In my retirement, I have been blessed by the companionship of many people, mostly women who are finding creative ways of processing through this time of social distancing. Some are introverts and find it a welcome gift of extra time to paint and to write; others are coordinating conference calls and numerous screen-time gatherings to combat the quiet. One of these friends is a clinical social worker who finds her spiritual strength sustained by writing poetry, especially now in between teletherapy sessions. A new poem of hers arrived in my email inbox on the same afternoon as I had begun to formulate my own thoughts on ways this virus is teaching us how interconnected we are.
As many who know me are aware, I have been preoccupied in recent years with observing intersections of experience, with what we call coincidences (aka God-incidences or God-sequences). My friend’s new poem was on the “butterfly effect” and my thoughts had been about the leveling effect of Covid-19. As her poem and my thoughts intersected, I pondered as she did, how the theory of bat droppings on food in an open-air market on another continent might have led to a worldwide pandemic. I also considered how the planet was feeling the healing effects of our sequester. And, I wondered what other connections we were going to find as blessings in the process of experiencing our collective fears and sorrows or increased personal prayer time amidst great loss.
I am reminded of a saying among scientists and eco-theologians that we are all stardust. The elements in our bodies are the gases from exploding stars. Re-arranged millions of times over the years to form unique individuals, we are still connected in time and space.
In one of our local interfaith alliances, I’ve observed how rabbis, priests and ministers have shared their own fears and confusion as well as technological advice for streaming services. Buddhist leaders are offering advice about meditation and the Islamic community has organized a virtual Iftar next week. Councils of Jewish rabbis wrestled with their traditional teachings to accommodate virtual minyans (a minimum of 10 gathered for prayer) and Catholic bishops had to rethink the mandatory church commandments about Sunday obligations and communion during Eastertime. Suddenly the domestic church we study about in church history is back!
The “healthy at home” directive from our governor created a wonderfully quiet time for me to read Stephen J. Patterson’s,The Forgotten Creed. He considers how the earliest baptismal formula in Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us that we are all children of God, that there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. (Gal. 3:26-28) And, isn’t that what Covid-19 might also be teaching us? There is no one who is guaranteed immunity from either the health or financial effects of the virus. We are all in this together. (My state of Kentucky has its mantra for this time, “we will get through this together.”)
Only a few decades ago, when we were children watching futuristic cartoon characters using strange technologies, we couldn’t imagine these kinds of connections would be both real and salvific. So, as much as I planned to give up social media forever after Lent, I have not. For, I can be in the comfort of my living room with a warm cup of tea watching my parish Mass on Sunday; hearing the Angelus or chaplaincy talks in Fisher House; praying Vespers with friends on three continents at MBIT; and, preparing myself to teach on-line.
Maybe a butterfly’s flapping wing in Asia can create a hurricane in the Caribbean. Maybe the Holy Spirit is working extra hours helping us to realize that we really are all children of God. With stars, butterflies, bats, and viruses, we are reminded of our connection in the loving arms of God.
Melanie-Prejean Sullivan is a Research Associate at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology