By Donna Schaper
By the time you read this, our devastating plague will be worse than it already is, or declining, or whatever the bug decides it should be. It is worth reading about the 10 Plagues of Egypt in Exodus 7:14–12:36, where blood, frogs, lice, snails, livestock, boils, hail, locust, darkness, and finally the death of the first born, arrive sequentially. Scripture assures us they were sent by God to convince Pharaoh to force the Egyptians to let go of the Israelites. This assurance doesn’t make God look good so much as it assumes that suffering is ungodly.
It is helpful to know that we are not experiencing our first plague, nor will it be our last. Before this crisis, we were pretty convinced that we were in the end of the world as we know it mode. Environmental trouble joined with self-absorbed and self-flattering narcissistic leadership to assure us that we didn’t have enough future, much less enough toilet paper. Zombie movie nights were already popular.
Both Easter and Passover are likely to be more virtual this year than ever before. Please, somebody tell the President that he is not in charge of EASTER or PASSOVER. We might gather if we are really lucky with this bug, but the smart money is on the religious holidays joining Broadway in going dark. What intrigues me about the newly commanded and demanded virtuality is how empty the big buildings are; ours included, which hasn’t had a rest for years and is breathing a sigh of great relief. Good ole Judson’s answer to everything is to gather and hug, or at least shake hands and shake minds. “New York State on pause” is the governor’s name for the rest our overworked buildings and selves are getting.
During the time of the Black Plague in the middle ages, people were required to go to church at 11:00 a.m. every day. That was before they knew phrases like “flatten the curve” or “social distancing” or, for that matter, molecular biology. They were pre-Pasteur. They wouldn’t know a germ if they met one. They thought about plagues as “acts of God”—which is terribly unkind to God, even when people are in desperate need for either liberation from Pharaoh or liberation from germs.
Yale librarian Judith Ann Schiff explained about how the weekend was invented. In 1926 Yale put an end to compulsory chapel attendance for students. The end of compulsory Sunday church services meant that everyone could live it up in the city. That, of course, is hard to do when the bars and the shows are closed. From my self-interested perch, virtual worship has also shown up just in time, even if it means we can’t pass the offering plates. Churches like Judson already have that covered at www.judson.org.
“Inner” is getting a lot more attention now than the outer. That renewed attention will be nothing but a boost to religious organizations. We don’t have to be compulsory to celebrate Easter or Passover or to enjoy a prayerful, meditative pause. All we need is a commandment to do so from the government. (That was not an attempt at humor; it was a way to be un-spiritually snarky.)
We have long known that religious themes matter. We know about Easter and its affirmation of life after death, and Passover and its insistence on liberation from pharaohs all around. Do we have to gather to remember these themes? Nope. They exist even if we don’t consider or celebrate them. Or if we have to observe them alone. Or if we can’t find a shank bone or an Easter egg to color. They are not their outer trappings. They are their inner truths. The virtual village is at least plague-free at the level of the pause. Why not enjoy it? You’ve always wanted to learn how to meditate or how to have an authentic spiritual experience. Now, courtesy of the plague, maybe you can.
Let’s start with the spiritual linings. Fewer people are flying, so the environment is being slightly protected. In China, babies’ birth weights increased because there was less traffic during their gestations. Lots of people are thinking more about the old, the lame, and the already isolated than they have in years. We are being grateful again for abundant toilet paper and soap. We are doing meal planning and saving money by not eating out, or going to the movies or shows. There will likely be a great increase in the number of babies born in nine months, due to so much “working at home.”
These silver linings come from my anxiety budget. I am only paying it half of every hour and no more at least for the immediate moment.
Typhoid Trump is so outrageous that he has actually become funny. Imagine thinking that filling Easter pews was something you do to make yourself look good. Easter and Passover look plenty good, all on their own, without Presidential lift.
Dear God, thank you for joining a conspiracy to turn us all into digitally-minded humans. Just kidding. Thank you for making what was already a hard time harder. Thank you for protecting the people who clean and wipe and breathe in crowded places. Send us to the sweet spot between denial and panic. Grant us spiritual clarity.
And protect us and those whom we love from too much drama. And if that is impossible, put us on a worry budget of 50 percent of every hour. Amen for real and virtual.
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