At the time of this writing, we are entering into a most extraordinary experience as a nation, as a people, and as a community of believers. By the time this writing will be read by anyone, the reality of when this was written will already have been transformed, changed, become something else.
I grew up in a very different part of the world to that in which I now live. My small village of a few hundred people was remote, rural, and largely ignored by the world that was growing, developing and transforming around it. Back then, I thought my hometown to be somewhat backward, but today, looking back, I cherish my memories and the folly of youthful judgment has matured into more considered appreciation… profound appreciation.
I can remember, as a youth, watching birds in the sky… starlings… hundreds, it seemed, moving as though they were one. They would lift into the sky, dart left, then right, descending toward the earth in one breath and then suddenly be ascending into the sky the next… I marveled at how hundreds of tiny birds could move so wondrously as though as one. They moved together, as though one, but in reality were hundreds. How could this be?
Later, in college, I remember reading a more subdued description of this phenomenon that I remembered in my mind's eye. But in recent days, I have been reminded of the power and the amazing effectiveness of creatures coming together to secure the common good. It was what allowed the hundreds of starlings to move together… and it is how we, as human beings, are at our best.
In recent years and months, I confess, I have been as dismayed as many with the partisan and divisive realities which have come to hold sway in our society. However, it seems to me, that this divisiveness which has enjoyed such sway, has become neutered and revealed as the totally inadequate sham that it is in reality. In the face of the threat to the public health that the Coronavirus has become, our small mindedness of partisanship is exposed as utterly inadequate and insufficient in the face of a threat that threatens every single one of us. We will all rise together, or we will fall into nothingness. The greatness of our community as a people of faith, as a nation blessed by God, does not lie in partisanship, but in our embrace of the common good. This good is secured when each one of us begins to make choices for the good of the community, and not simply or short-sightedly for the immediate and short-lived good of the self. What makes us great is not our individual prowess, but our collective and communal efforts to change the world for the good for all.
The life and ministry of Jesus demonstrated to us a truth that the prophets and ancients before him knew almost instinctively. We will protect and save ourselves by protecting and saving others. From Genesis to Revelation, this has always been true. It was true for our forebears, and it remains just as true now, in our own time.
We talk up the present crisis with stories that tell of the worst being brought out in us. We’ve hyped stories of panic-buying of goods, as people fight to secure themselves and their families. But if we are to really save ourselves and our families, we need to remember how to save one another.
Last week I was approached by a couple of people who wondered if there were people in our community who needed help to pick up some groceries, to get to the drugstore for medications, etc.? By Monday, fourteen different individuals approached me individually with some version of this idea. Together, they have become a reminder to me of the power of our greatness as a people when we remember who we are, when we remember what makes the human heart distinctive compared to that of other creatures. The starlings could fly marvelously on air currents, but it takes people working together to witness to the truth of what greatness really looks like.
The coronavirus threat reminds us that we are all in this life together. This threat knows no tribe, or clan, or party, or nation. It is indiscriminate in its demand that apart from one another we are doomed, but that together, we can triumph over any adversity.
A couple of weeks ago I read stories of Italians singing to one another from the balconies of their homes to encourage and to enliven one another. This past week I read heartfelt emails from parishioners whose instinct is to care for others in very practical ways. These, along with the starlings’ flight paths, are constant reminders that unless we think of ourselves as a fragile species, in need of one another's care and support, we will never know salvation.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus consistently invites us to care for one another, so let’s continue to keep our eye on the ball, and incarnate our faith in these most extraordinary days.