By Rev. Daniel Gregoire
By Richard Gilbert (Adapted by Daniel Gregoire)
In between festivals of gratitude and joy
In between seasons of contrasting color,
Not quite at the apex of joy,
Nor in the nether of sorrow,
But in the moving space between,
Uncertain of our location.
Walking from city of birth to death,
Hoping along the way
To see something of beauty,
To touch hands with those we love,
To give more than we get,
To make some sense of it all.
We live in betweenness.
From the Holy Quiet of this Hour: A Meditation Manual by Richard S. Gilbert
This moment that we find ourselves in now, has the quality of uncertainty as its most apparent characteristic. We are living in a time of liminality, that sense of being betwixt and between worlds of experience, where the unknown and the known live together in a less than perfect harmony.
We really don’t know what will come next and the hazards are nearly impossible to see with any degree of clarity. It is so hard to make decisions at this time, and perhaps we should defer deciding anything if we can. Defer doing anything if we can.
The board of Trustees of our church and I thought it was best to suspend in-person gatherings today, and for the next few weeks, as all the other churches in town have done, to lessen the impact of the new Coronavirus. I am sure that it was the right thing to do, but I am sad that we had to do it.
As a way of having it both ways, so to speak, I wondered if I should go the church, and conduct the service in the sanctuary with a small number of people? But the sanctuary itself would conspire against me, that vast, unpeopled space would echo me into silence. The sanctuary just doesn’t work without a critical mass of people. And thank goodness for that!
As hard as it is, I think we must resist the urge to do our “own” thing in this moment. Kate and I were out for a drive yesterday, to go for a walk in the Hassanamesit Woods. We drove into Grafton center, and the business district and we both thought of how hard it is to tell if others were really following the advice of social distancing. The shops and restaurants seemed peopled with the normal amount of people. There was this sense of ambivalence in the air, in the most value neutral sense of the word.
We, like others have made it a point not to engage too much with others outside of our home. Cancelling and postponing engagements to slow down the spread of this new virus. It seems a small sacrifice to make for the greater good and to protect the lives of the most vulnerable members of society, people we know and love, our parents, grandparents, our friends with more delicate and tenuous health.
We also remember those who have little choice in venturing out, those in the healthcare sector, those in government and law enforcement, the armed services and other essential areas of our economy. They are also sacrificing for the greater good.
This so-called Social Distancing has been hard because Kate and I are both fairly social people and we are mindful of the importance of connecting with others. But we know it is for the greater good, and we hope it is only for a short time.
Social Distancing, which is what we are doing by suspending in-person worship service at the Unitarian Universalist Society is according to Kaitlin Tiffany in the recent issue of the Atlantic Magazine “—a term that epidemiologists are using to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the virus.” The recommended distance is between 6 to ten feet in most cases.
It is an important part of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions guidance on “Community Mitigation Strategies” for COVID-19.
One of the researchers quoted in the article said that the best way that we can show love is to “step back and step away” during this crisis.
I hope that the social distancing does not become the excuse for social isolation, which is already a problem in our society. My colleague Rev. Margolie Belazaire of Hartford reminds folks to check-in with each other, especially those who are living alone, and the elderly. She recommends keeping a buddy-system or caring pairs who promise to call or write at some regular interval. That is so important now, and going forward.
Social Distancing should never be the excuse for xenophobia or the racist innuendo we are hearing in political circles.
Our Tradition of caring offers us some guidendance in this moment of uncertainty. Our first Principle of Unitarian Universalism invites us to affirm and promote the inherent Worth and Dignity of all people.
Our first principle suggests that we might do all we can to preserve and sustain life.
Right now, in this inbetween place, of knowing and not knowing, the advice from health officials and experts is to avoid all that is unnecessary, showing restraint in our movement in our interactions in our social contacts. For those who can, it seems like a very small ask to preserve life, and to respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
In this moment, the universe seems to be conspiring to force us to slow down, if for no other reason than to catch our breath. We resist that invitation at our own peril and we risk civilization as we know it.
I recall looking at images online, satellite photos of air pollution over China, before and after the outbreak of the virus over there.
In the before image, we see a landmass mostly obscured by dark grey clouds, these are the emissions from factories; on the right we see the clear and distinct boundaries of a less polluted country, because of the closed factories.
Today people are actually breathing easier, for the first time, because of the slowdown of the global economic engine.
There is no denying that this is a strange and unbidden moment of calm and pause and inbetweeness. It is strange for us, a people unconsciously coerced into a regimen of agitation, wandering, noise and consumption. And we actually have no idea what to do with ourselves right now.
Some call it sabbath, some call it mindful living, some call it rest, some call it renewal. Being!
Whatever it is we call it, All that exists is saying to us: slow down, catch your breath and take our time in this place of uncertainty. No one will be rewarded for rushing through this place of inbetweenness where we now live.
But we have everything to gain if we can remember to reach out:
- To see something of beauty,
- To touch hands with those we love, those are closest to us,
- To give more than we get, using our powers, whatever they are for the greater good
- To make some sense of it all. And by that, seek meaning and purpose in this particular moment
As a people of faith, many different glorious kinds of faith, as Unitarian Universalists we are looking toward the future that we already know exists. We are forward thinking and expansive in our way of living; using our actions to move ourselves and each closer to the ideal.
However, that future, from this vantage point, under the shadow of the coronavirus looks cloudy and uncertain. Our expansiveness seems to be constrained by the boundaries of the unknown, and we are rubbing right up against the very limits of our knowledge and abilities.
We don’t know what the future holds, but there is a tremendous power in naming where it is we are. Our location now is inbetween the apex of Joy and the netherworlds of sorrow. But we wont stay here for long. If past experience can be a guide, (and, I believe it is) we will make it through this moment, lives will be changed, and mostly for the better, our society will be stronger and healthier through the compassion, generosity, sacrifice and service we give today.
Let’s find the grace and dignity to lean towards the sacred quiet of this moment. Running away into activity for the sake of doing, wont serve us well here. Resisting the command to stop won't save us. Let’s live well in this inbetween place, so that all might live.