As I write this, wildfires are raging all over the province, smoke casts a pall over everything, and thousands of people are being displaced. It feels like an exclamation point on an arduous year.
In a magnificent treatment of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann writes that many Psalms are laments which give voice to the suffering, hurt, and alienation which come during a time of disorientation. It’s safe to say that the past 18 months have been such a time, and lament is a deeply appropriate response of faith. Church historian Diana Butler Bass describes it as a time of “dislocation.”
We are not out of that time yet. We may see a hint of light, but I suspect we are only at the beginning of the end of this time of disorientation. We have not yet moved into what Brueggemann describes as a time of “new orientation.”
So this may be the right time to think about what’s next. Some people are suggesting we can go back to normal. Brene Brown wisely suggests that “Normal never was. Our pre–corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.”
Let’s dream big dreams. Gospel visions. What might a “new orientation” look like? What will this new garment be and how might it fit? How might we learn to live more faithfully with each other and with all of creation? No one knows what the future holds, but this moment is a gift as we use our imaginations to refashion our common life so that it is good for all.
One of the places I begin is to say that part of the work of this time is a renewal of religion. I don’t mean religion as a sense of obligation which means we have to think a certain way, believe a certain way, behave a certain way. That kind of religion won’t help us at all; let’s just dump it in the dustbin of history, another casualty of the pandemic.
Rather, while we may not be completely sure where the word comes from, one of the roots is the Latin word “religare,” which means “to bind” or “reconnect.” “Religare” is about mending what has been broken, recovering what has been mislaid, reconnecting what has been frayed, healing what has been dis-eased.
Focusing on “religare” makes our gospel work much clearer. We imagine a new way of living and being. We do the work of finding and repairing and healing and binding up. We reconnect human and natural life and bind it up in a growing understanding of spirituality which understands that life is a matter of reconnecting with God, with our deepest and best selves, with each other, and with nature. That’s all gospel work.
We don’t need to return to the old ways. Indeed, we should not. We can receive the gift of imagining a new orientation, a new and larger gospel vision of what life might be. We find a new place, a new home, a new way. We stitch a new garment and dream a new vision.
As we do so, we will need to find wise guides who can weave wisdom into our discourse of the common good. We look for creative leaders and dreamers who can discern a new way into this new future.
We will need one another to get there. We haven’t taken this journey before, but together we can.
Finally, at the very heart of finding our lost selves, we can relocate our hearts in the living, compassionate, and loving God who announced that creation “was very good,” and whose purpose is to renew and reinvigorate that goodness.