By Rev. Jim Innes
I was permitted to share the story of one of my congregants. He and his wife go to another country every winter. This year, because of the pandemic, they were grounded.
This was a significant shift in lifestyle. Their trip abroad, in the late fall of the year, was a long-standing tradition.
They took it on the chin. And as they settled into their imposed reality, they decided to decorate for Christmas. They hadn’t done this for many years. As they went searching through stored boxes of decorations, they soon discovered themselves reminiscing. As they reminisced, they began to experience feelings attached to traditions they had let go of years before. Their memories were good ones, and they were filled with unexpected joy.
Their story provokes reflection on how the pandemic challenges us to look seriously at what traditions we hold as dear. Our practices, by their very nature, define our sense of self. Or at least we have come to think they do. And, because of that, we can fight to keep them long past their due date.
The pandemic is breaking down those self-reassuring hallmarks. And as an ice flow stretching itself over land, the pandemic is grinding out new touchstones, new ideas about what we hold as tradition. Consequently, and whether we wish it or not, all of creation will never be the same.
My intent is to be optimistic. And I’d like to share a poem written by Kitty O’Meara (a retired teacher and chaplain).
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
The other side of COVID can make for us a brighter future. But this requires trust that the process of life can, and will, take us somewhere great. Otherwise, we can, and will, get trapped in quicksand.
As I see it, to find a brighter future, we must look for ways to remain connected to our pandemic experience. And by that, I don’t just mean connecting to the highs and lows of our inner life. I also suggest not getting lost in some grief trap in which we wiggle and squirm in a vain attempt to be free of it. But instead to surrender to what is inevitable, to what we, together as a community, are experiencing.
As the poem suggests, and without taking away from any suffering, this pandemic experience can be powerfully liberating. When the clouds drift away and the sun shines on our backs again, life will be different. The only question is, will that new day (which will come) be a blessing filled with grace, or will we (and the earth) be more deeply wounded than it was before?
Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the Regional Ministry of South Huron.