The numbers are undeniably grim. As I write this, the pandemic modeling suggests that we are moving into a period when the number of daily deaths is likely to exceed 3000 deaths every day for the next few months. Essentially, a 9-11 every day. The number of people who are going to get sick or die is staggering. Last May, a Pew study said that 20% of Americans knew someone who had been hospitalized or died due to COVID. That number is now up to 54% and is going to grow. At current rates, by the end of this pandemic, we will all know someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID.
I saw a headline somewhere last week that said something like this “Pandemic Fatigue Gives Way to Pandemic Rage.” I didn’t read the article, but obviously, the headline stuck with me. I could add other words in addition to rage. Bewilderment is one word I could add. On a practical level, I understand the policies, practices, and the science of it all, but there is a part of me mourning who I thought we could be. My hopes for people were higher than this. Another word would be resignation. Although there is a lot we might have done and could do, it’s clear we’re not going to do it. Collectively, we’ve failed. You could probably add your own words, too. At least once a day, I find myself just buried under the weight of all of what these days are.
And, its Advent. This story of a couple seeking a place to give birth to a child the world needs during a time of chaos and uncertainty. Some of their setting might sound familiar. They were ruled by a force they didn’t understand, and that didn’t have their best interests in mind. They were forced to be counted by a government that didn’t seem to believe they counted. They tried to find a place to sleep and ended up isolated in a stable (at least at first). They were exhausted by everything.
And then, there was Love. It was fragile but also beautiful and real. This was a love that needed to be nurtured, cared for, and protected, but it was also unstoppable. It was a love people were attracted to, drawn to, and hungry for. It was beautiful and nothing but good. Love. As the embodiment of love was held in a teenager’s arms – in an isolated stable, in a world infected by oppression and fear – the eyes of a mother met the eyes of her child and, there was a beat of love sent out to the world that resonated in their chest like the bass buzz of a car stereo passing by.
Love will save us.
I’m going to ask you to try something that is way more woo-woo than I’m usually comfortable with. Take a deep breath and then whisper this:
Today, I choose to love.
Say it again. And again.
Now, add the name of someone to the end of that sentence. Pick someone whose easy to love and, after you say it, bask in it for a moment.
Now, repeat the phrase and add the name of a person who you know is hurting a bit. Sit with that name just a little bit longer.
Now, repeat it one more time and add the name of someone with whom you’re a little frustrated. Sit with that still longer. For right now, stop right there and hold the love you are nurturing in your arms. Allow it to rest.
The advent story started small. OK, there are the angels and the elders from the east who came to see this child and, eventually, grandparents and aunties and uncles who fussed and neighbors who played peek a boo and then first steps and first words and, um, first miracles yet to come. Still, it started small, isolated, and humbly. The immense love the world needed was first held in the arms of parents who loved. Who chose to love. I bet they were angry about things, too. There was plenty for them to be mad about but, I imagine that this child tethered them and that this love transformed them.
There is plenty to be angry, frustrated, and sad about right now. These are justified responses to the condition of the world and these responses. I’m also beginning to recognize that where these responses emerge from matters a great deal. When these responses stand-alone, they tend to move me on a downward spiral of contempt, despair, and rage that become a ravenous, collapsing hole in my heart. This sort of downward spiral is at the heart of my own experience of depression, my unthinking participation in movements of supremacy, my own involvement in the world’s destruction and decline.
The anger, frustration, and sadness that’s rooted in love is different. These responses denigrate the world when they are ends in themselves. These responses emanate love when rooted in love. Where the one points to a disastrous relinquishment of control, the other is rooted in a healthily centered sacred power. Where the one breeds oppression, the other breeds freedom.
The love we celebrate entering the world over the Advent and Christmas seasons is coming just in time. It is a love rooted in a still deeper love that has more capacity than we can imagine. It is a love that helps right a world turned upsidedown. It is a love that is patient and kind but truthful. It is a love that is the root of everything good.
Today, I chose to love.
(This article was published today in the Pacific Northwest Conference News)