I walk through our fields. We have not had enough rain, so the grasses are all a bit stumpy for this time of year. But the mix of maturing seed heads and dots of color from small flowers still form a pleasing mid-summer palate. As I pass by, a clique of adolescent bobolinks appears magically from the density, rising up together to perch on the tops of trees alongside the field. We have delayed haying this field for the benefit of the bobolink’s reproduction, so it is a welcome sight.
The seasons progress. Because we have lived here for 15 years, we know more or less what to expect. If you live and grow things here, you know the importance of flexibility. Heat, frost, drought, downpours. You watch, and listen, and learn, and then adapt to daily and seasonal changes.
And now, Covid. We stay home. With a garden and good neighbors, it is easy to shelter in place every day of our lives, watching the changes around us. And yes, I give thanks. Every. Single. Morning.
I am at a loss for how to respond to realities beyond our fields. America is living through three simultaneous pandemics, caused by an insidious virus, systemic racism, and an inability to see and adequately respond to the overarching reality of the climate crisis. The uncertainty is driving people crazy. The subsumed emotions are breaking out in violence. I feel all I can do is respond to one issue at a time, while reminding myself the interconnectedness of all three pandemics is the primary lesson to be learned by us all.
I read about a recent poll that found that a majority of Americans who believe in God think the pandemic is a divine message and that humanity needs to change the way it lives.
My initial reaction upon reading this was: Whoa! Here we go again with the concept of a punishing god who chooses a pandemic as a way to teach us a lesson. “Zap!” “You have not kept your side of the covenant with respect to the earth. Let’s see how you feel after more than 18 million people get sick and more than half a million (and counting) die! Maybe then you will listen and change the way you live on this earth.”
This “zapper god” is not a god with whom I am familiar.
I want to make it clear that when I say that I think there IS a divine message arising from the pandemic, I am referring to a different sort of God.
The God I know is a creative force of love, intimately involved in all processes that make the planet work the way it does. There are ecological and medical processes: causes, effects, correlations, relationships, effectively “divine messages” about how things work, that scientists, doctors and climatologists learn to read. For instance: If habitat loss forces proximity between humans and some other animals, viruses do and will continue to jump from one to the other. If the lungs of people of color are compromised due to poverty and the siting of polluting industries, the death rate by Covid will be at least twice that of white people. If the planet continues to be warmed due to excess carbon, there is a strong possibility for hurricanes and tornadoes of an above normal frequency and severity this year.
The “messaging” is in the scientific information about these relationships.
Many experts are becoming more adept at interpretation, but most of us are not as conversant at understanding the messages, and are particularly ignorant of appropriate responses. Bright blue chicory and ivory white Queen Anne’s Lace speak simple beauty to me, but for First Peoples, they spoke a message of gifts – culinary and medicinal opportunities. Their response was one of humility and reciprocity: the plants were thanked and the humans were careful to not harvest too many.
So yes, the pandemic is a natural “divine message”. (When all else fails, read the directions!) And yes, human beings: if the pandemic has taught us nothing else, I hope it has taught us that the messages still apply to us. So, I hope we consider humility, love, and reciprocity toward each other and toward the non-human world when we make our decisions in response.