Reflection on Plagues

Still Life with Ginger Pot by Piet Mondrian (public domain)

They say that trauma is “too much, too fast.” As we begin to come into the anniversary of when things collectively became “too much, too fast”, it is good to think and reflect. We are in a steadier place. It is a little bit more “normal” than it was mid March last year. A good place to begin to look back, while knowing things are still a bit in chaos and there are still a lot of unknowns. But…we can begin to learn and internalize the lessons. Not just knowledge, but turning knowledge into something deeper…Wisdom.

I’ve been learning things and you get to learn with me in hopes that it helps us all to think and reflect and learn. Let’s go back to the Black Plague. The Black Plague of the 1300’s. As we navigate our own “stay at home” orders and “quarantines”, we can learn from the past. The Black Plague lasted decades. Decades of people dying. A third to half the population died. Everyone lost someone.

This is not to deepen our sadness, grief, our own suffering, but to think that we’ve been here before and there are lessons to be learned. First interesting thing is that the word “quarantine” comes from that time. When ships would come in, they were held out at sea for 40 days and if no one was sick after 40 days, they could dock. Quarantine. Quarter. Forty. Familiar theme right now.

Remember back then, no one knew about viruses and bacteria. They didn’t understand hand washing, sanitation, and clean water. The Black Plague felt like a punishment from God. Some thought nature was out to get them. It felt like a punishment for personal sin.

People came to no longer look to Original Blessing, Original Goodness, the Beauty of Creation and Nature. Love for God’s creation of the Garden of Earth and our own self came to a grinding halt. One could argue that it was at this point that there was a crossroads: one of a loving God of Creation or one of God as punishment and this world was part of that punishment to be endured.

There was a big shift of focus from Life and Creation to Death and the Afterlife.

This time very much informed how we see religion today: hell and heaven, satan, evil, sin. The focus on original sin, punishment, and getting through this life to get to something better. Things will be better when we’re dead. It gave permission to blame. Who goes to heaven? Who goes to hell? Who’s fault is this?

It can be hard to believe in a loving God when you’re going through an endless plague. You can understand this shift. People were dying quick, terrible, gruesome deaths. Of course, we want to hope for something better. We get it. We’re in it. We wish it was “back to normal”. We’re waiting for a better future to suddenly appear.

But the shift became focus on the Afterlife to the exclusion of love for this one.

If life after death is most important, then life here on earth doesn’t matter. Care of the earth isn’t important. Cultivating wisdom doesn’t matter as much. Care of others doesn’t matter as much. We see extremes, the middle ground, and the echoes of this way of thinking…still and…everywhere. The way we (collectively) treat other people, the way we treat the place we live, and the way we treat ourselves. If we’re only focused on an afterlife and this life is a punishment, or something to simply get through, then what’s the point of bettering ourselves or the world we live in?

The path taken went away from a path of Original Blessing, Original Goodness, the Beauty of God’s Creation (including ourselves). It moved to an idea of separation and original sin and punishment.

I want us to reflect on this because there are echoes of this all around us and in ourselves. If we don’t shine lights on things, then we can’t fix things.

Can we imaging that God wastes creation? That God created this world, and us, and doesn’t care about it? PAUSE.

There are beautiful Gardens everywhere. A yearly Resurrection. Echoes of the greatest acts and gifts from God. Is that a God who doesn’t care about Creation? Is that a God who isn’t giving us daily, moment to moment, blessings? PAUSE.

There is this idea of microcosm and macrocosm. Our micro-small-lives matter and what we do on a small level echoes and impacts the macro-big-creation.

Have we done our share of Goodness? Have we done our share of Creation? Have we truly done what God would want of us? Have we behaved and been forces of Love and Blessing in one another’s lives? AND the world. Have we tended our corner of the earth and made the Garden healthier?

Have we loved as Jesus loved?

The Black Plague did permanent damage to how we see God and Grace and Wisdom and the gifts of the Earth (the Garden) and our gift of embodiment.

When God created the world…it was Good. The earth, the plants, the animals, the people, the light, and the dark…it was all Good. Nothing changed that. What changed is the way we look at it. All creation is Good.

The Black Plague was one of the final things that really took Goodness away and it’s still holding on. We still focus on sin and the devil and punishment. Who hasn’t wondered if they are being punished? If we are being punished? It hard to escape that way of thinking. In some ways, we’re afraid to not think that way. As if, if we don’t look at how bad we are and that we’ll be punished when we do bad, that we won’t do the right thing. But…it’s been a long time since the 1300’s. Bad things still happen whether we focus on our blessings or our sins. One might argue that the bad things become worse when we cling to them and beat ourselves up for them and wonder if we deserved it.

As we navigate our own Pandemic, do we want our fears, our inability to see clearly in the messiness, to dictate the future we want to create? We can learn from the past. It’s terribly easy to fall into punishment mode, blame mode (I think there’s a whole reflection on throwing Covid Stones), why can’t we go back to “normal” mode, I can’t wait until it’s better mode….everything to escape life as it is. The deepest spiritual growth comes out of challenges. Not a single deep spiritual leader or saint or Jesus had a easy life…

Our small micro lives matter. Do we want to feed hate and fear and anger? Punishment and sin? Do we want to cast stones at ourselves and others and, yes, even God? Do we want to cling to past because it was easy or push forward into a future doing permanent damage for centuries to come?

Or do we want to focus on and build a world that honors creation and blessings. Do we want to move forward into a world that is filled with Love and Compassion regardless of what’s happening around us or perhaps because of what’s happening around us? Do we want to try to clear ourselves of the chaos and fear and anger to make the world better?

We do this, first within the microcosm of our own lives.

Then…we let it spread.

We stand firm in Goodness and Hope and Love and see the Blessings and the Gardens and the Gifts. We stand firm with Faith.

And we let it spread. If we only touch one person…it is enough. They will continue the spread.

It is challenging times, but this is our Now and we can be a part of a creation that is founded on Love. We can shift the paradigm to Goodness. Perhaps…perhaps…that is some, if not all, of the meaning in the chaos.

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