Spring is here, bursting with color and new life.
Yet no words can express the depth of pain felt by grieving families during this unprecedented period. How can we garner the spiritual strength and support so needed, especially when we are denied the comfort of our loved ones’ proximity and the power of the religious rituals we are accustomed to? How can we make sense of the deep irony of a pandemic amidst the grand tapestry of new life? How do we adapt to a new way of life, grieve our losses and anticipated losses, both small and great, and endure massive sudden changes and possible permanent changes in our world?
The Jewish calendar embraces the spring season as the time in which we weave in another story into the story of springtime, the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Should this year’s Passover seder and springtime rituals be different from other years? This year of Covid-19 - like every year and perhaps even more so - can be a portal to building a world from love.
Our spiritual curriculum this year in this season is one of cultivating empathy starting with the very personal work of giving ourselves space to feel, without shame, whatever arises. The Israelites have no words at the beginning of the Exodus story. Just groans. Start there.
The Passover Haggadah then instructs us that “Each of us must tell the story of the Exodus as if we ourselves are freed from Egypt.” In the story of the Exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh represents societal constriction, addiction, and habits of behavior that hold ourselves and our greater human family stuck inside harsh conditions of cyclical oppression. As a society, we are addicted to comfort and convenience. We have turned our backs on climate.
The seder is a call to commit to work for both socio-political liberation as well as the psycho-spiritual dimension of the freedom of full self-expression and creativity. The story is not linear, and we can find ourselves in any given moment in each of the characters, sometimes as unwitting as taskmasters, sometimes as victims of oppression and sometimes being called to step into the role of the reluctant leader, Moses. At the seder table we discuss how we are both redeemed and enslaved within the “sacred messiness of life.” (Rabbi Irwin Kula)
According to Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, “For one night the downtrodden are to believe they will be uplifted, the uplifted are asked to access their own darkness and their potential for empathy. The seder asks everyone to stretch, regardless of the state of our current historical moment or inner life. It invites us into a story bigger than our own little stories.
As we encounter grief, loss and fear in the days and weeks to come, we can engage the same spiritual tools we use in the High Holiday season, when we face our mortality through introspection, prayer and acts of justice and kindness. No matter what our age, it is helpful and spiritually productive to prepare ethical wills and to make plans for the inevitable time that will come for all of us.
While we face unprecedented uncertainty, groundlessness and ambiguity, engaging spiritual practices and brilliant wisdom teachers are more accessible than ever before. There is great support for us in the work of building spiritual resilience to stand up to the unknown, and to somehow move through deep suffering that, sadly, for some includes living and dying, isolated and alone.
I believe that God is the Force that makes for transformation. We sense God’s presence in the budding trees, in our earnest spiritual work and in acts of justice on behalf of the whole. We also witness God in the ways we are gathered as families, physically distanced neighborhoods and communities, creatively addressing our challenges. What amazing essential and life-affirming work it is to build spiritual communities out of our crucibles of isolation. I have witnessed so much innovation, compassion and vulnerability (as well as great technological advancement!)
God as a response to Covid-19 is evident in how we stretch to support our most vulnerable, including those not privileged with the means to live sustainably while maintaining physical distancing as well as helping to protect our heroic health care workers on the front line.
May your season of hope, whatever your faith, bring you close to the sacred heartbeat of your essential nature, that of our fellow humans and of our shared mother earth.
And so we cling to life for the sake of all that is holy and good. And we will - with the help of God and each other - greet a new post-Covid season, together as one human family.