Happy New Year 2021
I am not sure how happy this new year is for most of us. For me, it started like so many of the days before it - gray, rainy and straining my ability to think up new things to do to keep myself from sinking into boredom and lethargy.
But I do feel hope in the new year. There is a new federal administration coming in a few weeks that won’t solve all our problems or do everything I want, but will definitely do better than what we have had. With any luck the daily news won’t be full of a barrage of lies and attacks on our democracy by the very leaders who are supposed to be upholding and advancing our democratic principles. Maybe some decency will even enter into the public discourse and we will offer meaningful, tangible support to all those who have been hurt by the pandemic and all those who were already hurting due to their immigration status and/or poverty wages.
That’s a lot to ask, it seems. How can we be the richest country in the world yet have so many people living in intolerable circumstances? Can it be that we collectively worship wealth more than equality? Can it be that we care about justice only if it doesn’t cost us anything, or inconvenience us in any way, or limit our own ability to accumulate wealth?
The pandemic ended life as we knew it, and now that I have been lamenting this for over nine months, I am beginning to understand that there is a gift in this, waiting for us to claim it.
The Indian writer Arundhati Roy writes[i]:
What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses. Others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world.
Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality,” trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.”
I have been meditating on these words for a week now, thinking about what “normal” will look like in my own personal life once I am free to do what I want again. Travel again, for sure. Visit friends, yes! Hire the housecleaner again, definitely. Hike with Senior Rec, most definitely. Gather with my faith community and other groups in person. Get off of zoom! Yes yes yes!
But what is the inner baggage that I can leave behind? What has the pandemic taught me about myself? Can I free myself to imagine another world? Can I fortify myself to fight for it?
For me, the biggest lesson of the pandemic has been that I can face into my own deep loneliness and survive it, even thrive in it. As someone who lives alone and is a contemplative, I was used to spending time alone, but the pandemic took away all the ways I used to escape that aloneness from time to time. For the first time in my life, I have learned to truly live with myself. I have learned that I can face into the pain and hurt and longing that constitutes my life and still have love and forgiveness to offer myself and others. I don’t wish a pandemic on anyone, but it has taught me that the depth of my love and connection to spirit can be nurtured and grown even in – and most especially in – difficult circumstances. I know – I feel – that there is a power greater than myself that holds me no matter what, and that has made all the difference.
Arundhati Roy writes of this time as a portal, moving from one world into the next, yet to born. We are in liminal space, between these two worlds, and we have the power to influence the world to come. My training in process theology tells me that we have the capacity to co-create the world, to open ourselves to the god of love and justice which gives us the strength and vision we need to move on to something better, something yet to be created.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about my career as a watercolor painter, amateur to be sure! But it is not the end product of a finished painting that so intrigues me, but the way the colors run and sort and merge and dissolve on the page. I started as a very rigid painter, wanting to “get it right” and perfectly match whatever picture I was copying. Needless to say, this was an anxiety-ridden experience as watercolor generally can’t be fixed, i.e. painted over like you might be able to do in other mediums. I wasn’t able to have confidence or fun in my painting career until I had a teacher who encouraged us to paint “loose,” trying different colors on the page and most importantly, not being too quick to think that something was a “mistake.” After letting it dry and sit for a while, most of the time I could come back to the painting and see that the “mistake” was really something new, and following its lead I took my painting to a new, creative level.
It is this alchemy, this process of transformation of the old or ordinary – “normal” – into something new that I hope for now. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to see how broken much of our current systems and processes really are. We see how little people and the planet are valued. We know that even when so many people are falling sick and dying and losing their livelihoods, the richest country in the world still acts slowly and inadequately and mostly without compassion, as though the pandemic only selects the undeserving to die.
This is our moment, this is our time for transformation, for the alchemy that would turn our self-interest and lack of compassion into an expansive love which embraces everyone, but especially those who live on the economic edge, those who struggle with mental illness and addiction, those whose immigration status keeps them permanently in a state of anxiety and fear, and those who work and work and work but simply cannot rise out poverty.
Christians celebrate Epiphany on January 6, commemorating the visit of the Magi or Wise Men "from the rising of the sun" – the East – to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. These Magi had intuited that God was doing something new in the world, and travelled a great distance, guided by a star, to bring their gifts to the child. Though not Jews, they were open to God’s revelation in the world, while the status quo was busy with “normal” life and even plotting to kill off this rumored “King of the Jews.”
Where do you see and feel God’s love and justice breaking through your “normal” and calling you forth to greater love and compassion? How do you feel called to participate in new systems of justice that includes quality of life for all people and the planet?
In this New Year, I wish for you the courage to be open to all the creativity and inspiration and passion that this time calls us to. Let’s not go back to “normal” but instead forge ahead to a New Year, filled with the bright light of God’s revelation in us, and through us.
[i] “The Pandemic Is a Portal”
Copyright 2020 Constance B. Yost. All rights reserved.