Brother Francesco, known to the world as Saint Francis of Assisi, left us many sweet and lovely poems and songs. In “The Canticle of the Sun,” he wrote about the gifts of nature. Brother Sun, his light and radiance. Sister Moon and Stars for their beauty. Brothers Wind and Air, through fair skies or storms. Sister Water for her humility, purity, and usefulness. Brother Fire, who lights the night, is playful and strong. And Sister Death, whom no one living can escape. And, of course, he included:
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Mother Earth. We live on her, we eat what she provides, we use what wondrous supply she shares with us, and….
We are not the kindest of children. We are not always so Grateful for what our Mother so generously lends to us. Because it is a loan. Do not be mistaken. Mother Earth is not a bottomless well of giving. She is a Mother with expectations; a Mother who gives and then wants to see us give back.
These are tough lesson for humans; some humans, anyway. And never before have we been taught that lesson more clearly than right now.
In the weeks the world has been asked – and then forced – to shut down and shelter-in-place, these are just some of the “miracles” Mother Earth has shown us:
- The water in the canals in Venice is clear.
- The air in China is clean, birds are heard singing again.
- New Delhi has blue skies (something those younger have never seen).
- The Himalayan Mountain Range is visible.
- The Tatra Mountains in Krakow can be seen.
Infrared photos are showing the air becoming cleaner. The other day, I heard an airplane and realized that I had not heard one in weeks.
We are quieter. More reflective. More aware of our neighbors. More conscious of precisely how much we consume, and how much we don’t need to consume.
And, yet, I hear some saying, “When can we get back to normal?” Normal? Normal was sick. Normal was not good. Normal was what created this virus. We created it. We are it.
So, I began pondering on what this all means. Yeah, I know, it’s a large statement. That’s kind of how I think!
And a phrase came to me: Tabula Rasa. A Latin phrase that translates to “clean slate.” The dictionary defines it as, “something existing in its original pristine state.”
A clean slate. A return to the pristine. That is what Mother Earth is showing us. She’s saying:
“Thank you for slowing down. Thank you for stopping. Now, look at me. Look at what I am when you are not consuming, when you are not greedy, when you are not grabbing, cutting, clearing, building, destroying, and exhausting all of my resources….”
And she is also recognizing,
“Yes, I am pristine….And you are hurting….That is the part that’s so hard for me to reconcile….I need your help with this….”
How can we ever think that we can “go back” to anything seeming like normal before this? Our family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors are struggling and hurting. They are seeking our Compassion. They are needing our support.
Many of us are dealing with fear, isolation, depression, anxiety. There are way too many who do not have a safe place where they can “shelter.” There are children who rely on school as their safe place. They are seeking our Compassion. They are needing our support.
And there are the helpers, the healthcare workers, the clergy, the grocery store workers, the truckers, the essential workers that too many of us never acknowledges as essential until this happened. They are seeking our Compassion. They are needing our support.
There are big lessons to be learned from this moment.
Through the grief, through the fear, through the rage, through the despondency….There is something to be learned here.
There is no “going back” to anything that we have done before.
Our best option – as we begin to come out of our shelters – is to choose to move forward, upward, and inward.
Forward, led by the voices of women who are sharing their wisdom with us; who understand the pain of loss and, yet, continue to work towards healing.
Upward, led by those who are innovating and creating new ways of saving lives; those who want to see us thrive.
Inward, led by the voice of our Inner Self, the part of us that we might call “spiritual” (for lack of a better word).
That Inner Self, that is the part of each of us that makes us Kind, Compassionate, Patient….
Yes, it is a spiritual concept. It doesn’t have to be, though. It could just be a human concept. One doesn’t require faith or religion to be Kind or Compassionate. We just need to remember who we are, who we truly are.
And then, at whatever point in our lives we find ourselves ready, we can come out from our homes, mourn our dead, greet our neighbors, and choose to face this new tomorrow with a clean slate.
We can choose to make Tabula Rasa an actual Practice as we begin the work ahead of us.
The work of renewal.
The work of repair.
The work of moving forward, upward, and inward.
The Rev. Rachel Hollander is an ordained interfaith/interspiritual minister in Cleveland, graduate student in theology and pastoral studies at Ursuline College, and author of a forthcoming book about living with depression. Connect with her on her website at https://www.revrachelhollander.com and Facebook at SpiritsHome.