Not too long ago there was a popular phrase everyone was using.
For the first time in nearly one hundred years a pandemic swept across the globe. The merits of this global event will assuredly be debated unceasingly. Regardless, the impact on daily life was swiftly impacted. The world quickly turned a corner with respect to how people went to work, interacted with each other, and even thought through whether or not going to an event, meeting, or appointment was worth the risk of getting sick. There was, for a brief period of time, a massive shift of people working from home. Students were being taught from home through distance learning. Any outing was met with strict guidelines that had to be followed if you wanted to enter a commercial space and purchase a product or service. Sadly, our churches were forced closed. Spiritual Communion became even more meaningful until people were allowed to re-enter churches.
While this happened a new vocabulary was created. A new pedagogy on life was taking shape. They were calling it ‘the new normal’. This was or perhaps is the popular phrase everyone was or is using to describe life today; to describe how we are living. It suggests that these new methods of living will now be normal. It will be ‘the way’. We will live and work from home. Corporations that use offices will cease to need commercial space. Urban centers will be abandoned for suburban and rural enclaves. All retail commerce will shift electronically. Telehealth will replace in person doctor visits. Large scale sporting events and concerts will be a thing of the past as people will not gather (cannot gather if regulated) so close out of ‘precaution’. This practicum espousing the new normal was everywhere — television commercials, television shows, news articles and commentary. People were being fed a daily overdose of what the new normal is and will be moving forward.
Arguably, this period in global history has, in my opinion, accelerated the adoption of new practices that, quite frankly should have been integrated through a more concerted ongoing effort, rather than being thrust. The most relevant example is the use of teleconference. Meetings, conferences, tradeshows, even family reunions were pushed onto digital platforms so that people could still gather while being far apart. It has helped tremendously those individuals that felt isolated while sheltering in place. It helped keep the lines of communication open for business and government so that capitalism and democracy that make the world work didn’t come to a screeching halt. This form of meeting will most certainly become a new normal. There will be an expectation for meetings to have a virtual component. Mom and dad or the best friend half way around the globe is now available for a visual chat with the touch of a button. If not for this global event, there is no telling how long it would have taken for this method of meeting would have been adopted.
Regrettably with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This period in global history clouded or perhaps tarnished the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Whereas there was genuine concern for the most vulnerable of society and many charitable works there had also become judges and executioners of people and their beliefs based on how they acted, what they said or what they did or didn’t do that was in conformity with the ‘new normal’. In some respects the events of the time were made larger than life through the constant drumbeat of a 24-hour news cycle committed to only one message. As a result, this can create significant interiorization where the most important consideration is whether or not “I” or those most important to me are safe. As such a greater sense of judgement falls on those that are in direct opposition to what has been adopted as the “new normal.”
I ask you, dear reader, to ponder: was life ever normal? A pilgrims journey is never normal. Whether traveling across time and space with the rucksack hoisted on our back or a pilgrimage that unfolds in our hometown through everyday life, the journey is lived to the extent possible in the moment. As I wrote in a previous post, there are waypoints along the journey. There are events that can snap us out of getting to comfortable on the journey — the loss of a job, an injury, the rupture of a relationship, the death of a loved one, even a global pandemic. It opens our eyes to the delicate nature of life and the need to pay attention. What is this moment teaching us? How is this event calling us on our journey? How is it calling us to follow God’s Will? Are we really entering a ‘new normal’? Or are we entering a new leg of our pilgrimage?
I will submit to you that we have started a new leg of the journey. This is a leg where we really need to play closer attention to what is most important in life. Pay closer attention to the needs of the most vulnerable in society. Pay attention to what we are being told and why we are being told to do it. Pay closer attention in prayer — listening more than we speak so to be guided by the Holy Spirit as we strive to follow the interior map based on His will. Why is this written now? Because it has been, as of this writing, over one and a half years since we hit the waypoint. A return to normalcy is closer on the horizon than previously thought. The drumbeat of a ‘new normal’ is disappearing. How ‘normal’ is defined will be uneven and up for debate, but as pilgrims, we won’t bother ourselves with those details because the focus will be very different.
A pilgrim’s focus is not on following the trends. It is paying attention to what is important and what matters the most — having the grace and love to do God’s will. There is a perfect prayer for pilgrims at times like this, one by St. Ignatius of Loyola, that is worth keeping on our lips every day:
“Take Lord and Receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. All that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you, O’ Lord, I return it. Dispose of me wholly according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, that is sufficient for me.” -Amen.
As we continue our pilgrimage, regardless of what comes our way, let us return to God all that He has given us. Let us rest assured in His love and grace to guide us everyday.