Today, we welcome my dad, the Rev. David Beckett, a retired United Methodist pastor living in Bend, Oregon, to share a guest post.
Do you remember where you were when momentous events happened in the world? I remember being in the sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Hamilton, Ohio when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Then there was the fight for civil rights and racial equality, and the Viet Nam war. I remember that horrible morning on Sept. 11, 2001, and the invasion of Iraq. Do you know why we recall our context when such events unfold? I do not understand the psychology of this phenomenon, but they appear to be pivot points in human history. We implicitly realize at some level that life has changed.
Now we have the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Years from now what will you remember about where you were and what you felt as this virus spread its tentacles around the globe? I have felt the temptation to be afraid. I have been made even more aware of my privilege. I have not suffered in the same way as people whose entire income has been stripped away. I have not suffered emotionally as those with fragile mental health. I have not suffered from feelings of shame because I had to go to a food bank in order to feed my family.
I wonder what life will look like as civilizations attempt to return to some sense of normality. This does not mean life will be like it was however. There will be a “new” normal just as we all were forced to take off our shoes at airport security lines in a post-911 world. What I find myself wondering about is a spiritual new normal. What will happen to our search for the divine? What will life be like for church communities when we are allowed to gather again?
My questions lead me to this prediction. I think (and hope) that the post-pandemic reality will include a new spiritual awakening. I think this for two reasons. One, many people will realize if they haven’t already that they need other people. Social scientists know that meaningful relationships with people are one of the key factors in healing addictions and positive mental health. We know this conceptually, but after being deprived of physical social interaction for months we understand how much we need others.
The second reason I believe we will enter a new spiritual awakening is this. We have a shared experience that may lead to the realization that we cannot control life. We have discovered something that shattered this illusion that we are in control of our destiny. This is a very helpful part of spiritual growth, much like the first step in a twelve-step addiction recovery process. Because now we can look to God as the source of life and love. We will come to know that, not only do we need other people, we need God.
How this new spiritual search will manifest itself is anyone’s guess. But as a person who is committed to the way of Jesus, and a United Methodist pastor for 40 years, I believe the Church is in a unique position. For the most part churches know how to care for each other. Churches who do it best are the ones who constantly remind us with words and practices that we are called not just to love those who are part of our communities, but to love all others.
Churches have occupied themselves for centuries in the quest for God. To be sure this journey has led us down some very dark pathways. The challenge for the Church in this coming era will be to discern how to shed some vestiges of our institutional ways so we may receive the fresh expressions of this spiritual quest. For example, churches have struggled during the quarantine with their identity without Sunday worship. Who are we if we are not gathered in a building once a week? I think we will discover that corporate worship is not nearly as vital as our mission to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and work for justice. People will also become aware of their thirst for personal practices of prayer and study to ground them in this discipleship mission. If I may add, we will also have a new opportunity to reverse the warming of our planet. The clear skies in our most polluted cities across the globe during this pandemic have offered us a glimpse that changing human habits can heal the earth.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.Arundati Roy
We need each other. We need God. They have always been human needs. But perhaps this pandemic will point this out more clearly than before. The final question lingering in my mind is, “Will the Church be ready to fight (to make a priority) for the new thing God is doing?”