What wisdom is coming out of our religious traditions from this pandemic? Or maybe more exactly, what wisdom might have, or even should came?
A year ago, we said, “We are all in the same boat. A year ago, we seemed to come face to face with an essential spiritual truth illuminated by pandemic: We are all connected.
Every living being is connected to every other living being. Our planet is a living ecosystem. What happens with a bat in China changes the lives of New Yorkers. An unmasked person at a party in Florida can threaten the life of a grandmother in Cleveland. A Los Angeles hospital worker who contracts the coronavirus from a patient can take him home to her extended family who all share a small apartment.
“We are all in the same boat” leads us to a fundamental teaching of the Hebrew Bible: “Love your neighbor as yourself.
What does it mean to love yourself? And, especially now, who is my neighbor?
But there are so many questions from such a short verse. What does it really mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean to love yourself? And, especially now, who is my neighbor?
The wisdom that comes from the pandemic, I believe, is that every living person is my neighbor – the market vendor in China, the unmasked person in Florida, the hospital worker in Los Angeles.
What does your neighbor’s love mean
What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? A medieval commentator explained it thus: “You will like for to your neighbor what you love for yourself. In other words, to love your neighbor as yourself is to wish our neighbors what we wish for ourselves.
What do I wish for myself? May I be safe; that I am happy; that I am strong; that I live with ease. In fact, every day I meditate with these words.
It is a mediation practice called Metta or benevolence, stemming from a Buddhist tradition that I learned from my teacher Sylvia Boorstein. But this is not a statement. I am not saying: I am safe. I am happy. Rather, it is an aspiration, a hope, a wish.
I want to feel safe… I say: May I feel safe.
I want to feel happy … I say: Can I feel happy.
Meditation calms me down and helps me overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic which prevent me from feeling safe, happy or strong; those who prevent me from facing what is happening with serenity and patience.
Bad things can happen, but if my mind can stay clear, I can still wish for safety, happiness, strength, and ease.
And the clearer and more calm I am, the more I can cope with these challenges.
So Metta begins by blessing me myself.
Who is my neighbor?
The second step of the practice is a kind of answer to the question: Who is my neighbor?
First, the people I feel closest to: my kids, our extended family, my closest friends. So after blessing myself, I focus my attention on them: May my children / grandchildren / closest friends feel safe. May they feel happy. May they feel strong. May they live with ease.
And then the circle widens to include distant friends – members of my temple, for example, or “familiar strangers”, the people I interacted with regularly before the pandemic, such as the laundry clerk or the woman who owns the restaurant. the street where I live or, these days, the neighbors I greet on my daily walks.
Being a human being is difficult at the best of times. It’s even harder at the worst times.
Finally, the circle extends to the salesperson in China, the party animal in Florida, the hospital worker in LA. They are all my neighbors.
Being a human being is difficult at the best of times. It’s even harder at the worst times. Thus, the wisdom that emerges from the pandemic is a reaffirmation of the importance of building community.
I’m not alone. We are all in there.
Ritual, community and resilience
Our religious traditions give us community. For example, Easter, which is coming soon, brings the powerful tradition of the Passover seder when friends and families come together to tell the story of the coming out of Egypt.
Last year the seder was generally virtual, which was both sad and empowering. People who lived too far away to come to a face-to-face seder gathered on Zoom, each eating the ritual foods in their own home, but still able to tell the tale of stepping out of a cramped, metaphorical Egypt. .
It was a reminder that we have already been through difficult times. And we’ll get out of it.
This year, Passover can also be virtual, but it will probably be better than last year when we learned how to use technology to come together. Also, we now know that there is light at the end of the tunnel (vaccines).
Ritual creates community and community creates resilience.
Our religious traditions challenge us to go beyond our own parish communities to a larger vision as well. To use a biblical image, all human beings are created in the image of God. Although we may have different understandings of the Godhead, believing that all human beings are created in the image of God means that we can see the face of God in the faces of others, that we are responsible for others, and that we are responsible for others. t is up to us to create a world where we are all in all of this – and all – together.
Are we all in the same boat?
We are all vulnerable. Life is fragile. We need each other. We are all connected.
Are are we all in the same boat?
So why isn’t our healthcare system protecting those who are most vulnerable: people of color, people with underlying health conditions, the elderly?
If we’re all in the same boat, why don’t so many of our kids have access to virtual learning because they can’t access the internet or don’t have the material available for privileged children?
If we’re all in the same boat, why can private schools open when public schools don’t get the support they need to get children back to their classrooms safely?
Yes, we are going through this pandemic. But will we learn that it’s up to us to fix the world so that we’re all really in the same boat?
We have a lot of work to do. As a classical Jewish teaching puts it: “It is not for us to accomplish the task, but neither are we free to give it up.
It is wisdom.
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Love your neighbor as yourself: but how?
A rabbi’s take on the wisdom that came, or should have come, from COVID-19