This past Sunday my church canceled our flesh-and-blood gathering, and had an online service instead. It was a very difficult decision to make. Embodied gatherings play a crucial role in awakening, connecting and healing. They are essential to our spiritual lives, and times of collective anxiety — like the one we are in now — are precisely when we most need a community to gather with and lean on for support.
Yet our community makes (a very imperfect) effort to put vulnerable people at the center of our decisions. Since these folks would be the most affected by the spread of coronavirus, we make the difficult decision to love one another by avoiding each other. Along with many other community-based organizations, we told people to stay home.
We did not cancel our gathering just to follow the herd, but because we recognize that we are part of a greater social fabric. In some ways, I find the collective response an inspirational reminder that we belong to one another and that we do actually have the potential as a species to adjust our behaviors and organize constructively around a common purpose. I would love to see this kind of coordinated effort put forth toward not just a virus, but toward affordable housing, reparations and refugee resettlement, to name a few.
What if business as usual came to a halt until we ensured that nobody had to sleep without dignified shelter? What if every house of worship canceled services, every school canceled class, every sporting event went on hold and every airport shut down until we ensured nobody would die due to inadequate medical care? If we can rapidly change to confront this virus, we can rapidly change to confront our social injustices too!
All that said, it is not lost on me that the current solution the authorities are proposing (and that we are going along with) involves isolating ourselves. There are some big contradictions at play here that I am actively wrestling with. I can say that the more time I spend sitting with the insights of mystical spirituality — in which God is an ultimate mystery containing both paradox and clarity — the more comfortable I am naming contradictions, navigating gray areas and staying centered in the midst of chaos. Facing uncertainty and absurdity with courage is one of the great tasks before us. I don’t profess to have the answers. But I am grateful to have community to be in through it all, and together stumble our way forward with mutual love, support, honesty and imperfection. May we not succumb to fear and resentment, but instead play in the wild waves of the Ocean of Grace.
Rev John Helmiere convenes Valley & Mountain Fellowship. He can be reached through www.valleyandmountain.org.
Read more of the Mar. 11-17, 2020 issue.