We are enduring a rude awakening to realities our everyday life in Australia allows us to ignore.
We are discovering things that much of the “majority world” knew all along and lives with all the time.
We are realizing that our so-called “normal” is in fact an illusory way of being and much of what we thought were lasting objects of value may prove to be empty white sepulchres.
COVID-19 has shown us that our life is fragile.
Some knew this already: those who live subject to consistent violence or who have experienced the dramatic onslaught of natural phenomena, such as floods, bushfires, tsunamis.
In a matter of minutes, life and all we thought secure can be swept from us.
For most of us, this truth can be set aside and ignored, as we get on with the busyness we consider normal and healthy. Until now.
We know now that something we cannot see or touch, whose origins we do not know, has entered our world and creeps among us, has already killed millions of us and challenged everything we imagined would continue forever.
Our life is vulnerable and unpredictable.
Not so long ago we had no idea of this virus and its significance.
So much of what we have built as long-lasting and secure now stands empty or has become a liability: tower blocks of offices that may never be fully occupied again – unless we turn them over to housing the homeless. (What a wonderful thought!)
Universities have even more reason now to see that their massive lecture theatres are relics of a time that is gone.
We human beings are fragile creatures like every other creature on earth. We had imagined that we were at the top of the heap, in control.
We “manage” our environment and ensure (and ensure) that we remain safe and in control of our destiny.
Except that an insidious invisible creature can sweep us away within days or take our strength and independence from us forever. Just like almost all the other creatures on earth, most of which are subjected to our domination, control and threat.
This rude awakening makes clear to us that we actually do live in community with each other and with all the interconnected ecosystems that make up this earth – and not merely those of our choice.
We may choose where we live, but we do not choose with whom we live, in this wider and global sense. We belong to the earth, from which we came and to which we will go.
This is an ancient truth, known to biblical thought as well as most other religious traditions. In reality, it is something that could unite us if we learned to accept and affirm it.
In this time of crisis, we have learned too that we depend on our governments, but we have also learned that we can’t depend on our governments.
Recent studies reported in The Conversation indicate that in many countries the levels of trust in governments have increased in the last year.
At the same time, however, it is becoming clear that governments are not to be depended upon, in many ways. They act out of political interests far more than for the greater good of the nation.
Moreover, there is only so much that governments can do, especially in relation to individual behavior, such as wearing a mask or social distancing.
We have come to see that beyond government there has to be that fundamental commitment at a grass-roots level to the well-being of the whole society, a commitment to the community.
We may depend on our governments but mostly we depend on each other.
Along with all this, however, we are also becoming aware of other deep truths and realities. These are easy to say, though learning to accept and affirm them is sometimes at least a challenge, even a rude awakening.
First, simple is beautiful.
Living for today and appreciating the present, without always knowing where we are going or what is to come. This profoundly challenges our constant concern to plan and thus to control what is going to happen.
But to be in the present, simply accepting what is now, what is given, what we know and what we don’t know: This simplicity of being is both difficult and beautiful.
It invites us to see what is around us: flowers and trees, creeks and clouds, children playing and people walking by.
All this is possible when we accept that life is local.
In lockdown, we have been asked to remain within 5 kilometers of our homes, or later 10 kilometers. We have walked the streets of our neighborhood as never before, discovering parks, lanes and other features we might never have known.
And behind our masks, we smile to strangers who are in fact also our neighbors, people wave to us from across the road as they too are out for their permitted hour of exercise.
Life is local and going outside is a life-affirming gift.
All this is normal. That is, it is a norm for living in these days. It provides a way of being and managing, amid the anxiety and confusion that has been thrust upon us.
I doubt we will ever return to what people claim is normal, that life where we knew nothing of COVID-19.
We may have some periods of relief and some people may return to jet-setting and “business as usual.” Just craving that is itself part of this rude awakening.
A rude awakening is unwelcome. But once awake, we can now engage with the day and all it offers us.
That much we can choose, with awareness and hope, together.
Editor’s note: From June through August, articles will be published from faith leaders reflecting on the pandemic ministry adjustments they enacted, looking ahead to the future or both. If you’d like to submit a column for consideration, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article first appeared on Rees’ blog, To Be Frank. It is used with permission.
A Baptist pastor in Melbourne, Australia, and an associate professor in the University of Divinity.