The Desert Sanctuary

Spirit * Soul * Body

As I write the words to this chapter, the world is amid what most would describe as a crisis.  It is described on a government website in my home state as, “an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in many locations internationally, including in the United States. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).[1]  COVID-19 is spread through contact and has quickly spread throughout the world even to my hometown of Rock Port, MO.  My Facebook feed today includes my mother’s disappointment that the virus has reached her hometown.  The numbers change daily, so I won’t bore you with the numbers, but it’s safe to say we are in the middle of a pandemic.

Of course, there are some that are blatantly dismiss it as a crisis.  They want to make it something spiritual or call it a conspiracy.  For the sake of brevity and because I’m part baby boomer, for now I will just dismiss them as idiots and move on with what I’m trying to accomplish here.  For me, I was just isolated from my job for 20 days, my daughter has been quarantined in her home for 2 weeks and we hear of new updates every day.  Most of the people that dismissed this pandemic have been slowing arising from their slumber, including me.

I don’t know about you, but people like me have a coping strategy we like to employ.  When something unique happens, we try to normalize or minimalize it.  If I can somehow tie what is happing to something that happened in the past or if I can make it seem smaller in my mind than it actually is, then it won’t be as scary or I won’t have to make any changes in my life to adjust to the changes that are impending.   Even though I like adventure, I like planned adventures and what I am discovering is that this is a living contradiction or maybe even an oxymoron.  And, to make it worse, Dr. Mary Jeppsen state the following:

              “There have never been times like these…unprecedented”[2]

The situation we find ourselves is indeed like nothing most of us have ever seen or experienced in our lifetime.  I have very few reference points for dealing with this crisis, so as I start to experience my part in this pandemic let me just state a few guidelines that I am building from.  Primarily, it is okay not to be okay and it is okay to feel what you feel.  Any time we shame ourselves or others for feeling what we feel, we just create many more problems and we have enough challenges.  We don’t need to add guilt or shame or more despair to the equation.  It’s enough on its own merit.   The other thing I would share with you is what my friend Dr. Paul Fitzgerald say, “Don’t waste a good crisis.”  So, hopefully that is what I am doing here.

Be where you are

Mrs. Beaty is one of the teachers I remember from private school.  I remember her as kind and compassionate.  She was probably patient also if she had to deal with me in those days, but every time someone talks about school, the classroom I picture is hers.  Back then, teachers took roll.  They would call out your name and you could either say “here” or “present.”  Both of them meant the same thing – you were in the seat that was assigned to you.   The word present didn’t mean what we now commonly refer to as at least some form of awareness and sort of a single-focus on something particular.

Jesus seemed to have this presence.  Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think he necessarily was always impressive, but I do believe he was always present.  As a boy, when he was in the temple, he was fully present with the teachers and didn’t realize that the caravan for home had already left.  He was fully engaged with what was most important and not distracted by other people’s agenda for him.  When he was in the boat, he was fully engaged in the task at hand even when the task was taking a nap.  When he was in the garden, he was in garden and not a million miles away.  When he went away to pray, he was fully present in prayer and not reliving the past or dreading the future. 

Over the past 18 months, I have been doing some very simple, physical work.  People often ask me, “So, what’s the plan?”  By this, I think they are struggling to see me as doing this physical work for anything more than a temporary stint.  I’ve been an office worker for much of my adult life.  The story of the last few years takes a long time to delineate and where I think this might be going is hard to describe, so I just say this:

              This is what I am doing today

I say this because that is exactly what I say inside my head.  If I look beyond the boundaries of the current day, or sometimes hour, I may become frightened of the future or regretful about the past.  The best place to be in in the present.  It’s really the only time we can live in.  Our minds typically are in a hundred places at once.  Often, we are absent from the moment we are participating in.   There is a time to plan, but even those plans are subject to change.  There is also a time to go back and do some necessary repair work.  It can be fruitful, we just can’t live there.  The only place we can live is in the here and now.

So, I say to myself, “This is what I am doing now” and “this is where I am.”  One of my new favorite theologians, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness if you are attentive, you will see it.”[3]   This is how I want to live the rest of my life—in the present moment, experiencing joy and happiness because I was paying attention.

When Mrs. Beaty would say, “Mr. Forehand” and I would say, “president” or answer in a funny voice, she would exclaim “Mr. Forehand just say ‘here’ or ‘present’.”  When Mrs. Beaty said present, she wanted to know if I was there.  When Laura says, “Are you here?” she means “Are you present?”  Let’s all come back to the present and live in the only time we can!

Be who you are

In the Bible, there is an incident described that I would describe as something similar to a drone strike.[4]  To make a long story short, Elijah the prophet and King Ahaziah get into a struggle about whether the king is respecting God.  Elijah responds to the king’s lack of respect for God with calling down fire from heaven (like a drone strike) and wipes out the soldiers in successive waves (50 at a time) until Elijah (and apparently God) finally shows some mercy.  It seems like a bit of an overreaction, to say the least, but it leaves me with lot of questions. 

The question I ask is, “Is this what God is really like—does he really end people’s life just for disrespecting him?”  To me that sounds like a gangster or a mob boss more than a loving, restorative God.  It seems retributive and even childish, not wise like I imagine The Divine to be.  The other big question I ask is, “Is this how we are supposed to be?”  Are we supposed to be retributive to those who oppose God or don’t consult him first or believe in him?  Apparently, the Israelites believed in the drone strike god because there is another reference to it in Luke chapter nine.

After the transfiguration, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem and send messengers ahead to secure lodging for their visit.  When the Samaritan village was unwelcoming, James and John question, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaving to destroy them?”[5]  Apparently, the common belief about their identity was that when someone stands in our way, we remove them from our path in the quickest and most efficient way.  That’s was their understand of who they were.  Even though Jesus teaching was completely contrary to this, they still clung to the ancient misunderstanding about God and what the people of God are like. 

Jesus rebukes them.  In some manuscripts, “You don’t know what kind of spirit you belong to.”  If I could interpret a little, I would suggest that the battle is between the spirit of retribution and spirit of restoration.  Jesus demonstrated his love and mercy toward the Samaritans (the sworn enemy of the Jews) several times.   When Peter tried the way of retribution with his sword in the garden, Jesus rebuked him and basically told him, “that’s not who we are.”

Most of us like Peter are just trying to fit in.  We want to be significant and we look to other people for models of how to get where we think we are going.  James and John wanted to be like Elijah that represented the prophets.  I can relate to that because I love the poets and the prophets and often lump them together.  But in our desire to be significant, we have to remember that the one basic requirement is we first have to be who we are.  We have to be authentic.  One of my oldest daughter’s favorite quotes used to be Oscar Wilde’s statement:

“Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their life is a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”[6]

I have tattoo on my arm of a couple of Chinese characters.  The characters are a Mandarin word about authenticity.  It literally means, “Real.”  That is my prayer for the second half of my life and my hope for the world.  I want us to be who we are. 

Maybe this pause in our lives will cause us to consider living differently.  Maybe we can get out of the patterns we have become accustomed to and decide what is important and what is not.  Hopefully our lives will become much simpler by determining what is truly necessary and what is window dressing. 

My hope is that we will learn to be where we are and be who we are! 

Karl


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[1] https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/novel-coronavirus/

[2] Gleaned from an online conversation on March 28, 2020

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/259142-the-present-moment-is-filled-with-joy-and-happiness-if

[4] 2 Kings 1

[5] Luke 9:54

[6] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/317-most-people-are-other-people-their-thoughts-are-someone-else-s

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