The global COVID-19 pandemic has proved the inter-relatedness and interconnectedness of all of creation. The best of humanity has outstripped and outshone the worst of humanity, writes Sister Patty Fawkner.
“Iso” is the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s word of the year, edging out “lockdown” and “contact tracing”. Short for “isolation”, “iso” is a particularly ‘Aussie’ take on pandemic language.
If I were to choose a phrase of the year, a front-runner would be “We’re all in this together” – the exact opposite of “iso”.
I don’t imagine that there is a single person on the planet who has not been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Starting from one isolated case in Wuhan Province in China and subsequently spreading to more than 65 million people world-wide and counting, the pandemic proves the inter-relatedness and interconnectedness of all of creation.
We are all in this together – that’s how we got the virus and how, eventually, we will contain it.
Science confirms our experience when it tells us that absolutely nothing is isolated. Scientist and theologian Arthur Peacocke explains: “Every atom of iron in our blood would not have been there had it not been produced in some galactic explosion billions of years ago and eventually condensed to form the iron in the crust of the Earth from which we have emerged.”
All that lives have common ancestors. We are kin to each other.
Science is catching up with our faith. It occurs to me that “we’re all in this together” is what every Christmas celebrates. Jesus is Emmanuel, a name which means God-with-us. God is with, not just some of us, but all of us. God is with all of us who are in this world and in this pandemic together.
God didn’t become human for the morally upright and pure, for the orthodox and the devout. God took on humanity – this suffering, highly anxious humanity – for the sake of all of us who are, who have been and who will be. All of us together.
At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation, God taking on human flesh. This baby Jesus is the Christ – the long-awaited fullness of God’s presence.
At Christmas we celebrate the fact that, in Christ, we are related to one another and all of creation.
This Christmas season invites us to pause and see 2020 in a cosmic perspective. We celebrate that God has so fallen in love with what God created, that God chose to become one of us. This doesn’t provide us with an “opt out” or “cop out” from the tragedies and ambiguities of life. No dualism here.
It’s been a tough year; each of us has our own story of grief, loss and anxiety, enmeshed in the cumulative grief, loss and anxiety of our COVID-wracked world.
Christmas invites us to burrow deeply into human pain and suffering and to find it “shimmering with divinity” (Avery Dulles). Without providing answers or relief from human suffering, Christmas guarantees God’s presence, courage and strength whatever the circumstances and contingencies we face.
We have been grateful witnesses to, and recipients of, incredible courage and strength of those who have served us this year. Healthcare workers, parents, government officials, researchers, cleaners. Words of comfort, tears of sympathy, strategic plans to help and support.
In 2020 the best of humanity has outstripped and outshone the worst of humanity.
Pain and suffering is embedded in the first Christmas story – a story of social disgrace of a pregnancy conceived out of wedlock, a story of homelessness and imminent refugee status, a tale of a midwinter birth in a smelly, draughty stable, with animals rather than midwives to witness the birth.
But divinity shimmers and there is joy to the world in the birth of a baby, a baby who visits us, who grows up and shows us how to be our best human selves by living a life of loving compassion in solidarity with all, especially those whom society isolates. Jesus heals, welcomes, feeds, forgives and comprehensively dismantles their “iso” status.
This Christmas may we be mindful of all our kin as we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. After all, we are all in this together.