(Click here for podcast format) I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how I feel emotionally about the COVID 19 pandemic and the months of sheltering at home we’ve all experienced. I do hope that my remarks will offer some comfort. Some of you may feel the same as I do, or similar. Others may not, but in our own way I think we can all relate.
I want things to be the way they used to be this past December, a time that seems so long ago now.
My feelings remind me a little bit of a memory of being 7 years old, in a low budget hotel in Toronto, at Christmas time, my family had been in Canada for about a month, arriving after a week long crossing from Liverpool in Great Britain. We’d had a life in Britain that we knew intimately as natives of the country, now we were strangers in a strange land. For different reasons, obviously, I was then as I am now in a state of mourning. As immigrants my family faced the task of prospering in a new world, and that task did not come without the grief of loss.
Today, my church like so many is still shut down, I struggle to understand what is happening. Some churches have been open for a few weeks now; others like mine remain closed. I was recently directed to work once again at my office on the 18th floor of a building downtown. The first day was a shock. There was hardly anybody in the building, the homeless seemed more numerous than the commuters on the streets, it felt alien to me. Numerous businesses had obviously closed for good. I was filled with grief and fear.
Robert Heinlein cribbed the title of his book Stranger in a Strange Land from Exodus 2:22. The book espouses the Nietzschean view gods with a small ‘g’ rule the world. Apollo embodies truth, reason, and self-restraint and Dionysus, who is known for wine, religious ecstasy, and sex together are the chief arbiters of our understanding of modern life. In my view it is a story of the Bible transmogrified into the profane. I do not oppose such books, I embrace them, I have them on my bookshelf. I admire and learn from such authors, but I don’t see the world as they do. But we all know there is more than a grain of truth to the book.
Even though Apollo and Dionysus may apparently rule the temporal life, the world is changing profoundly never the less. Usually people demand someone in authority fixes their world for them – the church, psychologists, politicians, bureaucrats, business leaders – whoever you are, you fix the problem! So goes the refrain. But what is different this time is people are telling me they don’t believe anyone can fix the problem. They don’t trust authorities anymore. I think that’s a blessing.
I have to ask myself where is redemption? Where is healing? Where is God in all of this? Healing is always embodied in the transcendent. Right outside my living room window during the pandemic I could see families I’d never seen before, teenage sons and daughters walking with mom and dad in the middle of the day. I don’t believe I’d seen anything like that since the 1960’s. I saw lots of small children and their parents everyday, some quite happily wandered onto the front lawn, I live in the church manse and some must think I am a pastor. The light in a child’s eye is transcendent. It is also a call to moral responsibility.
Exodus 2:22 is about the power to name – and the power in a name. 22 Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom,[c] saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”. What is clear to me, is the meaning and purpose of Exodus is grounded in the lives of Moses and Zipporah and their son Gershom, and that vision somehow is God’s vision also.
I don’t know how the transcendent works in your life, but I know it does. Somehow, the world in which we live is being called to the transcendent. Whether it is Allah, The Buddha, Jesus, Moses or Abraham, Ganesh, you are being called. And I’m here to say you are not alone. I am not alone.
How did my family overcome the grief and fear of leaving England for a new country? By experiencing the transcendent. For example, in England we didn’t have a fridge and we had ice cream very rarely. In Canada we were able to buy a half-gallon of ice cream at Loblaw’s on Bloor Street. When you’re seven years old? A half-gallon of ice cream is transcendent! Sometimes it’s transcendent for people much older than seven!
Dare I ask; what is your ½ gallon of ice cream? What are you being called to do? What is the transcendent light that is emerging from the darkness?