Whether we ever thought of ourselves as contemplatives or monks before, we are now. And, by state orders no less. Oh, the irony. Whoever thought our secular masters would do the Lord’s work in our lives? The Lord, does indeed, work in mysterious ways.
We are told to “be still,” and know that God is God. And now, we get to try and live that out—whether we want to or not. We have renounced the world, by worldly decree amazingly enough. We live in our small community or alone, regardless the size of either before now. We are now on a journey to see if we can find everything we need, in Christ. Can we? With much denied us now (not too much really), I guess we will find out.
There is a tendency to think of monks as separate from community (whether meaning the greater community or actually living alone). This separation is only physical. In every other respect, they are present with us and creation. They are present in prayer. They are present in communion. The paradox of the monastic is that while they renounce the world, they embrace the world, at the same time.
The physical distance is deceiving, just like death (we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses). We can be physically present with someone whose heart, mind, sight, and hearing are far from us. We do not register. Are we really “present,” then, to such a person? And yet, the monk is with us in spiritual ways, where we do register, and thus are “present,” even though distant physically.
Where did John the Baptist come from? He came from the wilderness. He didn’t come from an urban setting where he was surrounded by people and the busyness of life. Besides baptizing, what had he been doing? Some thoughts: Perhaps he had been listening. Perhaps he had been in communion with God and creation. Maybe he was in communion with us. He was alone, yes, while at the same time making room for the entire world in his life and heart.
From such places of wilderness and paradox are called the people who are still preparing the way of the Lord. Who knows, but perhaps this is part of what’s happening right now. Maybe some other John the Baptists or “Jane” the Baptists are being prepared, as they “shelter in place,” and find themselves in a wilderness, even if one not of their own choosing.
I get the importance of physical presence. While I’m more an introvert and don’t draw my energy from large gatherings, I still enjoy them. They may drain me in some ways, but I still like them a great deal. And I know our present moment can be especially hard on those who are extroverts, for those who really come alive in the presence of others.
Still, no matter where we fall on the scale of sociability, ours is a time where the speed and noise of modern life seems almost geared to prevent us from hearing and experiencing God. It is exceedingly difficult for many of us to, “be still.” The counter to such a time is the spiritual disciplines. We need to consider the possibility that the redemptive part of this crisis is our being forced into their practice, partial or otherwise.
I’m not suggesting God allowed the pandemic for this purpose. I’m not a Calvinist. I can’t quite muster the hardheartedness. If one is a parent, imagine allowing the exposure of your child to a possibly fatal disease so it would teach them some lesson. Right, it would be insane and child-abuse. I’m wondering, rather, what we do with what life gives us—with what just comes from living in a broken world.
I’m sensitive to the economic hardship this time is causing too. I’ve felt it. I know it can be difficult to see silver linings when one doesn’t know if they can pay their rent or mortgage or buy enough groceries. I get that. Still, what are we to do? As we pray and help each other, I hope we can at least try and look for the silver.
I also know that some people are just upset because they can’t go to Cracker Barrel or the salon. Our inconvenience is not oppression. Being able to go to Applebees isn’t a right. We are also given an opportunity to love our neighbors in this crisis. Love of neighbor means wearing a mask in public and observing the protocols of health experts. And if it turns out we were wrong to wear masks or listen to these experts, if love of neighbor was our intent, then so what, we acted like Christians, regardless.
Putting that aside, perhaps our time in the desert, the wilderness, is a time of preparation, a time to be as the monk, as a John the Baptist. What are we doing with this time? Even given the damaging aspects to our lives, are we using it as a gift or are we annoyed with the disruption and the fact we can’t continue our lives as before, as “normal”?
Maybe “normal” was part of the problem.
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