Jennifer R. Harper, MDiv, DD, NCPsyA
Director, Interfaith Doctor of Ministry Program for Education in Pastoral Care
OLD TOWERS, NEW BABEL: This month marks the first anniversary of pandemic and pandemonium that has swept through our lives this past year. Unimaginable loss and unexpected blessings are re-shaping us and our world as we participate in this great transformation of human history. Information and dis-information wars have swept friends and families into twisted lines of opposition and propaganda over clashing ideals for preserving our sacred human freedoms. We are compelled to reconcile our traumatic national histories and cultural traditions, challenged to face ourselves and each other in radically new ways. The cacophony of it all brings to mind old Towers, and new Babel, as we work to build a more perfect world. Transformation is messy and disorienting. Transformation changes us.
Our language evolves as we forage new ways of being ourselves with each other. Like our fellow sojourners in Genesis we are ‘woke’ anew to our differences of language that also threaten to tear us apart. In a twist on this ancient story, we use old words re-purposed for new meanings as we strive to embrace our new consciousness, rising. With new words recast from old vocabularies we hope to make space for more and more of us at the growing table of our new awareness. We are creating new patterns for relating, and being together.
How can religious leaders, educators, and carers lead and care for human souls in these turbulent times? How do we bring new meaning to old sufferings of loss, pain, fear, loneliness, and despair, in ways that serve our timeless needs for community, leadership, and love?
It helps to bear in mind that great change brings great anxiety. Anxiety thwarts our peace of mind, and troubles our hearts. Anxiety signals fear that motivates both hidden and obvious behaviors. Communities are moved to action by fear and anxiety. Anxiety seeks to silence the agents of its angst, and to be quieted by easy salves. Fear inclines us to condemn ‘others’, as the carriers of our fears.
In times like ours, it is tempting to silence our anxieties as we deny our fears of strangers and new languages. We make new laws and rules (for others) to follow, as we seek control of the world slipping into history, and domination of the new one we are constructing. These are false solutions for addressing fears that need our true attention if we want to create a more human world. Sitting in stillness with our anxiety can teach us about ourselves. Here, we pause and listen to the still small voice, pulsing within us for timeless answers to our great questions. How can we lead? How might we serve? How do we care?
As we seek to create our better world let’s make space together to wonder: what kind of world do we want to share? How can we build this new home together?