I’ve seen this image appear across social media the past few days and while humorous it’s also a seriously accurate take. While I wish this pandemic had never come upon us, it seems that if we have to go through it, Lent is the perfect season. As Richard Beck wrote:
Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve been grateful that it’s been Lent during COVID-19. Lent has helped me during this season–pondering mortality, dealing with losses and restrictions, dealing with disappointment, facing my idols of security and self-sufficiency.– ‘Covid-19 and Lent’
What seems to be a lifetime ago, I mentioned that I’ve been practicing vegetarianism for Lent. It’s coincidental with this decision that COVID-19 became a global problem, in part, because of how animals were captured, treated, and consumed. I didn’t decide to try vegetarianism as a response. While it would be foolish to make an eternal declaration about my diet, I can say there’s a good chance I’ll continue this lifestyle, or at the very least practice some sort of meat-minimal flexitarianism. The origins of this virus have shown me that we must be much more thoughtful about how we treat animals and how we consume them if we do.
I live in Texas, so Wuhan is the other side of the world, but I can’t think of anything that has driven home for me the concept (which Buddhism made clearest to me) of our interconnectedness/interdependence more than this pandemic. I’m may be a human animal but I’m an animal and an animal that’s connected to other animals. I may be an American but I’m an American human and a human that’s connected to other humans. I don’t think I’ll ever go a semester teaching Buddhist concepts such as dependent-origination and interbeing with referencing this pandemic because nothing has made these ideas as real. As Thomas Friedman wrote many years ago now: the world is flat. There’s no indication that nationalist and populist impulses will change this. China may be on the other side of the planet but it’s also right next door.
This week, Bishop Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, recorded a Lenten reflection video where he reflected upon Matthew 22.34-40. He interpreted this passage as being about how we live in uncertain times, in uncertain territory, as Jesus was living as he prepared for his Passion, and as we’re living during this pandemic. His take-away is that Jesus’ words here—love God, love neighbor, love yourself—are words that can guide us. And he’s right. For those of us who believe in a good, loving Creator (sometimes against the odds), we must hold to our hope. We practice this hope by loving the invisible God through loving the visible neighbor and the visible person in the mirror.
My wife used to teach her students this Mayan precept, In Lak’ech, that is fitting for us today (English version):
You are my other me
If I do harm to you,
I do harm to myself.
If I love and respect you,
I love and respect myself.
Whether it be Jesus’ Great Commandment, the Buddhist doctrines of Interbeing and Dependent-Originatation, or the Mayan precept of In Lak’ech, we must live through this together. We have no other choice. May the Lenten season remind us not only that we come from dust and to dust we shall return but also that we are one in this process and no one of us is free from the destiny of all of us.