The Ides of March 2020
The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world. -- Abraham Joshua Heschel How marvelously motivating this idea is! Today is the Sabbath, a time for us to engage time with all of the holiness we can bring to it and receive from it. It is a time to reflect anew upon the world we must help create out of its mystery and faithfulness. In the absence of preaching today, I would like to share some thoughts with you. Perhaps, it is difficult for us to think of life’s faithfulness during this time of pandemic and quarantine. But, as asserted by one of our staff at Pacific School of Religion: “We must hang-in (or abide) with uncertainty. Isn’t this the meaning of faith?” This is not the first time that the world has been plagued. Indeed, I would argue that it was plagued prior to our hearing of and experiencing the spreading of the coronavirus. As a verb, plague means to cause continual trouble or distress. Certainly, our nation’s policies have plagued the vast majority of people in this nation. Some call them the 99%. However, I am especially lifting up the deeply marginalized whose vulnerability is so visible and heart-breaking during this pandemic as defined by the World Health Organization. Rabbi Arthur Waskow states: "The newest Coronavirus suffering is not only physical and medical but also economic. As medical experts urge isolation of those made sick by the coronavirus, we face the real disaster this imposes on families, on the poor and on hourly-paid middle-class and working-class workers who have no reserves to live on if they must stay home and refrain from work, and on the homeless who have no homes in which to isolate themselves. And we face the economic suffering caused by holes in the supply chains of many products as workers are isolated and their businesses shut down." There were plagues in the Hebrew Scriptures. When the cries of enslaved workers whose work and lives were being extracted with no dividends, the plagues were the only way to get Pharaoh’s permission that the slaves could leave their enslavement. This gave birth to a new people at Mt. Sinai, a new people with a covenant of responsibilities to each other and the new community as a whole. The Black Death/Plague, (Bubonic Plague of the 14th Century), claimed 100 million lives. Many people lost faith in the church and its priests. Many priests died. Some afraid of contamination refused to attend to the sick and dying. People without adequate education were elevated to the priesthood. Corrupt priests charged for their services (indulgences). Yet, some scholars assert that during this time seeds were planted for the Protestant Reformation, another new beginning. We must be open to the unseen seeds that are being sown now even in the midst of great fear and insecurity. What then can today’s religious bodies do during this crisis? Rabbi Waskow writes: “Religious communities could also publicly demand that we respond as truly Beloved Communities would. In the United States, we could demand that the US government provide free medical care for anyone who is diagnosed with coronavirus; mandate that all businesses provide paid sick leave for as long as necessary, for anyone so diagnosed; supply emergency unemployment compensation to workers whose businesses, conventions, sports events, etc., have been shut down for fear of contagion; and pay for fully adequate safe housing for all homeless persons so diagnosed and for their families. And that all this be done swiftly – as swiftly as this emergency, this plague, has descended on us.” Those are important suggestions for our outer selves. For our inward journeys today during this time we normally physically attend worship services, I suggest praying in the spirit of this prayer from an anonymous author:
A Prayer For A Pandemic (author unknown)
May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake. May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable. May we who have the luxury to work from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options. May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go. May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all. May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home. As fear grips our country, let us choose love. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.
This is also a good time to refresh ourselves by engaging in an activity that restores our souls: reading a book, downloading a film, interview. And, it is a time to remember being together as community. In a beautiful commentary on Rabbi Heschel’s book, The Sabbath, a reviewer writes: In this brief yet profound meditation on the meaning of the Seventh Day, Heschel introduced the idea of an "architecture of holiness" that appears not in space but in time. Judaism, he argues, is a religion of time: it finds meaning not in space and the material things that fill it but in time and the eternity that imbues it, so that "the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals." Until we meet again in Sabbath time at 2041 Larkin Street, may the All Pervading Presence bless you, keep you, and give you peace! Dorsey O. Blake