. You are feeling the gritty sand behind your tired, sick, sorrowful eyes right now, so that tomorrow your eyes can be clear, and you will become as transparently real and as beautiful as glass. Today’s grinding sand are tomorrow’s windows to a cleaner, brighter soul.
The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. Jean Paul
Grieve and moan, angst and hide out for a bit, but take care of yourself. Let yourself hope even if you can’t feel it yet. Let yourself love something, even if it is something small or inanimate, even if it can’t love you back. I have been loving the actors on old Netflix TV series who make me laugh, even though they will never love me back. I have been loving the sound of the birds outside my window, the smell of cinnamon raisin toast and coffee, and the dredged-up memories of wonderful times I have shared with people I love.
Let yourself own your feelings for now, but realize you have only checked out those feelings for the time being. Like a book from the library that you don’t enjoy, return it as fast as possible and find another reading on life that can make you smile and feel hopeful again. Seek and find the very best parts of YOU, and of others, and seek some modicum of joy wherever and whenever you can, in those people and things around you.
*******At the end of this post, as in some of my past posts, I will share several links that you can text or call if your depression has reached such lows that you do not want to live any more. Please skip ahead to those links if you are feeling that way right now.
Please know that you are an important part of the lives that surround you and even if you don’t feel it right now, there is help and there is a way out of this and a way forward. Don’t give up.
A Poetic Pick-Me-Up
By Jane Tawel
March 17, 2020
I can’t stay sad for long,
It isn’t in my nature.
Unless I have done wrong,
To creature or Creator,
I’ll find the brightest side,
And let that be my guide,
To muddle on,
A smile to don,
And not stay down for long.
If I’m not in the right,
I’ll muster all my might,
To ask to be forgiven,
And then get back to livin’.
So, if I have hurt you,
Then please, just tell me true,
And also what to do,
To change your point of view.
But if I’m blue because,
The universe seems flawed,
And I am sad inside,
I’ll let Love be my guide.
I’ll cry or rant or rave,
But soon, I will be brave,
Enough to see the glass
More full– and greener grass.
Because when all is over,
I’d rather be in clover,
Than sitting on my bum,
And feeling mad or glum.
For a little while I gave up,
And then my mind, I made up,
To find the strength to burrow,
My way towards tomorrow.
There’s light and love just round the bend,
So, I will let my sore heart mend,
And find some joy in living
And then get back to giving,
Myself the right to heal awhile,
And find some peace, and find a smile.
I hope that if you’re weary,
And like I, maybe teary,
That you won’t give up either.
Just give yourself a breather,
From worrying or angst-ing,
Or in sor-row ensconcing.
I’m here for you, and you for me.
And surely, we can both agree,
That if we really need each other,
Our grief and woes, they will not smother,
The best in you and best in me,
And that is what humanity,
Can do, and live, and hope, and be.
With just a little happiness,
And trying to look on the best,
I think we’ll overcome the rest
Of what has made us feel depressed.
And letting go our pains and woes,
And seeing how this next bit goes,
We might to joy and peace succumb,
And our depressions overcome.
So, I will hope, but I won’t rush it,
And even when life’s lost its luster,
I’ll trust and love and faith I’ll muster
For if I shine just one more smile,
Then I’ll feel happier in a while.
Yes, happiness can be a plan,
To counteract and to demand,
That I care for my heart and soul,
And make some joy my greater goal.
Yes, I can cry and I can grieve,
But I am meant for joie de vivre.
Tomorrow I may mourn again,
And feel more sorrow and more pain,
But now, I’ll store fear on a shelf,
And take good care of my wee self.
I’ll find a smile, and do my part,
To heal my mind, soul, bones, and heart.
For life is good and love is long,
and hope can never do us wrong.
For fear is small and passing’s strife,
So, grasp at love, and re-love life.
Don’t ever be afraid or ashamed to get help with serious feelings of sadness or depression. The links below are to services that are available 24/7. Your call or text will be anonymous, and free.
Be brave enough to think you matter enough to someone to find hope in your journey. You are worthy of another day here with us. Believe it.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BELIEVE YOU ARE SUICIDAL TO CALL OR TEXT THESE NUMBERS. YOU JUST NEED TO KNOW YOU WOULD LIKE SOME HELP WITH LIVING TODAY.
PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH ANYONE YOU THINK COULD USE A HELPING HAND TODAY ALONG WITH YOUR OWN.