Nothing I am writing right now seems adequate to the moment. I’m not even looking for something dramatic. Just a sense of purpose. Of meaning. Of contributing.
I’m struggling with the fact that the world around me feels like it is crashing down, but I am not finding my life overly displaced and am ambivalent about how I want to be part of society in this time. Reporters warn about the horrors from possible onset of disease in Syrian Refugee camps, exhausted doctors talk about their work in New York emergency rooms, acquaintances in Sacramento have gotten ill and even died from COVID-19—and I wonder—what is my role in all this?
I am perfectly glad to practice social distancing. Is that enough of a contribution? I can send money to support those working on behalf of those who are most impacted. I can call a friend, support a local business, or join a Zoom meeting with a small group from church. Still I wonder.
We are certainly on the receiving end of kindness. There were two particular kindnesses Lena and I experienced yesterday. First, a friend of ours was offering an online class in making ceramic boxes. It was one hour of learning and fun that we would not have had had it not been for the “stay at home” period we are going through along with so many. We are even thinking of ordering some clay and taking a shot at making a few of these boxes ourselves!
The second kindness was a free online piano concert put together by a few good friends of ours. Yesterday was World Piano Day, the 88th day of the year (there are 88 keys on a piano). This concert was in celebration of that day and was an effort to raise funds for Saint John’s Program for Real Change. Had it not been for the pandemic, the concert would have been all of us gathered together at a church to hear these wonderful performers. Yet even digitally, the concert was a delightful way to spend an evening, a welcome respite from all the news and the heaviness that so many have been experiencing. I so appreciate the vulnerability, the commitment, and the joy shared.
But what I wonder is—are there ways I can be offering kindness rather than just receiving? Today Lena and I “attended” online worship at The Table UMC. I can’t say enough about all the work and commitment that went into this experience of being together in worship of God. What struck we most was thoughts that were shared in the sermon. The story was of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the varied responses in the story to this event. Toward the end of the story, after Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, this is what we are told:
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.“
The question Pastor Matt left us with is this, “How do you see people ‘unbinding’ each other in this time?” How are people showing compassion to one another? And I interpret to myself, how I am unbinding people during this difficult period? I am not sure I have a very good answer here. I am not sure who I am unbinding. I am not sure if I am unbinding. I will just have to sit with that question.
One last thought. Author, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit writes this:
When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up—not all, but the great preponderance—to become their brothers’ keepers. And that purposefulness and connectedness brings joy even amidst death, chaos, fear and loss. (from Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster)
Solnit has done a lot of thinking about what disaster and shared catastrophe does to us. I actually believe what she says here. I am just not sure I have really been my brother’s keeper. I am not sure I have yet reached that level of kindness—at least today.
Spiritual Practice: Act Locally
Small steps. Concrete acts. Even in the midst of my confusion I know that this is where good things emerge and where people make a difference.
One story. An article from Friday’s Sacramento Bee: “With dining rooms closed, high-end restaurants are banding together to feed the needy.” It is no secret that Sacramento has become a kind of “Foodie” city. If you live in Sacramento county it is hard to avoid hearing the phrase “farm-to-fork.” But what touched me was that in this midst of all we are going though, several restaurant owners that you might think would only be concerned with business survival are actually directing their concern to folks who might never be able to afford to eat in one of their establishments. (Pastor Matt of The Table talked about this in his sermon.)
The article tells us:
Allora, Camden Spit + Larder, Canon, Binchoyaki and Mulvaney’s B&L will assemble a combined 2,000 food kits per week starting Tuesday, nearly half of which will feed seniors in 11 Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency apartment buildings…Family Meal fulfills three needs…Several small area farmers who sell primarily to restaurants have suddenly found their main clients don’t need much product; having a revenue stream and a place to offload that produce, dairy and meat helps ensure the farms will still be around once restaurants fully reopen…Some participating restaurants are paying their employees to assemble the kits, while others rely on a few volunteer staff members. Either way provides a sense of normalcy and something to do…Add in the benefit of feeding the hungry…
People have compassion, people have creativity, and people find ways to use those qualities in their own neighborhoods. Spiritual practice is always local. There is no loving people in general. There is only caring for the woman, man, or child next to you. I am grateful for those who do not overlook a neighbor.