Just so you know, when I wrote this I had no idea what we would be waking up to on November 4th. Whatever happened yesterday at least one thing won’t be changing because there was an election: the pandemic is still within and around us.
Like many of you, the pandemic has drilled a well of aching deep inside of me – for my children most of all. One of them I have not seen since last January, and none of them have I been able to see with regularity. Also like many of you, we are waffling about our plans for Thanksgiving, which originally had them all visiting here. Again like many you, caution and precaution have riven me from friends and forced a separation from even routine aspects of employment activity.
While trying to practice wise pandemic hygiene, my wife is now back in the classroom and so I am exposed to that which she is exposed. That makes otherwise regular and uncomplicated pastoral visits now prohibited contacts. It goes against every fiber of my instinct to stay away from people I am supposed to be serving, and yet the loving thing to do these days is to practice caution – to stay away. As the virus spikes and continues to threaten the most vulnerable among us, the practice of love more often than not means separation. Like you, I hate it.
Love as the practice of separation is a painful paradox, and thus has the ring of spiritual wisdom. Among the world’s religions, the more mystical the sharper the edge of the paradox. Jesus issued these famous paradoxical ideas but similar wisdom is found in Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism: the first will be last and the last will be first, if you want to save your life you must lose it, the gentle will inherit the earth, and those who would be great must be like a child. “Practice love with separation” fits right into that list.
To quote an unlikely source of wisdom for many Americans, Che Guevara is quoted as saying, “Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous, the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” But it might be an equally unlikely and ridiculous thing to say that the heart of a true U.S. patriot, is likewise guided by great feelings of love. In this particular moment, that love is practiced with caution and separation.
To be loving seems a far better criteria for good citizenship than some of the macho nationalist ideas often espoused. To love, even to the point of separating from those we love (and wearing a mask that prevents them from seeing the delight of our smile), is paradoxically but gloriously loving.
Sparta and Athens were famous warring cities in ancient Greece, one a warrior society and the other focused on culture and statecraft. What if we became a society with active loving as our raison d’etre? Then we would truly be a great nation, maybe even an exceptional one. Then we would share in a society that collaborated instead of competed with one another, and embraced our inter-dependence instead of denying or fighting it. Then, when there were disagreements, we would see one another as opponents about particular issues not enemies. Then, well, then we would thrive.