Setting Out Anew

The Great Pause

by Pam Mitchell, OP

Sister Pam Mitchell, OP
Sr. Pam Mitchell, OP

Whee! As though on an unpredictable ride in a water park, our lives were turned upside down in late February and March by a virus named COVID-19 (coronavirus). It has left in its wake death, overworked health care workers, mental health issues of every sort, a stoppage of economies, and stock markets now in flux that have significance for us all.

To combat the vicious and fast spreading virus, governments throughout the world called on their citizens to isolate in place. Our congregation leadership asked our members to do likewise. It’s the Great Pause. Are we even capable of slowing down? What learning is available to us about ourselves, our country, our world, our planet? Who am I when sheltered in place?

Living in “unprecedented times” are words frequently heard these days, yet many generations would say the same of their experience as evidenced in the litany of maladies throughout history: the Black Death (bubonic plague), smallpox, the Spanish flu, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola to name a few. The human race so far has not been extinguished, though it’s noted viruses are showing up with greater frequency. What might these pandemics/plagues teach us? The Black Death killed upwards to one third of the population in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Laborers represented a large portion of those who died, which resulted in a labor shortage and brought an end to feudal society. Smallpox was largely a European disease. Exploration of the “New World” began and smallpox—carried across the waters by the Europeans—spread among the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and ravaged their population. The Spanish flu came near the end of World War I. A rise in nationalism occurred afterward and festered until Adolf Hitler began his roll of slaughter through Europe in World War II. The future is now. Will we learn from history and embrace our time with a new tenderness and sense a global participative responsibility of relatedness, awareness, and action?

What are we learning from COVID-19? Can we see this as a time to reset
in a new, deeper, more compassionate and equitable global way of being on the planet? Due to its infectious nature and our “smaller world,” COVID-19 surprised us with its rapid expansion. Travel and technology remain part of the ride, a blessing as we’ve experienced miracles in our midst and a curse in that viruses also jump aboard and travel freely, more boldly, and with greater devastation among countries/pockets with large percentages of poverty.

Nightly we hear, “When will we return to NORMAL?” The question is, “Can we afford to return to ‘normal,’ when normal for the vast majority means struggling and toiling in poverty without nutritious food, decent health care, and at the mercy of warring countries and groups leading to migration and a huge rise in the number of refugees?” COVID-19 has magnified issues of racial and ethnic health and health care disparities with disproportionate deaths among African Americans and Latinos/Latinas. Our broken systems have been exposed. Will arriving at our new normal include those on the margins? With Earth photos, we have a bird’s eye view of our planet and of all the life it supports. We also witness the destruction we have wreaked on this planet, in a form not unlike a virus to our bodies.

We have seen how this Great Pause has allowed Earth and her inhabitants to breathe more easily. We have watched the display of great compassion health care workers have shown in the face of dire consequences. Where are we going from here? Is this pause going to create something new? Will we recognize that we share a common humanity that calls us to mutuality? Will we cherish and work toward the common good? Will we recognize that each life is precious and respond accordingly?

What about an ecological and spiritual transformative pause in a world facing climate change? Deepak Chopra poetically states, “The birds are singing for the first time in Bangalore; the sky is clearer and you can see the Himalayas from Punjab, India; asthmatics are better able to breathe. The ecosystem is saying, ‘Dear humans, if you stay a little longer in your cages, we will resurrect the planet, and hopefully, when you come back, we will all join together to create a more peaceful, just, sustainable world because we are all in this together.’”

Pause. Breathe. May it be.

Click for Spectrum May 2020 Index

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