To rebalance our understanding of life

Physical distancing, the shutting down of non-essential services and entertainment venues, the slowly dawning realization that our world is significantly different from what it was just last week are enough to get us to reassess our world-view and our assumptions about our life. We must each do this for ourselves. Rebalancing is a question of personal values as well as theology. And theology is really every person’s attempt to make sense of the big articulations of life – What does life mean? Does human life have a purpose? Do I have a purpose? What is the grand scheme of things? Who or what, in anyone or anything, is really in charge of evolutionary processes? If there is, what is its nature – harmful, indifferent or benevolent?

We Christians have developed a set of answers over the millennia out of ancient Jewish and early Christian stories, lived out and reflected upon over the two millennia of Christian history, always rethought and reinterpreted in light of experience and human reflection. I subscribe to a subset of that broad story. I have found there provisional answers to the questions above.

This section offers suggestions, not doctrine; offers perhaps news ways of looking at the old questions in light of this rapidly expanding pandemic which risks permanently changing the way we see and live out our lives. Thus this section is more content-driven, and will reveal more of my own personal “theology from experience.” The best I can do is to offer you the fruit of my reflection and meditation and leave it to you to choose what works for you and to leave aside what doesn’t.

My contention is that Covid 19 is offering us a unique opportunity to stand back and assess the world-view and the values we cherish in light of this ever-growing pandemic.

      • Reassessing what really matters in life

In the first instance, from the perspective of one still healthy, in a country just at the beginning of the pandemic-related chaos, I can engage in a critical assessment of my desire to travel, see, and experience. Simply noting for myself that, in most cases, tourism is a discretionary pleasure. I can ask myself what it is exactly I gain from my travel and whether this is a legitimate use of my limited resources, given the environmental damage and now the health risks that result.

I can ask myself about the origin of my curiosity about the world; I can ask myself to what extent this makes the world a “consumable item.” As a tourist, have I become a consumer of experiences, of sights? Do I truly become a better person? Or do I drag my safe and secure world with me wherever I go (“Where is the nearest McDonald’s?”)? What will I lose if I give up international travel? Will I still be able to appreciate diversity? Or will I be even more ingrained in my limited local culture? How much will I be contributing to the exacerbation of the existing health and environmental situation to satisfy my curiosity and my need to consume experiences?

We are a culture that has been told over and over that we need more; that we are not okay the way we are; that we need to buy this or that to make us happy, healthy, secure, etc. Someone has written recently that the average American who watches TV and listens to radio is exposed to 3,000 commercials a day. These commercials tend to make us unhappy with ourselves and with the way we presently are. What would happen if I decided to go on a diet from commercials? At least put commercials on “Mute.” At a time of “physical distancing” when “therapeutic shopping” is no longer an option, can I examine my urge to buy, and my need to satisfy that urge? Can I figure out for myself what I have become as a result? Am I trying to fill an infinite emptiness by stuffing it with stuff? How else might I seek fulfilment?

We are a restless culture which tends to lose sight of what we already have in order to go after what we don’t yet have. What would happen if I began truly appreciating what I already have, enjoy this, and put on hold any desire for more? As I self-isolate, can I spend more time savouring the simple things of life – truly mindfully savour them! – and stop thinking about what else I “need,” or rather want?

      • Acknowledging the “noosphere”

Perhaps this time is physical distancing gives me an opportunity to reflect on the bigger picture: where is the world heading? Not tomorrow or next year, but in the long term, in “deep time.” Of course I have no answer! And of course there is as wide a range of answers and speculations as there are people. But I take my personal cue from scientists and theologians I respect and value. From what I read and reflect upon, an interesting picture emerges.

We have no idea how the universe will evolve in “deep time.” The Jesuit paleontologist of the first half of the twentieth century Pierre Teilhard de Chardin talked about an evolutionary sequence that went from cosmogenesis – the creation of the Universe – to biogenesis – the appearance of life – and now to noogenesis – the appearance of global consciousness – and finally to Christogenesis.

If we understand the latter as the “Omega Point” when God will be fully present in all creation, then anything and everything we do which encourages “noogenesis,” i.e., the creation of the “noosphere,” or global consciousness, helps bring about Christogenesis. (For more on this, see the section in this website on the Cosmic Christ.)

Global consciousness is the sense that we are all one people; that, despite cultural, religious and political differences, we all share the same “Pale Blue Dot” in this infinite space. (For a deeply moving reflection on this, please see Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot.” From that global point of view, we have a long way to go to truly appreciate our radical interdependence and the foundational need to “think globally” in order to act appropriately at the local level. Xenophobia, of any kind, and at any level, does not offer a path to Christogenesis.

      • Seeing Covid 19 as metaphor for our world

Of course, Covid 19 is a terrible scourge. But I, for one, am learning from it. I learn how incredibly fragile and vulnerable the human being is. We take human existence as a given, and yet an invisible virus could bring this mighty species to its feet. The least I can do is to take note of the incredible fragility of humanity.

I can also take note of our resilience, our determination, our collective skill, and marvel at all that is done, in unheard of cooperation around the globe, to halt, harness, and prevent the spread of this virus. (I also note that, in times of crisis, there are always some who somehow allow their Shadow side full reign over their lives and behave in radically antisocial ways: hoarding rare supplies then selling them at exorbitant prices; looting; pushing, shoving, stealing…)

If I learn nothing from this pandemic, it is how radically interconnected everything and everyone is. Covid 19 is a metaphor for this: its spread is entirely through humans. Its global spread is the result of extensive human travel and interaction. We are watching the pattern of these human interactions simply by watching – with horror most often – where and how quickly the virus spreads. No wonder limiting travel and contact are the two ways governments have to control or slow the spread of the infection. What does this tell me on the broader scale about human interdependence? Can I continue to believe that I can live out my comfortable life here in splendid isolation when there is so much suffering almost at my doorstep? What one person did, ingesting an infected pangolin somewhere in China, has such a profound effect on the world… What I do, performing some small act of kindness, or some small evil act, can have the same effect. This is the nature of interdependence.