Originally published March 15, 2020
While I was looking for an image to tag this post, I wandered down several paths. Things that showed solidarity, things that showed people helping people, images that showed unity in faith, things that captured the truth that humanity is one species and from those ancient roots sprang a myriad of cultures, faith, ideas—and yet we remain, at the core, one. In the end it dawned on me that I already had the image, the Kalaloch Tree of Life. A tree that holds on to life in the most precarious of situations.
I’ve been wanting to write about this current global event for a few weeks. In part because I have been disappointed at the reaction of those I thought I knew who disregard the threat because they are not in a high risk group, or who were concerned that our hospitals were going to become centers for the spread of infection (I’m not sure when that was not the case), those who thought it was a hoax, or those who were over-reacting to the point of endangering others.
Then there were my heroes and heroines. People who were reaching out to neighbors, volunteering to deliver food and supplies, rearranging their schedules to protect themselves and others. I’ve seen missteps and masterful strokes of leadership. I’ve seen stalled responses and the broadcasting of irresponsible, irrelevant, and (consequently) dangerous information. I’ve looked on the challenges to go against all common sense and trust God to protect them at the communion table, in their gatherings, and in their lives. I grew tired, I cried, and just as often took heart. So much to write about, and unsure of where to start. If nothing else, a National Day of Prayer gave me that start. Prayer, you see, is a verb.
Those of you who know me well know that I have an issue with folks that look to God as a cosmic Santa Claus. “Dear Lord, we’ve made a terrible mess of things (for those who are willing to admit it) could you please just fix it all?” Or even the arrogance of the practice noted above, “God loves me and won’t let anything happen to me so I can do what I please and I’ll be fine (too bad for anyone else that suffers due to my actions).” For those who wish to test the creator of our universe, however you perceive that entity to be, allow me to point out the passage of Luke 4:9-12:
Then the devil brought him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” (NET)
If you are a Christian and you believe Jesus is the Christ, then I am here to tell you that not even the Son of God was willing to test the Creator. Tell me why you should. Tell me how you can dare to risk the suffering of others through your own ignorance and lack of compassion?
After studying and writing about the Book of Job for several years I can tell you I see the same lesson. Just because you think you’ve done all the right things; you are not magically protected from the vagaries of a universe that operates on rules you may not have bothered to learn. The lesson of Job that I see is that the universe operates on understandable rules. Sometimes we suffer because we made bad choices, sometimes it is because the universe operates on knowable rules and we didn’t take the time to learn. Sometimes it is because other people make bad choices. In any case, I believe we are here to do our best to reduce the subsequent damage to our global home, our loved ones, and our neighbors. I believe we are obligated to make the best choices to reduce the suffering of others.
That brings me to the title of this little rant, “Prayer in Motion.” I have no issue with taking a day to set aside time to breathe, to get our bearings, to focus, and to reassess priorities. This is true regardless of your faith or ethics. What I do wish to see in the world is an active response, a prayer in motion, if you will. Seriously think about ways you can reduce your contact so that we can get on top of this. Italy has the 2nd highest ranking health care system in the world, yet they are currently (as of this writing) being forced to triage patients for the use of ventilators and life sustaining treatment. Currently, the United States ranks 37th in health care services and has a population more than five times that of Italy. We are coming out of the gate seriously unprepared to handle a large outbreak of anything, let alone something that can kill.
Problem number two: “if you’re sick, stay home” doesn’t work if having a home of any kind depends on you working and your job isn’t portable. This article published by the Pew Research Center breaks down the numbers of people who cannot afford to take off a day or a week with no pay and no benefits. Next time you stop at the local drive through to pick up dinner, you might want to keep this in mind.
That leads us to the next problem, when people stop showing up at places to eat and buy the things we took for granted, businesses suffer, especially the small business trying to keep things propped up. In the Seattle metro area, there are already serious impacts to people who make their living serving the huge population that commutes to commercial centers daily. Many of the professionals in our communities can and do opt to work from home; hotel maids, taxi drivers, food service workers, cleaning personnel, and oh so many others don’t have that option. And when the people are not there to serve, there is no job to do.
But there are things that I see that give me hope. Neighborhoods that pull together to keep an eye on each other. People coming together to find alternative ways to deliver food and supplies to those who no longer should be relying on public transit. People who work on getting medical services where they are needed while containing risk. This is the heart of “prayer in motion.” This is where you step up to finding ways to reduce impact, and to help those who face challenges in surviving this crisis. This is what people of faith, and people with an ethical standard, are called to do.
Take this day to pray, or meditate, or simply practice deep breathing. But use that time to focus on what you as an individual, or as a member of a “social distancing” group, can accomplish that will alleviate the situation. Be informed, make wise choices, and learn to rebuild a society that sees us as one global community facing many global threats. Be the answer.