Lenten blog | March 23, 2020
The silver lining of empathy
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Monday, March 23rd: Psalm 146; Isaiah 59:9-19; and Acts 9:1-20. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
On Saturday I heard an NPR anchor ask a reporter who had give a long list of bad news for something positive. The reporter paused and had nothing. In Sunday’s Boston Globe, front page, top of page, the article’s headline was: “Hunting for signs of progress in a pandemic: No clear clues yet to determine when COVID-19 will be under control.” Again, nothing positive to report. It makes understanding Isaiah’s words a whole lot less difficult. Writing from exile in a foreign land after the complete defeat of his nation, the prophet writes: “We wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.”
We can empathize with the prophet because of our situation. Maybe empathy is a silver lining around the dark cloud of this pandemic. Yesterday was World Water Day. It highlights, first, the fact that much of the world’s population suffers from a destructive lack of potable water. World Water Day underscores, secondly, that this tragedy is only going to grow worse because of human based climate change. And third, that we can help by doing our part to fight climate change. We can act sustainably. We can use less resources. We can scale back on consumption. And empathy can fuel our efforts. Our awareness of how others suffer can give us the motivation to change how we act so that change may actually take place.
Since we are all affected by COVID-19’s pandemic, we can empathize with all in the world who must deal with the constant, poverty-born threats of disease. Now that we have experienced the fear of unavoidable and environmental threat, hopefully we will be better able to appreciate what others in generational poverty must endure out of the headlines.
I don’t mean to make light of our situation by any means, but this world is not ours alone. All of creation matters to the Creator. As a species we have come to dominate the world, but we still share the world. Ours is not to only take from creation; ours is to be the stewards of creation. Our actions have depleted habitats for other life. We have consumed some species into extinction or near extinction. We are destroying forests and wetlands.
Now we are threatened by a virus that passes other species and comes looking for us. Maybe this very real threat may heighten our awareness of what we are doing to the rest of the world’s inhabitants. This is not to say we deserve what’s happening. It’s to maybe get us to think what our actions and appetites force upon the rest of creation. It can get us to empathize.
Sometimes, like Saul being knocked off his donkey on the Road to Damascus (or as I enjoy it said, knocked off his --- onto his ---), we need to be startled by revelation. We need to be knocked off our feet. We need to be forced to see what we would have preferred not to see. Again, this is not to take the pandemic lightly. These are strange and life-changing times. This is a watershed moment in history and we’re in the midst of it. Hopefully, the silver lining will be that we realize how interconnected we all are and how what happens to one affects what can happen to all. Maybe our heightened sense of mutual responsibility will help us to empathize with each other, and maybe just maybe we can be a kinder, more generous, more compassionate world after this pandemic knocks us, figuratively, off our --- and onto our ---.
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