Wellness is more than staying healthy and far more important at beating the Coronavirus pandemic.
Wellness is something alarmingly remote to our society. I am not just meaning biomedical health in light of our current pandemic. Neither am I talking about health-crazed people working out and eating right every day—that’s great, but such people can still employ their beauty and strength to abuse their significant others and children and be a great pain in the ass to everyone else. Yes, you can be certifiably healthy nutritionally-speaking, exercise-wise, and even appear mentally fit, and still be unwell.
Wellness can be absent in Congress and White House but, perhaps shockingly, be very present at the AA meeting, or at the Rehab center, or lying in hospice two minutes before we time-check a death certificate. Though it should be seated in the Oval Office and Supreme Court Bench, it is more likely these days to be found enthroned in the wheelchair and homeless shelter. Yes, fellow dying inmates, wellness can be found in terminal illness, starving poverty, a refugee escape raft, or caged in an American concentration camp.
God bring us to such wellness for without it we cannot handle coping with this crisis of COVID-19.
Loving the Unwell
Speaking of being unwell, Mason Verger dead ringer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose malice seems at times to be as petrified as an ancient Skeksis from Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” saga, has put together a relief package for Americans that spells little relief. In fact, it falls way short of relief.
Just ask Danni Askini, struck by COVID-19, and after tests and life-saving treatment, was saddled with $34,927.43 in medical bills. One could be tempted in this time to wish that those who deny that health care is a human right, would be blessed by God with a true and incarnational empathy with Askini. But no one deserves this pain and injustice.
So before we start hating on Mitch the Sea Turtle (I am preaching to the sinner in the mirror, fellow inmates), please remember that he too is our brother and fellow dying inmate, born between urine and feces like us all, and like us all a child of God. He needs our prayers and love regardless of his decisions, caring or callous.
So too must we pray for even those employers of ours who, this week, degraded their workers through fear tactics, bullying, ultimatums, and other socially acceptable cruelties caring for dollars before people. Some of these bullies may even wear miters. Regardless, all of them are fellow dying inmates, children of God who need our love and prayer. Wellness is what sees this.
That said, praying for someone and loving them does not mean not holding power accountable.
Wellness and Hope
We need wellness to live out spiritually the reality understood by the Johannine Jesus group—the light ever shines in the darkness, and the darkness has overcome it (John 1:5). Darkness permeates this time. Shadows seem to cover all. But Christians must live according to the Easter light of Resurrection that bursts out from cruelty and suffering. We are an Easter people! Easter people hope. As a wise teacher showed me,
Faith sees what is.
Hope sees what will be.
Love loves what is.
Hope loves what will be.
But how will we American Christians find hope in the dark days of COVID-19? How will we help alleviate and eliminate suffering? It comes with wellness. It comes with awareness.
Wellness knows that pie-in-the-sky isn’t hope. It won’t work to not taste and see the very real darkness of these days. But drowning in that very real darkness likewise is futile. Rather we must change our minds, change our hearts. This is the true repentance, metanoia. We have to become new. But this, the mystics inform us, is a process involving subtraction, not addition. And that subtraction is the stuff of wellness.
Wellness and the Good News
Speaking of new and becoming new in the wellness, a Happy Wanderer once wrote of Gospel or “Good News” that we hate it for two reasons. First because it is good, and we, Gollum-like, would rather sit in the cold, dark selfish cave of bad rather than change to the good. But secondly and mainly, we hate the Good News because it is NEW. We hate the new! We hate the old likewise, but at least it’s familiar.
This wellness-metanoia is big-time, painful change. It’s becoming a new person equipped with new eyes, new vision. Wellness affects our theology, prayer, and our Scripture reading. It affects how we see and understand COVID-19, and all those who suffer with the illness, with uncertainties, depression, despair. It changes everything.
Risking Wellness and Letting Go of the Familiar
Some fellow dying Western inmates look to the Scriptures in unwell, familiar ways—for direct answers, directions, and marching orders. The problem word is “direct.” The U.S. bishops wisely taught us in the 1987 warning about the sickness called “fundamentalism.” They said not to go looking in the Bible for all the direct answers to modern problems. It was because they cannot be found there! Nowhere does the Bible claim to be such an authority! Wellness is contact with reality.
Does the Bible know anything about nuclear power? Nuclear weapons? Nuclear holocausts? WMDs? Does it know anything about microscopes and telescopes? Does it know or present anything biomedical (“disease” is a biomedical reality)? What about viruses? How about the coronavirus? If the answer be “no” my friends, then how can the Bible ever offer us any “direct answers” to problems in these days we are enduring?
Thankfully we Catholics among Christians—officially anyway—do not limit the Word of God to only the written Scriptures. When we grapple with life’s difficulties, we can do so with access to a much broader tradition than solely the Bible. This is all indirect, sacramental. But just because we say that, doesn’t mean we necessarily will behave accordingly. Verbal orthodoxy is not necessarily a sign of wellness. Quite often it can signify reaction formation.
Wellness and Eyesight
Whenever we “great” people read the Bible (by “great” I mean particularly delusional fellow dying inmates), without knowing that they are doing so, they read from their cultural values guarded with privilege, comfort, and familiar things (often a lot of stuff that isn’t really there). Whatever threatens our values gets covered up, obfuscated. It’s similar to when “great” people decide who deserves assistance and help who does not. This is being unwell.
But Scripture reading done by “nothing” or marginalized/oppressed peoples is different. Verses where victims cry out speak deeply to them. The message they receive is not preservation of the status quo, but rescue from cruel hands and liberation from injustice. God hears the cry of the poor, then and now.
Some say that the latter reading is the basic understanding of Scripture. In reality the Bible is a library and a wellness accepts the messiness demanded by a library. Libraries reflect different viewpoints and therefore provide different answers to questions, such as: “What are we to do about this situation?”
The Bible is a Library
If a book or tradition originated among the urban establishment (e.g. legislative codes, the priestly writings and redactions like Genesis 1:1—2:4a, or the (much earlier) Yahwist myth of Genesis 2:4bff, Exodus 20:22—23:33, Proverbs, Sirach), it’s authors had little reason not to believe that the Israelite people were capable of realizing their values. Therefore that means these sacred texts come across as “conservative” and are all about maintaining established order. They are “identity container” documents. Affirm the status quo! Any change is suspect (Proverbs 1:29-32)!
But what about books and traditions in our library produced by frustrated groups that fail to realize their values (e.g., Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, Job)? These demand repeatedly behavioral and structural metanoia or “repentance” of everyone, including elites. We can call these texts “deconstructive” and “radical” because their prophetic cries of “repentance” and catastrophe-prophecies indicate tears between the values and lived experience, between cultural ends and institutional means. The folk wisdom isn’t working! These documents continually depict strife between their voice and that of political and temple authority (established elites). They savage Israelite social structure and policy (e.g., 1 Kings 21:1–29; Isaiah 20:1–6; Jerimiah 26:1–24).
Respectfully Reading the New Testament
When read honestly, we understand that the New Testament originated from Israelite group-embedded communities—“Jesus groups”—who fell out of step with the dominant societies (whether Judaean or Roman).
Like the prophets, we may call the New Testament works “radical” and “deconstructive.” See how parallel to the Prophetic tradition are the message summaries of John the Dipper (Mark 1:1-4; Luke 3:7-14) and Jesus (Mark 1:15; Luke 4:18-21)? Don’t you see Jesus’ challenges to biological family authority (Mark 3:31-35) and status quo Torah interpretation (Matthew 5:21-22)? Drastic counterstructural changes were hoped for by the early messianists (Acts 4:19-21; 6:14).
But Jesus in the Synoptic tradition and understood by Paul was counterstructural. The Johannine Jesus went beyond that, truly a Christ-AGAINST-Israelite-society. This was because the Johannine Jesus group interpreting him had become, by the 80s CE, an antisociety with its own antilanguage. In relation to the dominant society Israel, the Johannine perspective may be called “anarchist.”
Takeaways Toward Wellness
As far as fruitfully and respectfully reading Scripture, all this is good to know. But inside our unwell dream-world, constructs, and paradigms we so often operate within, it all gets missed and messed up. We read whichever Scriptural document however we fancy, chopping up verses bleeding out of context. We read into these snippets alien things and ideas that suit us. While the Church indeed may officially teach that Scripture is inspired, sadly, most American Christians don’t really believe that. Most instead believe in an inspired Bible reader.
This goes for interpreting life as well.
We’re living a kind of reality TV, soap opera, Stephen King, Marvel Comics movie right now, it seems. Or maybe not. Maybe we are not even seeing what it is we are moving through (I won’t say living, because that takes a little more than going through the motions).
In order to live you have to breathe, and to have wellness requires a kind of breathing called “spirituality.” Spirituality means experiencing the sacred, the transcendental, the Real in our midst, Holy and Absolute Mystery—often called “God.” Can you experience life and reflect on that experience in order to discover its significance and integrate it consciously? Are you transformed by Meaning? This is essential to wellness.
God give us this wellness. Help us to breathe and see. Help us to see reality beyond prejudiced ideas and wishful thinking and respond accordingly. And help us recognize that, come what may, it is all well. Everything is a mess, and all is well. Amen.