Will the Transformational Potential of the Pandemic be Lost on Us?

As I look out on a perfect winter’s day I’m slightly dizzy with the rugged beauty that surrounds me. In the clear blue sky above me, with not a single jet trail to spoil the blanket of azure. A crisp, still morning with nothing but the sound of my crunching footsteps in the icy grass below me, I welcome the fantastic panorama of the textured rocks and icy water. In this blissful, restful silence, who could not sense God’s presence?

I realise my experience is not everyone’s. There are of course, at least two very distinct realities operating right now, one is the reality of the people who are in the throes of the pandemic, personally involved with their own, or someone else’s suffering in one way or another. And there are those like me, who have been in various stage restriction for the best part of the year, somewhat protected by adequate wealth /support systems and somewhat protected from harm.  

The former group, the many exhausted health care and essential workers, those who provide our food, the people who have lost jobs or are desperately worried for the future, the long-suffering parents whose children are missing school, the many public servants who have to keep going, all of them putting themselves in danger daily, are the ones who seem to be bearing the bulk of the burden. But even in the middle of this, every time a worry is shared, every time a healing hand is laid on a patient, every time a friend calls a vulnerable neighbour, every time a prayer of “Help!” is uttered in desperation, every time a kindness is done, there is the presence of God.

Compared to many, many people, my Covid isolation has not been that much of a hardship despite being a full-time carer for my husband who is suffering from not one, but two rare dementias. We are managing. We still laugh and love each other. of course it is very challenging at times but that’s ok too. Many people have it much worse. There is a sense that we’re all in it together globally despite the isolation, in solidarity with everyone else who’s finding life challenging and there’s something so unifying in just knowing that. Indeed, even though I hesitate to suggest it, if God wanted us to experience global solidarity I sometimes wonder if there would be any better way? After all, it was going to take something this dramatic to waken us from our collective madness.

It was only a few days ago that I realised that I hadn’t much considered the question the question of where God was to be found in the pandemic largely because for me, it’s a redundant one.  It’s just not a question the contemplative mind would ask, a bit like asking where’s Wally /Waldo. To ask is to assume that God is somehow absent or ‘elsewhere’ and not omnipresent in the midst of everything and everybody, whether we have the eyes to see it or not.  I realise too that there are religious fundamentalists who might see this as a direct intervention as a kind of punishment for sin, from a vengeful anthropomorphic God. The trouble with such a map is that it seems so obviously wanting and fear based. It belongs to at least a couple of levels of consciousness ago. How can God be less loving than those he created? Does not compute and is wholly inadequate to deal with the kind of wicked problems the world is currently facing.

But then it seems, as Ken Wilber says, that we create what we see according to our own maps of reality.  The contemplative way of looking at the pandemic is what Richard Rohr calls ‘ an alternative operating system’ which helps you get a broader perspective. You are attached to a much bigger vine, drinking from a much deeper well than the normal calculative mind would. The problem of suffering is as old as man is and it seems we are no further forward with it. The honest answer is we don’t know what the purpose of suffering is. At the heart of the Christian tradition is the Paschal Mystery, the death and resurrection. We can try to throw it out or ignore it as much as we like but what we can’t do is outrun it. The trouble is we all want to get to be born into heaven without dying to self. Not possible. The only way out is through.

I have experienced many moments of clarity during lockdown, as I suspect have many others. In the quiet hiatus between ‘realities’ the earth has taken time out to breathe and recover and remind us all what sustains us. Those of us who have had the luxury to press the reset button can be very thankful indeed for having had the time to get in touch with what really matters, relationships with those we love, keeping each other buoyant, hope filled. A chance to go deep into the silence and see that it’s much less threatening than we first thought. A chance to stop being on the run. As developmental psychologist Robert Kegan said in a recent talk, we live in the most distractible age in human history. It’s almost impossible to get a number of people focussing on one particular thing and now 7 billion people are completely engaged with the same thing. There is real transformational potential in there.

Whether or not it will be galvanised remains to be seen. True to say that more and more people are seeing the world as one fragile system for which we must assume individual and collective responsibility. As an Enneagram 7, I have always liked to keep my options open. The thought of having to curtail my freedoms is not something my egoic mind wants to embrace. Lockdown has given me the most precious revelations, like the pleasure I get from hearing natural noises like birdsong, so healing to the soul. Or going deeper into silence than I thought possible or comfortable and coming out of it renewed and satisfied. Life as it is, is more than enough. There is already so much to be grateful for. Perhaps with God’s grace, it might be easier than I think to give up some of precious freedoms like travel and luxuries.

As I was thinking this morning about how at last my money and mouth have to be working together, I was considering how I might help the marginalised and poor in a felt way, how I might seriously address my carbon footprint and contribute to global change with some urgency, a remarkable synchronicity occurred.  (They always do when I seem to be on the right path.) An email dropped into my inbox from Andre and the good Empire team, a group of passionate and aligned individuals whose mission is to get millions of others and organisations who care about the planet to act. I am seeing this as a direct invitation from Spirit to take measurable actions to reduce carbon emissions and ocean plastics, help people out of hunger and poverty and create equality and opportunity for many more people. We have to let go of our collective temptation to denial, or cynicism or despair. There is still time. This global jolt to the system is a graced moment in disguise, an opportunity to examine our global conscience and build back better. Now is the time for many of us to facilitate change with some urgency. The alternative is that we become complicit in our own demise. To hell with that!

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