Category Archives: Faith

No Greater Love

Despite the coronavirus, blue skies, cherry blossoms, and bright daffodils have come to Seattle and I want to be outside with them. I’m tired of my house and of seeing no one but my husband. I love him, but seven weeks of Safe at Home is boring.

Recently, I was so thrilled to have a steering wheel in my hands and an accelerator under my foot as I drove to the pharmacy that I wanted to drive for hours. But, no. I went straight home afterward.

At the same time, I feel comfort and solidarity in knowing that we’re all suffering through this isolation together.

Except that we’re not. Some states carry on as if the coronavirus is no more dangerous than car accidents and seasonal flu. Even in areas with stay-at-home orders, millions of people disregard them. Come on, folks. Millions of people around the world are staying home and sacrificing their income and businesses to save your life. Please return the favor by staying home and saving their life, too. Stay home to make the sacrifices of people who’ve lost their jobs worthwhile.

Grocery cashier wearing mask

Stay home to save the lives of people doing work on which all of us depend: first responders and medical workers, custodians and delivery people, cashiers and shelf stockers, drive-up window employees and cooks, warehouse employees and garbage collectors, transit workers, food bank volunteers, and telephone help lines. If you reduce the spread of the coronavirus in your area by staying home, you make their world safer.

We can do this. We can come together as one community–locally, nationally, globally. The coronavirus gives us an opportunity to remember that social solidarity is part of being human. As David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times,

Social solidarity is an active commitment, not merely a feeling of connection but an “active virtue.” Solidarity recognizes both the inherent worth and dignity of each person and the way we are “embedded in webs of mutual obligation — to one another and to all creation. It celebrates the individual and the whole together.”

. . . It is out of solidarity, and not normal utilitarian logic, that George Marshall in “Saving Private Ryan” endangered a dozen lives to save just one. It’s solidarity that causes a Marine to risk his life dragging the body of his dead comrade from battle to be returned home. It’s out of solidarity that health care workers stay on their feet amid terror and fatigue. Some things you do not for yourself or another but for the common whole.

Screw This Virus!, David Brooks, New York Times, March 19, 2020 see here
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Solidarity is why we stay home even if we feel healthy or invincible or have cabin fever, for we know we might unwittingly pass the virus to others. It’s why we stay six feet apart, hoping that by so doing, we’ll lessen the burden on first responders and medical staff. Solidarity is why we don’t hoard food and supplies but leave plenty for others.

Last Supper of Jesus with Brazilian streetchildren as by Joey Velasco, artist
Last Supper with the Street Children, Joey Velasco, artist

Holy Week seems an appropriate time to write about love and sacrifice, life and death, despair and hope–the themes of life in the coronavirus pandemic. I began this post on Maundy Thursday, the day on the Christian calendar when we believe Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Laying down our life for others is what we do when we stay “safe at home.” When our jobs and business are sacrificed for the “greater good.” When we risk our life in essential jobs, both seen and unseen. When we set aside our work to care for and teach our children at home. When we stay away from church, synagogue, mosque, and temple and postpone weddings and funerals to a safer time. Jesus, who laid down his life for humanity, calls on us now to sacrifice in ways we could not have imagined before coronavirus crashed over us.

On Holy Saturday I returned to writing. This is the day between Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is a day of darkness and despair when Christians keep vigil until Sunday’s dawn. In this space we contemplate our complicity in Jesus’ continuing crucifixion, praying for God’s forgiveness and for a glimmer of hope. Between the crucifixion and resurrection, we, like Jesus’ first disciples, cry out for answers into an echoing silence. We long to know that Life is greater than Death and Good more powerful than Evil. We long for suffering to be redeemed.

That’s what we hope for, too, as we see refrigerator trucks outside hospitals and cars lined up for miles at food banks and unemployment offices. We cry out for answers as nurses and doctors plead for masks and medicine. We long for hope as the death toll climbs and we grieve both those who have died and those yet to succumb. We keep active vigil until Easter dawn.

Abstract light rays from a bright center.

And now, it is Easter. Christ is risen! Life has overcome death. Good has won and will win the day, somehow, some way, even if we only see glimmers of it now: A violinist serenading an emergency room; a loved one recovering from the virus; a child drawing a rainbow on a sidewalk; a whisper thanks for family and friends, for daffodils, and birds singing. God is not silent but speaking through officials who order social distance and quarantines and nurses who tell the dying they are not alone. God’s love touches us virtually in people who reach out by phone and internet. Love, not death, has the final word.

On this Easter day tombs of despair roll open and hope returns in smiled greetings from six feet away, music played from separate balconies, clapping hands at 7:00 P.M., and DIY masks that tell us someone cares. A new day will dawn fully, eventually. We trust that promise–that suffering will be redeemed–because we have already seen glimmers of light among us.

Yes, Safe at Home is boring and hard. Sacrifice and sorrow are real. Yes, we are in this together, all of us, for we are all God’s children. And yes, if you look carefully you can see glimmers of dawn among us, the light that will fully dawn, some day. Christ is risen.

Finding Calm in the Coronavirus Storm

Each night as I try to fall asleep, I can’t help but imagine dying of coronavirus pneumonia in a hospital without my family. I turn my mind to God and fall asleep.

Each day, I think about the reality that people I love will certainly die in the next three months. Who will care for their families? Will I be one of the grieving or the dead, or both? The grief around us will become overwhelming as it is now in other parts of the world. As someone said recently, the freight train coming towards us in the U.S. has become a bullet train. I push the thoughts out of my mind and go about my day.

Several times each day, I imagine the people who are sit at their kitchen table wonder how to pay their bills and rent, buy groceries, and care for their loved ones after suddenly losing their jobs. At other times, I think about the thousands of homeless people and refugees with no way to wash their hands and clean their belongings frequently, and no way to self-quarantine to stay safe. How terrifying that must be. I say a quick prayer for them.

At other times I think about those who risk their lives and their families to work on our behalf, among them medical personnel from doctors, nurses, Certified Nurse Attendants to custodians; grocery and delivery workers, utility workers, first responders; government and community leaders; military personnel; transit drivers; Meals on Wheels providers; nursing home staff; reporters; and factory, farm, and warehouse workers. I am awed by their courage and commitment to the common good. With an aching heart, I lift a prayer on the wind.

I think of those who must still go to work because their bosses require them to do so, those who cannot afford to stay home, and the 70% of workers whose jobs cannot be done from home. These are brave people, whether they consider themselves brave or not, for whom I am unspeakably grateful and afraid. Be with them, God, and with their loved ones.

I don’t have children at home who need my attention, steadiness, love, and assurance, and for whom I need to be an referee or instant teacher as we remain in quarantine. It’s only my husband and I who will get cabin fever, feel bored, anxious, or irritable. Fortunately, we have a steady source of income and haven’t lost jobs. As an epidemiologist said recently, streaming Netflix while sitting on our sofa doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything to save the world, but we are. Not spreading the virus saves loved ones, caregivers, the world.

I know I am not alone in these feelings. I invite you to pause and pray for all of the people above, some names known to you but most unknown. Pray each day in your own words or with no words. If you are not a praying person, use the guided meditation below.

Breathe slowly several times. Settle your heart. Hold person or group in your mind. Imagine a gentle breeze of peace moving over and around them. Imagine them growing calm, then filling with wisdom and insight. Imagine a path opening before them through a forest and that the Holy One who created the universe will hold them and care for them as they walk that path, no matter what comes. Let that same peace and confidence and courage enter your being, as well. Breathe. Open your eyes and continue your day.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be at peace. The Holy One who created the universe will hold you and care for you in the days ahead, no matter what comes.

Is God a Narcissist?

It was gorgeous. The highway through northeastern Oregon crossed rolling hills of range land covered in still-green grass and scrubby sagebrush. Bluffs of creased rock rose beside the road. Tall trees surrounded solitary ranch houses in scattered valleys. It was the type of landscape that makes a person seem small in the universe. Psalm 8 came to mind.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established,
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God…
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands…

Psalm 8, New Revised Standard Version

My in-laws have lived for almost 90 years on farmland in south-central Idaho and are grudgingly considering a move to a retirement community in the other end of the state. We had just visited them to hear about their decision and help them prepare for the move. Their minds tell them to move but their hearts want to stay. Their lives had meaning in Twin Falls where they were rooted and their friends lived. Could they find new meaning and purpose in Spokane?

Divine Narcissism

As I drove home to Seattle, I thought about the fragility of life, the passage of years and the meaning of life. In eighth grade I had to learn the first question of the Westminster Catechism in order to join the church and the words of the Catechism returned to mind now: “What is the chief and highest end of man [sic]? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Hearing that voice of the Catechism in my head put me over the edge. Such beauty and such sorrow just to glorify God? Really? What kind of divine being would create a world like that? It sounds like the ultimate in narcissism and selfishness.

If some human dude told me my main purpose in life is to glorify him; the healthiest, wisest thing I could do would be to laugh in his face and run the other direction. If self-denigration is a prescription for a stifling, abusive human-human relationship, why would it be different for a human-divine relationship and worldview? If it’s unhealthy between human beings, it seems an equally unhealthy way to think about God.

Another View

However, because human beings are meaning-makers, myth-makers, I needed an alternative way to think about the meaning of human life and my place in the world that would give my in-laws and me something purposeful and worth living for.  I threw my anger, questions, despair and hope at the universe as I drove on in silence and beauty, wrestling with the Divine while my husband and dogs slept. 

Just the day before, I had held a blue and white plate painted in 1765 and wondered whose table it had originally graced, for what was it used, and what stories were told at that table. I considered that in fifty years, someone may hold items I now treasure and wonder about the people owned them, as well.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8 , New Revised Standard Version

I had done my best all that weekend to be patient and kind as my beloved mother-in-law sorted through one-half of one closest. I do my best to be a good daughter as my mother progresses into severe dementia. I try to find meaning and purpose in my own life while dealing with one health issue after another. I have tried to find God and purpose for life in all of these situations. Here’s where I’ve ended up:

Plants and animals evolve. Rocks wear away in the elements. Rivers carve new paths. So, too, our understanding of that which is beyond our comprehension needs to be open to new path, new crevices, evolving into new ways of thinking and believing about eternal matters. Here’s what I believe, what I reaffirmed as I drove through the beauty of western Oregon with a heart full of love and grief:

Partnership with God

I believe that each of us in this world is a partner with that which created the universe. We are therefore to cherish the world and all its life forms. I believe that each of us and all of us together exist as partners with the Creator of the universe to bring health, wholeness, and fullness of life to everyone. To do so, we must live justly, practice kindness, and walk humbly, as the prophet Micah says. In the words of Jesus, we are called to be servants of all and to give our life for others.

I don’t know where life leads, but as surely as birds sing and flowers bloom and the sun rises each morning, humans are created to bring goodness into the world; and beauty, and joy, and love. I believe the world is still being created and that we are part of the process of creation unfolding. I believe not in obliteration of self to God, but partnership with God.

Some would say God is near. I’d like to believe that. I don’t know. In the meantime, I feel as one who has stepped off a cliff and holds on by her fingernails. “I believe. Help my unbelief.” If there is a God, he/she/it is different from anything we can conceive, so our descriptions need always to be conditional.

I continue to act my way into being. Do good. Affirm beauty. Live. Love.

So, what do you think? What would you say is the purpose of human life? Are you searching? Let me know. Let’s talk.

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