Lynn Unger’s poem Pandemic invites us to meet the current coronavirus pandemic with a spiritual response, grounded in Sabbath practices:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
This poem naturally reminds me of the Sabbath series we engaged in this past October. I think Unger is insightful and wise in her parallel; and I want to draw in some of the insights from Walter Bruggeman’s Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now as well. In this work, focused on the Ten Commandments, Bruggeman points out that Sabbath is the 4th commandment. The three proceeding are each about one’s personal relationship with God, and commandments 5-10 are all about our relationship with other people. It is the Sabbath commandment that links and bridges our spiritual life and our communal life.
Bruggeman posits that the first three commandments serve as a guide rail about where one should put one’s trust. The answer: put one’s trust (faith) in that which you have ultimate confidence in. Not in human leaders that seek profit over our well-being (perhaps by asking us to work when that would unnecessarily put us at risk). Not in accumulating lots of things, or worshiping our economy over our community’s well-being. Not in only giving lip service to our values. But yes, to faith – to what give your reassurance in this time. I hope for most of you, All Souls is on your list.
Create Sabbath time: Rest. Rest. Everyone rest. Receive the extra time with your family (if you are one who finds yourself more that usually populated under one roof.) Recognize the security we can experience when we let ourselves be, and not just do. Take Sabbath time to savor – nature or a lovely park path, the source of being, a meal well cooked, each other’s company. Consider this Sabbath time as a day given for creative imagination – when we can imagine what our lives could look like post-pandemic (in a good way!)
Bruggeman says that commandments 5-10 replace the norms of greed, competition, theft, violence, and cruelty (that are pervasive in oppressive systems with “an ethic of neighborliness.” These commandments direct us towards respect, mutuality, and non-violence. With this pandemic, this means staying home if one poses a risk to others; catching one’s cough; leaving toilet paper, soap, milk and meat for others to buy when you have enough; checking in with family, friends, and others in our congregational community. Goodness, isn’t this neighborliness what we want time to create always, not only when mandated?
These 10 commandments are healthful practices when we face the spreading coronavirus pandemic, because they reminds to meet uncertainty with faith; to rest, savor, and imagine, and to be neighborly.
May you be well, and do well towards others.
Yours in Ministry,