In the last few columns, I’ve been reflecting on the pandemic. I spent that time trying to describe a way of thinking about how the pandemic has affected us. I’ve used language developed by Walter Brueggemann and Diana Butler Bass to help us reflect on what the last 16 months have been like for us. Brueggemann talked about a time of “disorientation”; Butler Bass used the language of “dislocation”. That language has been helpful for me as I reflect on what we’ve gone through.
I particularly thought that Butler Bass’ identification of four different senses of dislocation was immensely helpful—temporal, historical, physical, and relational dislocation. I added a fifth category of spiritual dislocation. We have become disconnected.
But now what? What’s next?
Some people suggest we can go back to what we were used to before the pandemic hit. But Brene Brown reminds us, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre–corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
It’s important to note that Brueggemann talks about a “new” orientation. We are not going back to the old orientation. We can’t go back to what we used to think of as normal. As Brene Brown indicates, this is one of the lessons we have learned in this time of disorientation. The old didn’t work so well for humanity or for nature.
Here’s an example. We have learned something new about what constitutes essential work. To be sure, medical personnel, first responders, and so on are essential. But so are janitors, people who stock shelves in stores, truckers who keep the supply chain moving, and clerks and cashiers. The people we used to just walk by without noticing them are crucial for making life safer and better. CEOs and bosses and managers aren’t essential workers, but the toilet cleaners, counter and handle wipers, forklift drivers, and so on.
In truth, this is the perspective of the Bible. These texts treasure the people who are on the margins, those who are at the bottom of the heap. Angels announced the news of the birth to shepherds, not to kings and emperors. The Old Testament repeats constantly that we must protect the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the gate. These are the vulnerable ones, who are often overlooked by those who have a little or a lot of wealth.
We have the opportunity to move into a “new” orientation; we are being called to think about relocating to a new vision of life; we are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment which fits all of humanity and nature.
Now none of us knows the future. No one can know what the future holds.
So what we have been given here is an opportunity to use our imaginations. This moment is a gift in which we can rethink how we can refashion our common life so we can live together in a way which is good for all humanity and all nature.
I remember at the beginning of the pandemic that nature began to use the slowdown in human activity as a time of healing. The air started to become cleaner; the rivers and lakes and seas began to recover from our garbage. The land began to breathe more freely.
We have been given this kind of opportunity once again. We can imagine how we might use this time to heal our common life.
Now, I don’t know where we are with regards to the pandemic. The most honest thing I can say is that we are nearing the end of the beginning. COVID isn’t through with us yet, even though we see some light on the horizon.
I describe part of the work of this time as a renewal of religion.
Now don’t misunderstand me, and don’t roll your eyes. I don’t mean religion as that sense of obligation with which we are all too familiar—to think a certain way, believe a certain way, behave a certain way. That kind of religion won’t help us at all; let’s just dump it in the dustbin of history, another casualty of the pandemic.
Rather, “religion” originates in several different sources. One of those is the Latin word “religare”, which means “to bind” or “reconnect”. Religare is about mending what has been broken, recovering what has been mislaid, reconnecting that which has been frayed, healing what has been dis-eased.
It’s a much healthier way to think about “religion”.
To focus on religare makes our gospel work much clearer. We begin imagining a new way of living and being. We do the work of finding and repairing and healing and binding up. We reconnect human and natural life with time, history, physicality, and relationships. We bind up our own sense of spirituality. That’s all gospel work.
We don’t need to return to the old ways. Nor should we. We can receive the gift of a new orientation. We can stimulate our imaginations to begin imagining a new vision of what life could be. We find a new place, a new home, a new way. We stitch a new garment and dream a new vision.
To do so, we find wise guides who can weave wisdom into our discourse of the common good. We look for those creative leaders and dreamers who can discern a new way into this new future.
We will need one another to get there. We haven’t taken this journey before, but together we can.
Finally, for me, at the very heart of finding our lost selves, we can relocate our hearts in the living, compassionate, and loving God who announced that creation “was very good”, and whose purpose is to renew and reinvigorate that goodness.
Yme Woensdregt is a retired Anglican priest living in Cranbrook