Dear Great Mystery that was and will be and is:

Let us this day, and often throughout our lives, enter into mystery, wonder, and awe, turning over the questions:

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Yes, there are answers to those questions. A range of narrative options is available. Let us not settle on any. Let us simply hold any answer, any story – whether curt and simplified, or long, complex, and detailed – whether felt with assurance or qualified with “probably” or “maybe” – and then move past it, return to nonnarrative presence, enter again into the mystery into which the questions beckon us.

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

We don’t know. The stories and fragments of story that guide us, that help us make meaning – are always incomplete, always obscure as they reveal. Therefore, let us hold our stories lightly and amend them often, guided always by compassion, attentive ever to who is hurt, and how, and who is liberated, and how, by the story before us.

May the stories that guide us guide us toward justice. May they keep before us that the conditions of our lives today derive from and depend upon centuries of dehumanization and genocide. We shrink our souls when we forget that.

May the stories that guide us guide us to notice where fear and greed, the roots of historic atrocities, continue today in our own hearts. May they help us see where our current habits of thought exclude from reverent concern and respect. May we grow our awareness of what we place outside our circle of loving and kindly regard.

Knowing that it is from our own wounding that we wound others, let our stories guide us toward healing, toward justice. Then will possibilities of life without violence, without coercion, without fear, without greed, and without deceit unfold.

Dear Great Mystery that was and will be and is:

Teach us to tell the stories that will lead us in the ways of compassion, that will open our hearts to all the pain and oppression that is and ever was. Strengthen our capacity for reality so that we will not seek the false comfort of turning away. Open our hearts to the joy that flows in when compassion flows out. Open our eyes to see where there is hurt. Commit our bodies, and the hours of our lives, to the work of love, of inclusion, of justice.

And grant us, from time to time, the grace of setting aside all stories to re-enter mystery, to re-inhabit nonnarrative presence.



Will We Come Together?

People often come together in disaster. Neighbors who had hardly ever spoken to each other turn up with casseroles or building supplies or just helping hands and sympathetic ears in time of disaster -- right? But pandemics aren't like hurricanes or earthquakes. Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year (published 1722 about the London plague of 1665) reports, "The danger of immediate death to ourselves, took away all bonds of love, all concern for one another.” Whereas other disasters wreak their havoc quickly and are done, allowing us to come together for rebuilding, a pandemic drags on and on, inducing a gradually growing fatalism, a slowly deepening sense of lost control of our lives.

In the 1918 flu pandemic, pleas for volunteers to care for the sick went largely ignored. About 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the 1918 flu -- over 12 times the number killed in battle in World War I -- yet there have been very few books or cultural products about it. It's as though Americans, as a people, didn't like who they became. We suppressed the shameful memory of how we turned away from each other.

Yet not all Americans turned away. Then, as they are now, health care workers responded with courageous compassion. Whether their example is more widely followed today than it was in 1918 is up to us. One century ago, your 16 great-great-grandparents would have been about the age that you are today. Some of yours might have been health-care workers; probably not all of them were. Now it falls to us to step forward to redeem our great-great-grandparents who didn't. Because the neighborliness to which we are now called is apt to be an extended deployment, we will have to pace ourselves more carefully than we would for a hurricane or earthquake response. We also have technological tools for connecting and supporting each other that our great-great-grandparents didn't have.

This morning I got an email blast to all alumni of one of my alma maters from the university president. She affirmed, "I am certain that the test of this pandemic will give rise to what President Lincoln once described as 'the better angels of our nature.'"

It didn't in 1918. Let us make it so in 2020.