It is very difficult to divorce my sabbatical experience from the looming cloud of Covid-19. Perhaps it has to do with how I’m wired when prepping homilies – If your people are thinking about it, preach about it. Perhaps its the psychological byproduct of trying to understand life in light of a national pandemic. Nevertheless, I have thought of about fifty reflections to offer you today, but none of them have made it from mind to megapixel save this one. Why, may you ask? Its hard to explain, but most of the reflections I thought of felt aloof and divorced from the reality we’re dealing with as a global community, In light of this inner conflict, there is a growing intuition to repress the more idealistic part of who I am, feeling a need to give primary attention to our global pandemic.
For example, if all were normal, I would write to you about International Dark Sky Week, the importance of protecting the great natural treasure of our dark skies, and then share my star images with you. I would wax on about the need for naturalist visionaries to continue to establish “dark sky parks” along with our national parks, seeing in the stars the potential of a pristine experience of creation akin to the beautifully unique ecosystem of the Saguaro National Forest, which is my current next door neighbor. So, why don’t I just write about starry skies and the need for lowering light pollution?
There’s no need to further clarify the hesitation I feel to reflect on non-Covid-19 topics. The heart and thoughts of a stargazing dreamer Priest can seem misplaced and trivial in light of the attitude of survival that has gripped many. Idealism and optimism quickly wane under the weight of global financial crisis, fearing our neighbor is a potential disease carrier instead of an expression of God’s love, and the hard reality of a disease that is indiscriminate in who it infects and kills. The situation has brought a question into prayer on a regular basis: What does it mean to live when so much that consumes our thoughts, conversations, media, and prayer is how do we survive?
Is there room in the post Covid-19 world for a dreamer? The truthful answer is “I don’t know.” We have yet to reach the post Covid-19 world. We are still trying to navigate the unknowns of what this disease is and what it is not.
My father, Jerry Kurzynski, became extremely ill and his doctor feared he had been infected by C-19. When my father recovered, the test results proved negative, and my mother and brother did not become ill, my heart found peace. However, just a couple days later, someone close to Sacred Space Astronomy shared that he lost a family member to this virus. This extreme of experience is creating a complex emotional landscape. “Why would God allow this?” It’s a question many of us ask at times like this and if there is one consistency I’ve found in ministry, the only honest answer to this question is “I don’t know.”
I know of another man who felt that, after seeing symptoms of illness emerge, it would be easier for his family if he took his own life instead of having his family watch him die on a ventilator. His family felt profoundly different about his assessment, but, sadly, they never had a chance to share their protest with him. Some who read this may presume, “There must have been other underlying health issues that led to this.” I don’t disagree with you, but, again, as part of the complexity of the emotional tapestry I am in, neither I nor this man’s wife and children are terribly interested in receiving distant psychological analysis of why we will be planning a funeral when I return from sabbatical. Anger, hurt, grief, all emotions that are normal, emerging at a point of human history that is anything but normal.
Dreams can die under the weight of this type of pain, hope can wither, and faith in God can range from difficult to next to impossible. These truly are difficult times we live in.
However, when things can appear so dark and grim, odd moments of grace begin to appear, shedding new light on what we are experiencing. At the beginning of sabbatical, I felt a hesitation about sharing pictures and stories of my experience on social media for my family, friends, and parishioners back home. Again, Covid-19 gave me pause. The fascinating thing is that the more I share these images, the more I am encouraged to do so. Whether it be pictures of flowers, stars, or honey bees, my parishioners tell me it brings joy to their day and hope in their hearts. They look forward to these moments as a bright spot in an otherwise stressful and difficult day.
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One time, I live streamed a Mass for my parishioners, family, and friends back home. It was a simple Mass done in the quiet of my hermitage. No Church, no choir, no pre or post-Mass announcements. Many parishioners shared with me that it brought tears to their eyes and made them feel normal again.
Normal – A word I don’t think will ever be understood in quite the same way again. What I find interesting is that “normal” to the people I serve and love has nothing to do shopping trips, work schedules, and consumption. Rather, normal is being defined to me as connection with nature, beauty, a sense of home that transcends a physical space that is rooted in relationship and their prayer life. Marx once claimed that religion was the opiate of the masses and Freud saw religion as enemy. What I am finding is that there is a “cultural opioid crisis” being unmasked, but it is far different from the one Marx and Freud identified. The true opiate of the masses is not faith, family, beauty, and nature, but the habitual fixation we have on consumption, technology, productivity, and success. Perhaps one of the graces of Covid-19 will be that the real opiate of the masses of ramped consumerism will be named, its effects be claimed, and, hopefully, our world will seek to tame this disease of the heart with what humanity truly needs and seeks: faith, hope, and love.
Ironic, isn’t it. The very things that an epidemic can make us feel we must mute actually emerge as the things most essential for us to deal with the crisis. Whether those things be the beauty of a moonlight night, a call or facetime with someone we love, comforting those who are in fear of this disease, sharing our fears with someone who loves us, and/or to find a sense of solidarity in our prayer, in particular the communal celebration of Mass via social media, let us remember when crisis passes and the trappings of consumption return this revelation of what is emerging as most important in our lives.
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With that in mind, my fellow dreamers, I think its time to do something silly in light of Covid-19. As this week has passed, let us remember International Dark Sky Week not just as a times for us astro-geeks to enjoy the night sky and find our annual platform to speak of the need for dark sky protection amid a national pandemic. Let us see this week as a reminder that fighting back the stifling effects of a pandemic on the mind and heart is done through embracing the things we need as a human species to find meaning and peace. International Dark Sky Week teaches us that we need to gaze into the night sky. We need to gaze upon the beauty of creation around us. We need the love of family, friends, and community. And we need to stand in awe and wonder of the Creator who brought all of this into existence. A Creator we also cry out to in need, asking for a re-creation to occur at this time of crisis.
In that spirit, who of you reading this post has the heart to fight for the next generation of national parks that seek to protect the night skies? Who knows, it might be the ability to gaze into those skies that will help people face the next pandemic, hopefully far off in the future, and remind humanity of what is most important in life.