After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, economic, social, and racial divisions threatened to tear Memphis apart. A diverse group of community and faith leaders came together and MIFA was created to confront the issues of poverty, hunger, and social division through service.
2020 brought another crisis to Memphis. In a series of blogs, some of our current-day faith leaders have taken time to express their visions and hopes on healing and coming out of the pandemic better and stronger as a community.
We are in an in-between time. The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be receding, yet the future is still uncertain. New variants, faltering vaccination progress, and the human desire to simply deny we are in difficulty, contend with the ending of mask mandates, reopening of social life, and availability of vaccination. Where do we go from here? What kind of future do we want, and are we willing to work toward?
I suggest we take two lessons from what I call a “spirituality of pandemic” to shape our vision for moving forward.
First, let us take the time to grieve. Let us not rush by the suffering and the death the pandemic caused. There are lessons in our losses. Especially, may we recognize a shared vulnerability that can engender compassion (suffering with each other), and the desire for justice (living well with each other). A better future must take account of the social, spiritual, economic, and political fractures revealed in the pandemic. We honor those who have suffered, and those who have died, when we do not seek to return to a past “normal,” but instead seek to create a future informed by what loss has taught us. Let us listen to those who have lost. All of the world’s faith call us in times of loss to sit with those who grieve and acknowledge in prayer, or worship, or some other ritual, their loss, and their grief. Grieving in this way can beget wisdom, a way to live more deeply into our relationship with God, and with each other. In grief we recognize the fragility of our lives and our need for each other. Let us move forward with that wisdom.
Second, let us embrace an attitude of gratitude. In the losses of the pandemic, we are also invited to attend to the gifts the pandemic revealed. Perhaps we gained the gift of slowing down. Perhaps we gained the gift of attending more carefully to the graciousness of life. Perhaps we experienced the gift of new and creative ways to work, to recreate, and to connect with each other. Perhaps, most importantly, we came to recognize that all of life is a gift, that we are not self-created, that we are part of a larger web of life. Acknowledging the giftedness of life can help us to live more graciously, more generously. Let us move forward by recognizing and sharing the gifts that have come to us. Let us find ways to continue those gifts.
If we attend to grief and grow in the graciousness that comes from gratitude, we can create a future focused on the common good, that is, the good of life shared with each other. Grief and gratitude can shape our shared purpose, of commitment to community, of the flourishing that comes when we seek to live well together.
Dr. Peter R. Gathje
Professor of Christian Ethics and Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of the Memphis Theological Seminary
Founder and Co-Director of Manna House Memphis
Peter R. Gathje joined the faculty at Memphis Theological Seminary in 2006. His research interests include farming and food, state-sanctioned violence in war, the death penalty, policing, and imprisonment, homelessness, poverty, racism, holiness, alternative Christian communities, and virtue ethics. Dr. Gathje is a founder and co-director of Manna House, a place of hospitality in the Catholic Worker Tradition located in Memphis. He helps with Room in the Inn, a shelter program involving area churches. He is active with a number of peace and justice organizations including Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.