It’s tempting to think that we are nearly at the end of the Covid-19 odyssey. But that would be beyond optimistic. We might be toward the middle… or we may still be at the beginning. The truth is we can’t really know.
It is a frustrating and uncomfortable place to be – not knowing. In monastic circles this is referred to as “liminal space.” Things are not clear, not settled. The truth is that we were in liminal space before Covid-19 was ever heard of. Human life on planet earth is liminal. Most of the time we are comfortable in liminal space because it is familiar. This particular liminal space is unfamiliar and most of us are tired of it. We’re ready for something, anything, that seems like a return to more normal times.
While we may long for a return to something that feels “normal”, the truth is we can do better. Normal is not the same as good. In our normal world, there is much that is simply not good. Our familiar world is about to produce its first trillionaire. How many zeros does that even have? This means that one person will have more personal wealth than the GDP of entire nations, including South Africa. This is “normal”, but it is not “good”. Sadly, the US and South Africa (the two countries I identify with) lead the world in economic inequality.
I came across a TED Talk on the Good Country Index – an attempt to look at the world’s nations not by who has the most power, or the most money, or the best food, or most appealing tourist destinations. It seeks to sort countries by which does the most to promote the common good. What a good concept…
It is a non-competitive notion of good. We tend to have good as the entry level in “good/better/best” ratings, or good vs. bad. But this is not the right idea. Good doesn’t have the drama of “fantastic”, or the exclusivity of “best”. It is a big enough concept to hold us all – we can all be good. Nations, cities, churches, monastic communities can all choose to be as good as we can.
As life begins to ramp up – which means that lockdown is ramping down – we can choose to try to get back our old life, which may have felt very good, but I don’t really think things can go “back” to normal. We have to go forward into this new, liminal space. As we do, perhaps we can let the notion of good be our guiding principal. What will it mean to be a “good” Priory? Or a good Volmoed? A good South Africa? A good church?
We are brothers and sisters with all people and share our creator with all life. As Ecclesiastes tells us, all creatures breath the same breath – which is to say we are all of one Spirit, a notion all the more startling in this time of Covid-19 which travels on the breath. The concept of common good is not limited to our families and friends, our fellow Christians or those with whom we share nationality, or even our fellow human beings. The common good includes all the works of God’s hands – the birds of the air and fish of the sea and every living creature that creeps on the face of the earth. The common good is not something we achieve, it’s something we work toward by loving God and by loving all of God’s creation.