In Featured at HBT, Our Virtual Mishkan, splansky


There’s nothing like a global pandemic to stop us in our tracks and reassess.  Many people are now using this time to take stock and reflect on what matters most.  I know these conversations are happening internally and privately. I hope they are also happening with the trustworthy people in your life — family in your bubble, dear friends by the lake, or fellow congregants on Zoom.

Belonging to a religious community, to a sacred congregation entitles you to access fellow travellers who speak the same language of “matterness.”  Whether gathered for prayer or for study or for volunteering — for racial justice, interfaith relations, gender equality, Israel engagement, poverty reduction, mental health, LGBT+ inclusion or refugee relief — there is an unspoken understanding that we are on a shared quest for meaning and purpose.

When we are confronted daily with statistics of life and death, when we must daily weigh out very real risks, and admit the fragility of life — our spiritual needs increase.  Many experts write about how mental health is strained by life under Corona.  But what about our spiritual health?

Our weekday Amidah includes thematic prayers seeking Understanding, Forgiveness, Redemption, and Healing.  We call upon God to bless the world with Abundance, Freedom, Justice, and Peace.  We pledge to do our part to be among the Righteous and to express daily Gratitude.  Each rubric of the Amidah is a meditation on “matterness.”  We stand in God’s Presence and say:  “Master of the Universes, not because of the righteousness of my deeds, do I place my longings before You….”

David Foster Wallace addresses this human need for “matterness” in his famous commencement address, entitled “This is Water”.

An excerpt:

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…. is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

I pray for this pandemic to end.  Until then, however, I see how these days of Coronavirus enable us to become more human and more skilled at “keeping the truth up front in our daily consciousness.”  Whether through prayer, lifelong learning, or acts of compassion and justice, let us turn to one another and strengthen one another’s worthy and honourable pursuits.


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