I was commenting on a friend’s post today. She is someone of great heart and intelligence, who is struggling with the current conundrum of a Super Villain Virus and the push to reopen schools; a problem of “pandemic-proportions” foisted on her as a teacher and a parent. Anyone who has ever been both a teacher and a parent, (and I have long been both), will know the difficulty when one is asked to choose between those “two sides of our hearts”, and we don’t always make the right decision. But then we shouldn’t have to choose between “our children” — it’s an unfair “Sophie’s Choice”. And we wouldn’t have to so often choose between our love of our students and our love of our children if things were different here, at least in the good ‘ole U.S. of A.
My friend questioned whether she is being asked to be a “martyr” for her students if classrooms are reopened during this pandemic. She feels she is being asked to count the cost for her students for staying out of the classroom without considering the cost for her own family of going back in. My thoughts are included below as it might prove interesting for some of my other teacher and parent friends. But even if you are neither, wouldn’t you like to be part of the Big Picture Solutions that are so desperately needed now? The old chalkboard lessons have been erased or at least smeared due to a very bad thing happening around the world, but that merely means we can start anew and learn better lessons for ourselves and teach all the children that we care enough to do the hard work of Real Change.
Dear Shaneka: The difficulty is that what we are seeing is that the problems are so, so deep and much bigger than just these critical decisions we must make for the upcoming school year. The long-standing issues in America are all coming to a head in this pandemic issue in terms of educational resources, health resources, paid time off for sick time and for sick child health care for everyone, (no matter your 401k status), and livable wages for all. We need more schools, more and better paid teachers, smaller classrooms, more money in public education especially in areas of the country where there are not huge tax dollars (this includes poorer regions throughout the country along with those parts of the country that bear the brunt of systemic racist policies). We need to re-consider the overwhelming costs of getting a decent education from the early years to the college years and then truly weigh that against the costs of NOT providing educational resources for all our citizens and the overwhelming costs that has had to the whole nation because of our laxness in addressing the problem.
We are still always trying to foist the tough decisions onto parents and teachers but the tough decisions must be made by those with the power and resources to change what is wrong that makes dealing with a pandemic so overwhelming. We know as teachers that the problems have been overwhelming long before now. We know as parents that the tough decisions must always be made for the good of all of our children; because it is only if all of our children are safe, and healthy, and able to thrive, will any child really have the future and the dreams that he or she deserves.
We keep looking for band-aides but what we need is “open-heart” surgery on a national and state level. Oh, teachers have martyrs’ hearts, for sure, Shaneka, but going into dangerous situations for false or foolish reasons won’t make any one a true martyr, it will simply be one more finger in a dam that has already broken. The flood of problems we face has already begun lapping at the edges of all of our towns and communities. We have to fix the dam. And quickly. (Analogy to Hans Brinker story intentional.😊)
C’mon folks, we can do this. If the flood of fears and problems has begun seeping into our very homes and our children’s playgrounds, then it is long past time to fix the broken structures that have opened those floodgates. We can do it no matter what our lot in life or our calling. We can all take a page from the mothers and fathers and teachers, and with the ingenuity and creativeness and care and love that lets a teacher walk into a classroom every day or a parent love and dream big dreams for her child each night, we can “be the change the world needs to see”. Let’s take this opportunity to rebuild the broken parts not just put band aides on them. And beginning with rebuilding our schools and re-imagining our children’s education and our children’s future seems a very, very good place to start.
Awkward Questions We Must Ask During This Pandemic —
Even if It Means Losing a Friend
By Jane Tawel
July 1, 2020
When I first became a mom and had my four wonderful children, now all grown and adulting, I loved being with them, caring for them, watching over them like a mother hen. And so most playdates included me. I was always a bit cautious about dropping my children off with other people, even if I knew them, was good friends with the parents, or possibly even was related to them. It wasn’t exactly that I didn’t trust them but….. I didn’t trust them. I mean I didn’t trust anyone but their loving dad, to truly love and watch-over and protect and care about my kids as much as I would. I never minded other parents dropping their kids at my house and was always a hawk on the sidelines trying to ensure safety to all the children, even the ones who were not mine. If I had to leave the swimming pool as a lifeguard, ALL the kids had to get out of the water (“But Mom we’re teenagers now”. “Too bad, out.”) The one time my kids were in a hot tub at a friend’s house, and I asked her to watch my kids while I went to breast-feed the baby, my daughter almost drowned right in front of my friend. Luckily her sister was there to save her. So, call me overprotective, call me a worry-wart, call me a helicopter mom — all true — if it was about safety and protection. I didn’t try to protect my kids from risk or failure, or learning or fighting their own relational battles — but physical safety — heck yeah! I believed that as long as I could, I would do my very, very best to protect them. Now, since they are young adults, the most I can do is caution and pray (and they will confirm I do plenty of both — still my job).
But then all the kids started getting old enough to want sleep-overs. It would have been rather weird for them if I had insisted that if they wanted to sleep over at a friend’s house, their mom — I — would have to sleep-over too. And of course, I didn’t do that. But I did often have to say no to sleep overs, especially if I didn’t know the family or other kids or parents that well. But even if I did know them fairly well, I would always have to ask this very awkward question: “Do you have guns in the house and if so, where and how to you store them?”
Asking someone if they keep guns at home is a bit like asking someone on a first date if that’s a pimple or a cold sore on their lip. Awkward! However, this thing about guns in this country is something people think very, very differently about, and so when you ask a very reasonable question, it feels intrusive because people see it as political. For me it had nothing to do with my view of guns or my view of my friends — it had to do with, “will my child be as safe as possible at your home, and do you consider this an important safety issue like I do?” This was something I had learned to ask as a careful, discerning parent, and yes, some people got offended, and yes, some people might have lied, and yes, some relationships fell apart even, but at the same time, asking might have made not only my kids safer but made those families safer too, if they found out they or their own friends were not treating gun ownership and storage with the seriousness it should be. I knew without a doubt, that even if it was an awkward conversation, I would rather my children and I be “safe and not sorry”. You see, my children’s lives are the most precious gifts I have ever, ever received and I wanted to treat them as such. I would never get another one of J, C, V, or G — my unique and oh, so special four children — and so I didn’t mind being considered a bit overprotective, even if it cost us a “fun time”; even if it cost us a friend.
Fast forward to 2020, and some of us who would rather be “safe than sorry” have got to start being “the careful parent” of our own lives and the lives of others. As Corona Virus continues to rampage through our nation, we may not be able to control other people’s foolishness or lack of care about their own or our safety — but we CAN control their access to us, do our best to not be unaware of or ignorant of their behaviors both in our presence and apart from us, and speak out when necessary. We do have the right, awkward as it may feel, and the responsibility to protect ourselves and our children, and our children’s children. We must truly take seriously any possible threat to our well-being, even if “those people” do not. But just like guns, some people see the safety precautions and their rights to do whatever they want with the weapons of this virus as a political issue. Don’t let them do that to you. It is not — any more than gun safety is a political issue. It is a life-issue and a safety-issue and an issue about how much we care about each other. And so it feels intrusive and awkward to bring the subject up, but if we start caring more about our health and safety and the health and safety of others, more than we care about our feelings or egos or politics, then we will make having these awkward conversations just one more part of the new normal. We will make asking the right questions of others a matter of caring about them, and we will willingly share with others what they need to know before they decide to meet with us. We will be honest, even with our most casual acquaintances and we will be truthful with ourselves when we ask, “is this event worth my giving up something in the future with people I love?” And dear, dear folks — we need to start having these conversations before we get together with other people.
And sometimes the hardest conversations are with the very people who are your best friends and your beloved family. Having to ask your parent or child, “by the way, before you come over, what have you done this week, how safe were your co-workers this week, and are you still wearing a mask and washing your hands like a surgeon”? Last week, when we were lulled into a sense of security (false as it turns out this week) that maybe we could have another couple over for a socially distanced, outdoors, bring your own food and utensils, keep it distanced and keep it short little get-together at our house, we made all the arrangements until I mentioned the time. Then my friend (who is 70 years old and has been quite careful about following all the protocols during the pandemic / quarantine) asked if we could make it later in the day since the day before we were to meet, they would be hosting a party for a friend’s son who was graduating high school and she would be hosting 30 -40 other people. Yep. True story. I was rather flabbergasted and yes, blindsided. So my hubby and I discussed it and I texted her a very kind, sweet text asking if we could delay the get-together and she was very kind and texted back, ‘of course we could’. But here’s the scary part — if she hadn’t mentioned it in passing, I would never have known how many other households I would be exposed to through her the very next day. I never would have known if she hadn’t let it slip that her “gun was loaded in an unlocked drawer” so to speak.
So here is the gist, the bottom line, the stern warning, the upshot, the please, please, please let’s all commit to doing this. We absolutely must start quizzing people about where they have been and with whom and for how long and what protections they used when they did it — BEFORE we get together with them. Remember that old adage that every one your mate has had sex with, you technically have also had sex with? Well, corona virus is like that, y’all, but the thing is — if you’re asymptomatic or have just recently been exposed — you don’t even know that you’ve “had sex” with the virus. So, abstinence is finally the right solution folks — and we do that by sacrificing pleasure for the long term health of all us, and by masking up, social distancing, washing like a surgeon, telling each other the truth, and making good (even when tough) decisions for those we love.
We can’t be embarrassed around each other or irritated if someone asks us about our exposure or if we have been following protocols with the Corona Virus — this is killing us folks! We certainly cannot keep being offended if someone asks us to follow the safety guidelines when we are with them and we must stand up to those who act offended by our desire to protect ourselves and our children from them — (do I need to say it again? THIS IS KILLING US.) Just like asking if someone’s guns are stored in a safe, locked lockbox, we have to start asking people if they have been “locking down” the threat of their corona virus possibilities. Just like I never believed (without proof) someone who would say, “oh don’t worry, I’ll watch your kids” or “how dare you ask, my kids would never do such and such” or “don’t worry I’m very careful with the gun I keep loaded in my bedside drawer” we can’t pretend that all of us don’t stretch the truth to protect ourselves from criticism or from having to change our behaviors. We can’t really keep expecting to believe that others are being careful to protect their own health or mine, unless we are willing to converse, and communicate, and dialogue. And we should not shy away from a little bit of questioning and a commitment to get some reasonable answers on the part of those we would like to be with.
I will promise to never be offended if family or friends quiz me about whether I am doing my part for their safety. I won’t get my hackles up even if my very own children say to me, “Mom, we can’t come over this Saturday because you went to such and such a place and were with such and such a group”. I know they are saying no to being with me in order to protect me and because they know how much I love them. They may understand my choices to do “such and such”, just like I might understand their choices or a friend’s choices and we may be perfectly fine, even in agreement with — even applaud — some of those choices to do things with other people or attend something that is important. BUT approval and agreement for each other’s choices as important enough to perhaps do something that risks our health, means that we will not be able to do “our things” together if it means we won’t be safe together — not until this horrible plague is over. And God willing, someday it will be over. Then — we can all literally and figuratively breathe easy, and “let the parties and concerts, and museum trips, and play dates and sleep overs begin!!
What it means to do the right thing right now by all that we have been entrusted with, is that we must be willing to be seen as overprotective if necessary, even if it costs us a “fun time”, even if we lose a friend, even if someone is offended. We just cannot risk the worst by hoping for the best. We absolutely must not send off our lives to a risky play-date situation or entrust our health to an unsafe sleep over. We must prove that we can trust each other, by honestly communicating with each other. And — If we haven’t already, we must begin to treat our health and well-being as the precious gifts they are. We won’t be getting any other lives with which to replace these very unique and special ones we have, and just like our children, our lives are counting on us to protect them.
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?
Ironically, this may be the best Earth Day Celebration in a long time. I am sure that the Earth is celebrating, anyway, as perhaps the one “upside” to this whole horrible Corona Virus pandemic, is that we can finally see that with drastic measures on humans’ part, the Earth can actually begin to heal from all we have done to Her.
Let’s hope we can keep some of the good stuff for the planet when this all ends. It won’t be easy, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a healthy planet again? Let’s hope the “new normal” includes a lot more focus on humanity’s health and happiness, but also some serious and intentional living for the health and happiness of our Planet Home. Happy Earth Day!
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.