There is a world beyond my four walls, a world that will return once COVID-19 runs its course. There is a world of beauty that has a life of its own and doesn't depend upon humans for its awesome magnificence. While we wait inside, this world flourishes outside. As industry and travel have come to a stand-still, polluting fogs have lifted over industrial centers with the worst track record for toxicity; as our carbon footprint lightens, so habitats enjoy a reprieve from human abuse. Videos of dolphins frolicking alongside swans in Venice's deserted canals are most likely "fake news," but the documented return of life to Italy's ports is proof that our planet is enjoying a brief "breathing space" even as we humans protect our very ability to breathe by practicing social distancing.
Video of Dolphins
Just as the world flourishes outside, so we can flourish inside. There are those, of course, who simply won't stay inside. In the last two weeks, spring break revelers and sun-seekers hit the beaches in droves, despite "stay home" orders. Even in Italy, the police have had to crack down on violators while in other countries, including Malta, there have been people who tested positive who refuse to stay home, thus endangering all their contacts including the police officers who monitor them. But those exceptions aside, many are finding this time set apart to be a time of blessing. Now, of course, many of us are facing loss of income, the collapse of our businesses and an inability to pay basic bills such as rent. mortgage, medical supplies. Even so, the knowledge that countless people world-wide, face the same predicament lessens the sting of these challenging times. In the face of adversity, if we refuse to give in to fear, we can experience a sense of solidarity with those whose lifestyles and means of livelihood have been affected.
There is a world within my four walls, a world of beauty that has a life of its own and doesn't depend upon the state of my bank account. For the next six weeks, my focus will be the 90 students (enrolled in 5 university courses at three institutions ) whom I am presently teaching online. Despite the hundreds of emails and inevitable technological glitches that online teaching entails, there is a sense of connection in these modified learning communities, a willingness to be patient, an appreciation for every kindness. For many of my students and for myself, class becomes a time for investing in the future, for finding meaning in the "now," for moving beyond uncertainty into resilience. My workload seems to have quadrupled but, much as I complain, it is good to have a sense of purpose and meaning.
And when classes are over and I am no longer on a university payroll?
Then comes contemplative time, a time of entering into a different dimension of consciousness within my four walls, a time for inner recovery that doesn't depend upon my productivity or usefulness, a time that has a life of its own because the Timeless One will call me "out of time" so I can simply "be."
Be well/ Stay well!
Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
As the COVID-19 pandemic extends across the globe, so do fatalities. Mass burial pits in Iran, the stacking up of bodies in northern Italy and a prohibition against public funerals elsewhere all present us with the macabre face of the coronavirus. There is no denying that this hidden enemy strikes like the proverbial thief in the night, taking down the young and the old, the healthy and the infirm, those who follow medical directives and those who defy them. Death strikes where it wills, claiming celebrities, medical professionals and ordinary citizens alike, filling the rest of us with dread.
But terrible as this pandemic is, there is a worse reality than becoming a statistic -- that is, becoming the "living dead." Now, I'm not referring to zombies (if you believe in them!) nor to people in a poor state of health but rather to those who have lost the capacity to hope, to love, to dream -- to those whose faces are frozen with discontent, whose imaginations are devoid of color, whose words are filled with toxicity, whose hearts are hermetically sealed ... These are the "dry bones" who lead Spiritless lives, the lost ones who live in perpetual discontent because they harbor rage, or hatred, or resentment, or the sense of being "hard done by." These are the ones who are "buried alive, " the ones who exist in graves fashioned from disappointment and despair, those who live in spiritual exile because they are disconnected from the ground of their being, from the One many of us name as "God" or "Ultimate Reality."
Only the Spirit of God can transform the living dead into those who are fully alive; only the Spirit of God can draw us from our graves into new life in the land of the living which is our inheritance. Just as Jesus called Lazarus by name, his voice resounding across the canyons of Death and decay, so he calls each of us out of our atrophy. Just as Jesus summoned Lazarus from the tomb, so he invites each of us to step into the sunlight, into the glory of the Divine Presence. And just as Jesus demanded that Lazarus be unbound, so he invites each of us to shed all that ties us down, constricts us and limits us. In the freedom of God's Presence, we become a new creation, a liberated people, a sign of God's glory. This is the call of Lent, the call of life, the call of the present moment. May this call be louder than the sound of fear, more powerful than the lure of apathy, and more credible than the voice of self-loathing which is so toxic to ourselves and to everyone around us!