Last week, I wrote about Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ strong vision of “faith as a summons to build a better world.” We are not called to “believe something”. We are called to live a certain way, in the footsteps of the one who said, “I am the way.”
I suggested that in some ways, this pandemic is a blessing. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on the nature of our life in the past. We are able to think about the priorities we held, and to ponder a new way forward.
And now, we get the chance to think about renewing our common life in ways which are borne out of a new vision of what’s important in life.
Having said that, however, I also need to say how difficult this time is for us. We are facing new challenges. We are looking into an unknown future. We have no idea when this will end, and what life will look like in that new future which we are being summoned to build.
At times, I find myself repeating a wonderful line from Anne of Green Gables: “I am well in body, although considerably rumpled up in spirit.” I know I feel that way. I also hear it in the voices of other people; I can see it in their eyes.
On the surface, we are coping reasonably well. We are finding our way in this new time, this new world. We are adjusting. We are getting used to the new demands of living through a pandemic. We are finding a sense of equilibrium even as the world shifts around us.
My spirit is feeling a little rumpled up. Life is not as smooth as it used to be. I have to think now about how I might accomplish a task that was quite ordinary just six months ago. Events that used to be so easy now require thought and planning. I also find myself wondering if a certain task even needs to be done.
Going to a restaurant, for example. It isn’t the same as it used to be. Although I love being able to get out for a meal with a friend or two, it’s not quite as pleasant as it was. The tables are farther apart. I wonder if it’s safe. What about that group next to you? What about the wait staff? Has everything been well sanitized?
Or grocery shopping. The stores aren’t as crowded as they used to be, but there are still lines. How quickly do I have to rush home to wash my hands? Should I wash the groceries? And what about the people who don’t wear masks?
And that’s another thing. It’s wise to wear a mask. It’s our social responsibility to take care of each other that way. And I do wear a mask whenever I’m out in public. But what a sad thing. It’s such a stark reminder that we are living in an unprecedented time when we have to figure out how we are going to do things.
The world has changed. My spirit is feeling a little rumpled up.
Part of the reason for that, I think, is because life has become a little less intimate. We can’t touch each other. We aren’t shaking hands, or hugging, or coming close to other people. We are staying distant and everything just feels a little off. We can’t connect with people other than those who are part of our social bubble. Wearing a mask means that I can’t see your smile even though I can hear your laughter. Life is a little less intimate, and I feel that loss. It rumples up my spirit a little bit.
Some days are better than others, but it’s become part of my life, this rumpled spirit.
And while the pandemic is uppermost in our minds, other things also rumple my spirit. We are encountering the insidious and pervasive power of racism. We continue to face the very real threat of climate change and what that will mean for our children and grandchildren. Women are coming increasingly under attack due to the misogyny of a culture which still values men above women. The poor among us are bearing the brunt of the pain of this time as their suffering is deepened by unemployment and loss of income and social supports.
It truly is a time of disorientation, and I am considerably rumpled in spirit.
And then, I can’t help but wonder how much of this is permanent.
I am also concerned about whether, once there’s a vaccine, we will try to get back to normal. And I can’t help but think that might not be such a good thing, because we have learned some things in this pandemic about what’s really important in life, as I said earlier. President Obama used to talk about difficult times as teachable moments. Such difficult times are an obstacle, to be sure, but we also learn about ourselves, our relationships, our values, our priorities.
This pandemic has taught us some things—the gaps in care and preparedness; the woeful inadequacy of how we treat our seniors; who the real essential workers in our society are; the amazing things we are capable of doing, as well as the shameful parts of our nature.
Yes, this is a teachable moment. It would be a shame if we didn’t take the lessons we are learning to heart. As we do so, then the faith which summons us to build a better world has half a chance to become active.
So today, I am well in body, although considerably rumpled up in spirit. And I will continue to try to build a better world.
As I do so, I will try to be gentle with myself. And I will try to be gentle with others. And I pray you will be gentle with me and each other.
Yme Woensdregt is a retired Anglican Priest living in Cranbrook