|In the early months of Covid19, I was awed by how rapidly the virus leapt oceans and permeated cities. Who would have thought that deforestation in China, bats, and Wuhan residents encountering (presumably) pangolins at a market would within a few months impact every person on the planet? I’m reminded of “The Butterfly Effect,” that bit of chaos theory that describes “the dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” The idea that a butterfly flapping on one side of the planet results in a hurricane on the other seems quaint until that flap is a pathogen.|
When I was in spiritual direction training, a question we were taught to ask and which in the years since has proven endlessly fruitful, was “What invitation do these circumstances present to you?” In other words, no matter what life deals us, there’s always an invitation to grow, to do good, to create, to love. Since mid-March I’ve been wondering what the Coronavirus’s invitation is. I don’t think the virus was sent by an all-powerful deity to teach us a lesson; I blame human destruction of the environment and lack of concern for public health and the bare reality that horrible things simply happen sometimes. Even so, we can read the world like a book. What does Covid19 say?
You are vastly interconnected. What any one person does matters to everyone.
In a postmodern world crammed with 7.8 billion people, on an endangered planet in a threatened democracy shot through with intractable social and racial injustice, most of us assume we’re too small to make a difference. Covid19 says otherwise, albeit in a dark manner.
So I’ve been thinking about the tangible and intangible ways we’re linked to one another, and what difference this makes. Early on in the lock-down, after we’d only spent a few weeks in isolation, I was out on a walk when a biker breezed past, waving and shouting at pedestrians, “Greetings, fellow humans!” Her safe form of cheer rippled up the street. We know quality of presence matters: Think of a relentlessly encouraging teacher or the friend who’s great at asking questions or the spiritual practitioner whose calm radiates through a room; think of how a kindness given to you in childhood still nourishes you today; think of the anonymous person who planted the tree outside your window. Hurt and evil spread the same way. We may not see the results of our presence, intentions, and actions, we rarely can measure them, and yet their impact is profound. As my teacher Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “Virtues are actual streams of radial energy changing outcomes in the physical world.” Goodness matters. Even faith in goodness matters. Immensely.
I love the image of the Jeweled Net of Indra from the Atharva Veda. In the heavenly abode of the god Indra, there’s a vast web extending infinitely in all directions. At each intersection rests a glinting jewel. Look closely at any one and every other jewel is mirrored there.
We are each a jewel in a mighty net. When we are unaware of this, disasters like the pandemic happen. When we are aware and bring whole, open hearts to our common plight, the net sparkles. During this sad holiday of separation, I wish you health, comfort, and ever-increasing awareness of the bright net that binds us. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew