Many people seem to be tired of staying at home and are ready to get things back to normal. I love normal. I can coast on normal, or at least I’m familiar enough with normal that I feel less anxiety and more in control when things are normal.
But, honestly, I’m beginning to hate the word “normal.” Every time I hear it or say it, my stress level goes up. Why? For one reason, I’m in the vulnerable population like many of you. Second, not only am I dealing with new realities of social distancing, masks, Zoom meetings with church, family and friends, ordering online, and the threat of the virus every time I go out, but I’m dealing with my, and your, desire for church life to get back to “normal” when “normal” is a threat to our health.
When change is as profound and disruptive as what we are going through now, the next season of normal may not be like the previous one. Even heading back to normal may be going in the wrong direction.
The pandemic has turned us around. Instead of living expansively we are living more reservedly. Then there is the killing of George Floyd which uncovered deep wounds in the body of our nation. Not even a pandemic could stop the bleeding from flowing into the streets. Both peaceful demonstrations and mass political rallies expose the depth of our wounds. Normal has become painful.
In the Old Testament we are told that Egyptian wealth was created on the labor of Hebrew slaves. The pain had grown deep, the prayers of the people cried out for justice, liberation, and a future. God heard their prayers and those slaves hit the streets out of Egypt for the Promised Land. God led the way though desert and the sea.
However, it was not a straight line to this new land. They kept going in circles. They wandered in the wilderness 40 years looking for their “new normal” – the Promised Land. During that terrible time, they were so discouraged they tried to rewrite history. They never really had plenty in Egypt. Longing for the “Old Normal,” when you are living into the new can blind one to the promise of the future.
“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly from hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3)
Isaiah asks a rhetorical question of the Israelites, in another time of trouble, recalling the wilderness wanderings.
I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus, says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick. Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:15-19)
It makes me wonder if we are trying too hard to recreate “normal” without considering that maybe, God is doing a new thing. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. It should have taken less than a month had they walked in a straight line. However, because they did not perceive the new thing that God was doing, it took forty years. They kept trying to go back. They kept going in circles because of human conflict, disbelief, and the lack of trust in God.
Is this crisis of pandemic challenging our understanding of love for neighbor? Is the voice of minorities and youth speaking the direction God wants us to go so that our children can have a future – can get to a new promised land?
I guess I can’t say for certain. But I’m listening, and I'm
willing to say that the way home may not be back to “normal.” Indeed, the way to the promised land, may come only as we perceive a new thing God doing among us.