It has been a while since we entered the doors of our church building as a congregation. What will it be like when we finally return? Will you come to church? We may still have sanitizing, masks, social distancing, no singing, extra cleaning, and so forth. Will you step up and volunteer to be part of the team to make it all possible?
A congregation is like a family, lots of different people all busy with their lives, but with all pulling together, it works. However, if Mom ends up doing it all and the others just figuring that that’s what Mom’s do, things begin to fall apart.
Just think of all the things needing doing in our church family on a Sunday morning - the bulletins prepared and ready to hand out; someone (or more than one) on hand to welcome people coming in; people to take up and count the offering; sometimes Communion dishes to prepare before and to wash and put away after; coffee to make for coffee fellowship and sweets to share. So many things - I’m sure I missed quite a few.
And then there are all the things that need doing when it’s not Sunday - managing the rentals; organizing events; participating in the various ministries that do the on-going work of the church; and on and on. Sometimes it’s exhausting just thinking about it.
So, where do you fit in the life of your church community? This enforced break due to Covid-19 has kept us apart. What will our congregation be like when we finally are able to get together? Can we count on you to be there?
My previous brief reflection as to what the present pandemic can teach us ( what I might say to a congregation should I still be in active ministry,) was presented under three main categories: 1. Life and Ourselves... 2 Faith... and 3. God.
Some have indicated a ‘fleshing out’ of the ideas would be helpful, and as I try to do this it will become evident to the reader that my theological perception of humanity, the universe, and Deity is rooted in the evolutionary point of view.
Life and Ourselves
Danger, fear, and uncertainty as previously noted, are not something new to human experience but are always existentially with us and are merely being highlighted again, this time in a dramatic way by the threat of the ongoing viral pandemic.
This ‘Covid Enemy’ may be likened to the visible top of an iceberg- an impressive indicator of a hidden and always wider lurking reality which underlies our fragile existence in the form of uncertainty and threat. Every enterprise, it forcibly reminds us, is ‘up for the melting,’ revealed in the moth that flies into the flame, the tree that dies, the crop that fails and, of most concern to ourselves at the moment, the ways in which we are affected by and strive to cope with this new surprisingly malignant and tricky intruder.
The shock and difficulties we have in coming to terms with this present historical moment also reinforces another fact worth noting regarding human nature itself, namely, the extent to which we humans persistently deceive ourselves into believing in the solidity and permanency of the world and its ability to offer us permanent security when it in itself is not a ‘thing’ but a process, an ongoing energetic movement of which we are but an integral and miniscule part.
On the other hand, lest we sink into the slough of despair, there remains two factors to be celebrated::
The virus reveals the innovative courage of many people once they are faced with a truly difficult challenge- the positive realists, let’s call them.
Already humbled by the fact that the ‘Covidity’ of life itself does not allow them to demand our environment be a ‘Mr.Rogers Neighbourhood,’ they push ahead so that engaging the enemy with sacrifice and common sense and mutual cooperation (three steps ahead, two steps back ) they move ahead to a point we hope, where ‘resolution’ is achieved.
Another remarkable and positive result has come through the back door so to speak with the uncomfortable requirement for Social Isolation. Social isolation has forced us to recognize that although deprived of the regular active patterns of life, and the social warmth, entertainment and support they offer, we still can ‘stay calm and carry on’. Surprise!
Even more importantly for some, Corona Virus Isolation has brought individuals to a point where quiet self-reflection in the present moment has revealed how psychologically victimized we often allow ourselves to be, captured by that often unrecognized inner enemy- the restless demanding mind.
In the midst of regrets about the past and anxieties for the future we are brought through the new availability of time to allow ourselves to investigate what Jesus meant when he spoke about ‘’the peace that passes understanding’’ and ‘’the abundant life.’’ We recognize the dangers of our ‘Inner Covidity’ while also glimpsing new possibilities.
For people of faith, that is those who subscribe to the thought that our Big Bang universe is not simply something which ‘bangs on’ without design or perhaps even meaning, and who persist in trusting the Who/What/That Which Is/ we call God (Lets use the term ‘Intelligent Source’ for now) there is no outstanding ‘theological’ problem with Covid.
The pandemic is not elevated to some apogee of the manifestation of what we call evil. We do not honour it with that status because we know eventually it will itself die of its own virulence (should we humans allow the world to continue). Its dark side can only bring contrasting aspects of light to appear in human conscious awareness.
As suggested, we have dealt with this problem of trust before, in our wrestling with and acceptance of the uncertainties and disasters life generally presents.Despite the world’s paradoxical nature, its yin and yang, our sense of trust in a Greater Reality has not forsaken us. Nor have we lost our appreciation of the wonders of creative manifestation or the general goodness of life. We have not been overwhelmed.This, let us emphasize, is also true of many who have no formal connection with organized religion but who live with an intuitive appreciation of deeper realities. For such individuals trust in Life Itself, even if not clothed in ‘God terminology’ still remains.
Those who reject out of hand the possibility of God’s existence may well find in Covid 19 another handy opportunity to point out the gullibility of believers, not realizing that faith is often linked to doubt and that in Christianity down the centuries the attempt to reconcile the concept of a God presented as love with the chaos of a suffering world has often been addressed under the term of ‘theodicy’- and never, of course, with complete success- but we have tried and continue to do so.
Theology and philosophy can never ‘prove’ the existence of God, the God who Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection personally ‘unmasks’ in human terms.
God is revealed in Jesus because Jesus personalizes the Unimagined in a manner geared to our human perception, and speaks according to his times in terms appropriate to a dualistically oriented and mostly uneducated society. How can parables, ( the chief mode of his teachings ) be relevant without the dramatization of acting and reacting individuals who prance, as Shakespeare indicates, on the stage of life? How can the ‘character’ of Deity be maligned when the Mystical Word becomes flesh which, -Amazing Grace’ !!! we recognise in our bones as our very own when prompted by thinkers and seers to be recognised as our very DNA?
This Covid experience may well be the modern ‘tilting point’ for some, especially for those in church communities, when it comes to a recognition, re-evaluation, and acceptance of their growing evolving conceptualization of Deity. Covid reinforces our interest in and sensitivity to the Unknown out of which we emerge and into which, in acceptance and surrender, we go.
Christian preaching has long emulated St.Paul’s speech in Athens in which he notes the Greeks had an altar to an ‘unknown God’ and states that the true God is not kept as an idol in temples but is That, Who, revealed in Jesus the Christ, inhabits all things, gives life to all and is ‘’’the one in whom we live and move and have our being’.This is the God Who is Spirit, not the God as some anti Christians might suggest who needs to be justified, or as some conservative Christians would have it, to be prayed to for relief, seeking an answer provided by the Great and often apparently inadequate Interventionist.
Covid invites us to embrace the God within...this largely unknown God, the God untrammeled by the feckless mnd, the God who is not so much to be preached as lived-Unmasked for the sake of the loving of the world.
The unmasking of God’s Self goes on, and on and on ...and with it, the unmasking of you and me brothers and sisters (and all inbetween).
Tolstoy, toward the ending of his novel ‘War And Peace’ gives us words to ponder-especially at this time.
‘’ Life is everything. Life is God. And while there is life there is joy in the consciousness of the Godhead. To love life is to love God. More difficult and more blessed than all else is to love one’s life in its sufferings, in undeserved sufferings.’’
‘To which we all say…( I trust )