|Today’s Spiritual Connections is from the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, PSNE General Presbyter and Acting Stated Clerk.
Three years this week.
It was three years ago this week (March 11, 2020) that the World Health Organization declared that we were in the early days of a pandemic.
Like everything else in life, I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I didn’t live in that “Oh, it’ll just be a few weeks, maybe a month tops of this,” denial-land that I hung out in for a little too long in my mind. I wish I had joined my husband on his winter break trip home to Colombia just a few weeks earlier in February 2020, because it would be a long time (way too long) before we got to see our family overseas again. I wish I knew how much trauma would happen so I would have been better prepared.
There are other things about the pandemic that I do not regret. I do not regret that it made me re-order my priorities personally and professionally. I do not regret that it pushed us to get chickens for our backyard and change our local shopping habits and relationships because we were worried about the food system. I do not regret all the extra family time we got to have. And I do not regret the way it made me take my relationships more seriously.
I miss the people I know who died of Covid-19 or during Covid-19 that we did not get to properly grieve. I am still angry about losing them, many of them senseless deaths – victims of bad timing pre-vaccine development, or forces in broken medical systems that let them down. I think the number is somewhere between 20-30, but there is a little bit of a losing track as a coping mechanism that I must admit began to happen along the way.
I am angry. I am angry about how complicit with death we seem to be. How careless so much of our society is with suffering and how willful in its ignorance it is. I am still mad about so-called “leaders” who let everyone down and how we have missed this once-in-a-generation opportunity to be different on a societal level, with new communitarian sensibilities and concerns. I am mad about how the pandemic laid bare our societal inequalities and for the most part we haven’t done anything real or systemic about these ways of living that are so out of line with our commitments as people of faith to the Gospel of Jesus.
How are you feeling this week? What do you remember, what do you wish you knew then that you know now? What do you regret? What makes you angry? What else is on your mind, in your heart? It’s worth it in a time like this to take an inventory. Take a step back. It is OK to grieve on an anniversary like this weekend, to feel the trauma. It is OK to take it slow.
The Gospel reading today is the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. This was a meeting of differences. Two people who were not supposed to interact with each other for a million different reasons. Interestingly, by this point in John’s Gospel, the disciples are beginning to get their act together. The author of the Gospel notes that they do not quiz Jesus about why he was talking to this woman, even though they were shocked. It’s one of the few times they do not say the wrong thing. For some reason they decide Jesus needs to eat at this particular moment and he reminds them (once again!) that the thing they are reacting to is not the right thing. They are thinking on the surface level and not at the depths of his ministry and actions. This moment for Jesus is not about food, or even water. It is about conversion for everyone on both sides of the fractured relationships of Jews and Samaritans and how they encounter God and think about the return of the Messiah.
As we imagine what we have been through the last three years, this passage about a traumatized woman – five marriages in a society where women have no agency to end a marriage, meaning she was either widowed or abandoned five times – has much to offer us. It tells of a Jesus who is about healing relationships, providing care in a time of trauma and ignoring societal demands of who is and who is not worthy of care. The Gospel of Jesus changes this Samaritan woman, and she becomes the primary evangelist in John’s Gospel.
We spend a lot of time in our society drawing lines between people and groups. We’ve been doing this for generations. Jesus is offering a different Way, a different teaching. These lines have only gotten stronger during the pandemic. Maybe we need to break them down, erase and destroy them as a sign of being people of the Way of Jesus. It seems to be that we need to be people who are beginning to come out of the other side of this nightmare made new, reborn and ready to be serious about Jesus. Maybe, just maybe?