Lynn Ungar: Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Lynn Ungar (3/11/20)

The REACH project is a commission by CONCORA, Chris Shepard, Music Director

55 thoughts on “Lynn Ungar: Pandemic

  1. I see it as putting a hindrance between man and God. True wickedness goes beyond blatant sin by putting a hindrance or erecting a barrier between man and God. That is how I see it anyway.


  2. East Asia remembers the original SARS.
    I don;t know how Subsahran Africa is managing it– considering how poor and messed-up they are, I’m surprised COVID’s not raging through them like Captain Trips from The Stand. Africa has always been Earth’s hard-luck continent.


  3. I wonder if the Evangelical Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation has pre-groomed Christians for such Utter Selfishness. Would not be the first time that Time and Entropy brought out a Dark Side to a religious (No — RELATIONSHIP!) movement.

    Then Add Rapture Ready (any minute now) to further detach you from others in Meatspace (It’s All Gonna Burn Anyway) substituting an abstract/unreal Spiritual Heaven. (You could wind up like the guys young Augustine hung out with — so Spiritual they had ceased to be human.)


  4. Eeyore, I think you know I’m not asking people to stop speaking out. I’m asking people to PAUSE for a moment, in the midst of the storm we’re in, to hear and meditate upon a particular perspective that I think can be life-giving and nourishing. For everything there is a season…


  5. I listened, and can understand that. It’s real music (melody+harmony+rhythm) that makes sense to the soul, and evokes beauty and lament, which is indeed where we are and what we need now.

    There are only a couple of albums like that from my youth. The first four albums from the band Iona are what reside in my soul, in terms of contemporary music. I want the cut Heaven’s Bright Sun/Bi-se i mo Shuil from “Journey Into the Morn” playing in the background just before the priest reads the Prayers for the Departure of the Soul over me. (Mule will understand…)



  6. Summarizing what I replied to Tom,

    Society is saying that human cost is no object, “So as long as it isn’t me writing the check.” We are fighting Covid-19 on the backs of the poor and marginalized, just like we fight our wars.

    Meanwhile we sit at home under quarantine having our masked sabbath, self-satisfied that we are flattening the curve or stopping the spread.


  7. Forgive us Chaplain Mike and give us one more week.

    The Earth has undergone five major Sabbaths in its history. Next time, who knows what may cease?


  8. We are not in a season of peace, Chap. It does no good to cry “peace peace” when there is no peace. Evil is afoot in the land, and within the church. It can’t NOT be discussed. To not discuss it is to do a disservice to those like Robert who are forced to risk their lives at work, amongst many many others. Would it be nice to not have to discuss it? Perhaps. But to ignore the storm is in its own way an expression of privilege. As long as there are those who call good evil, and evil good, they must be bickered with. Sorry, but this is not the time to remain silent.


  9. Because for many of those people, they might not have died if proper action had been taken earlier. And there are many people who feel the same outrage about those other deaths you mention, as related to gun regulation.


  10. But those “robbers in the Temple” were fulfilling a religious function – making sure pagan money or unapproved sacrifices were not used in the Holy Temple. The fact that they were making a killing off of the pilgrims who were forced to do business with them was, well, not their problem. So I still see that as an instance of hypocrisy.


  11. I prefer “nihilist,” but I will let the gallery be the judge.

    Covid-19, in my observation, is a great class-equalizer. It is a disease that does not discriminate by race, creed, melanin, wealth, lifestyle, status, current preventative actions, or known medical expertise. No one is immune, everyone is in danger. That doesn’t sit too well in our comfortable first-world society. The second- and third-world societies wonder, “What kept you?”

    We first-worlders decided–and no one who flips the light switch, uses the toilet, or settles down to their warm hot-pocket dinner can deny culpability–to sacrifice the lower-classes–ahem, “essential” workers–to the micro-beasts while we holed up in our penthouse bunkers–ahem, “quarantined”–binge-watching “Cuties.” We lie awake on night #225 hoping against hope that the sacrifice of all the deplorables will be enough to clear the virus and allow us to actually go get our Starbuck’s in person instead of having it delivered. We hide our existential fear by mask-shaming elderly ladies sitting outdoors on a park bench or virtue by signaling that we are “believing the experts.”

    Huge swathes of the Earth’s population have lived with imminent death from some disease–any disease–for at least 2 million of years. What makes any of us so special as to be entitled to not face that danger? Do we believe we shouldn’t have to suffer like 115 billion of our brothers and sisters that came before us? Do we really believe we shouldn’t have to–horror of horrors–be seriously concerned about catching our death?

    Did we just believe the myth of progress, or did we misunderstand how Jesus “bore our diseases?”

    Let me bring it down to a more relevant level: we social darwinists don’t believe anyone should have to suffer like the lady that checks out our groceries, the ex-student who delivers our four-cheese tortellini with extra tomatoes, or the hospital orderly that cleans up after our deplorable truck-driver uncle who we refused to call because he voted for Trump. They deserve what they get.

    Bottom line, why shouldn’t we have to endure Covid-19 suffering, or any suffering?

    If we are that afraid of death, here’s my advice: Get your affairs in order.
    My soul is prepared, how’s yours?


  12. “My fear is that what has generally been called Wickedness in Christianity; open self-interest, raw exploitation of others, either brutal subjugation of others or their cynical manipulation will cease to be considered wicked and will held to be the acme of virtue.”

    That’s exactly what I’m seeing in many of the public spokespeople for evangelicalism right now.


  13. Your statement is your interpretation of my comment, and not completely in alignment with my own intention in making it. However, I read a comment somewhere the other day about how eating at a restaurant is not an essential activity. The person who made it seemed to be oblivious to the fact that for the employees of restaurants, working at one to keep roof over one’s head and body and soul together is certainly an essential activity. Now, my wife and I are people who will not eat in a restaurant until a safe and effective vaccine is available, so I have no axe to grind regarding feeling unjustly deprived because we can’t do so due to closures. But the person who made the comment seemed to be locked into a privileged perspective of the ways in which shutdowns and closures effect not just the recreational options of the diners, but also the economic survival of the waitstaff.


  14. ISTM that none of these remedies are particularly effective because ~2.5M people still die every year. Are they worse sinners than the rest?


  15. Justin thanks for making my point although it saddens me that you felt the need to do so. For recurring medical conditions we have treatment. For suicide prevention we have counseling. For gun deaths we have gun control. For COVID 19 apparently the solution is to ignore it and it’ll just go away!


  16. “but there are no markers for what lies ahead”
    (Lynn Ungar)

    may as well ‘do nothing, say nothing’ as the path ‘ahead’ is unmarked

    we will know soon enough, God help us

    problem is what HAS been said and by WHOM it was said
    is a kind of searchlight into what may come and we know this
    from ‘there are good people on both sides’

    it’s not a marker, no

    it’s much more a curse on us if we ignore it now


  17. I am an will continue to be annoyed that political expediency (i.e. “something BIG a-happening”) is the criteria for what matters. The rest of us poor, deplorable, schmucks can eat cake.

    Robert, above, is correct (in my interpretation): the poem is a reflection of privilege most of us do not enjoy.


  18. For me, I see common blatant sinners of the type Jesus would hang out with as different from open wickedness of the type that had to be driven from the temple.


  19. In the Scriptures, you have the contrast between ‘weak’ or ‘disadvantaged’ ‘sinners’ and the well-heeled righteous. According to some sources I’ve read, it cost a bit of money to live as an observant Pharisee, and if you couldn’t raise the funds, well, sucks to be you sorry, not sorry. What stuck in Jesus’ craw was not that the Pharisees were secretly going to exhibitions of pornographic sculpture while condemning women for adultery. It was their refusal to see that they were just as needy as ‘this rabble that knoweth not the Law (and) is accursed”

    What I am more concerned about is the Transfiguration of Values, what Isaiah bemoaned when he said “woe unto those who call evil good, and good evil”. My fear is that what has generally been called Wickedness in Christianity; open self-interest, raw exploitation of others, either brutal subjugation of others or their cynical manipulation will cease to be considered wicked and will held to be the acme of virtue. this is already proving to be the case in what you all so snarkily refer to as ‘pelvic issues’ as if you could maintain direction without having control of your pelvis.

    Cabrones todos


  20. All y’all know that this post was meant to provide a respite from the political bickering, right? Maybe I should’ve just said that with the post and not had comments today.

    “Sabbath” means to cease.


  21. –> “Of the 11 people that I was in close contact with who died since March, none–zero–has died from Covid-19. Their deaths, apparently, do not matter in this era.”

    Well, they certainly mattered to their loved ones and friends, so there’s that. Plus, the fact they don’t get publicized is a sign of the times and nothing to get annoyed at. Think of the people who died days after 9/11, or died naturally during WWII. When there’s something BIG a-happening, things that normally would’ve gotten attention tend to get minimalized for sure. Just natural.


  22. –> “…my reading of Scripture is that God is much less angry with blatant sinners than He is with religious hypocrites.”

    Bingo. That’s my interpretation of the scriptures as well. Sinning gets some attention, yes, but BAD RELIGION and RELIGIOUS HYPOCRISY gets the most scathing condemnation. Many OT readings would support this, and the gospel accounts are almost nothing but this.


  23. Funny – my reading of Scripture is that God is much less angry with blatant sinners than He is with religious hypocrites. Jesus got on famously with tax collectors and prostitutes. Pharisees… not so much.


  24. I’m not much for chorale music generally but that was magnificent! I read the lyrics first, then listened. I didn’t remember them after one quick reading and I couldn’t make most of them out as they sang them but it didn’t matter. I knew the gist of it and listening to the music with the thoughts of rest and unity of spirit was a nice little sabbath in the middle of my day. Beautiful!


  25. Yes, thank you Chaplain Mike. Made me cry. Even though there are some of us who might have difficulty getting to that quiet place of beauty, it’s important that it’s there.

    The choir was outstanding, and it was nice to see that there were quite a few of us near-retirement folks involved.



  26. Anybody else remember Francis Schaeffer’s prediction that in the not-to-distant future, all people would care about would be personal peace and prosperity? The pandemic has shown that to be the reality for most of us. And I’m as guilty as anyone I look down my nose at.



  27. You’re between the rock and the hard place, for sure. Thank you. I hope you have music or other means to help calm you while you’re at home.



  28. True, that. I certainly have my share of it. Wrote this, as a matter of fact…

    Honest Hypocrisy
    (Rick Rosenkranz, 2014)

    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
    –Jesus, Matthew 7:3

    At least I’m an honest hypocrite.
    I’ll look you right in the eye and tell you
    I don’t practice what I preach.

    I won’t tell you to be righteous,
    without telling you that I’m not.
    I won’t tell you that you’re a sinner
    without telling you that I’m one too.

    And I won’t pretend to be open-minded
    and I won’t pretend to be tolerant,
    like most people pretend,
    even as they rail against anyone
    who doesn’t share their opinion or belief.

    But I won’t call them haters, either,
    those hypocrites who claim
    they’re open-minded and tolerant,
    yet call me a hater
    simply because I don’t believe what they believe.

    I think maybe that was Jesus’ point.
    Everyone has a plank in their eye.


  29. This is lovely. Thanks for sharing it. What a great idea, that of the Sabbath.
    When Israel was taken captive by Babylon, the land had Sabbath to make up for the Sabbath years that had been neglected.

    To me the change felt like a great fever had broken and healing could begin.
    God bless the essential workers who have slogged through this.


  30. The only places that seem to have a handle on the virus are East Asia and Subsaharan Africa. The virus is shellacking Europe again; laissez-faire Sweden and anal-retentive Germany alike.

    I remember President Trump putting a travel ban in place for Italy, Iran, and China, and being accused of being a xenophobe. Maybe that was the case of a broken clock being right twice a day, I don’t know. The rallies weren’t a good idea, and neither were the marches and protests, or that dimwitted biker fest in South Dakota.


  31. Some of the “anti-maskers”, in a misbegotten attempt to provide some moral heft to their position, have taken to appropriating the language of the pro-choice side of the abortion controversy. MY BODY MY CHOICE

    Sounds more noble than “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!!! NYAAAH!!!!!”

    And fits right in with the Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.


  32. What’s wrong with you? You sound like you’re on their side.

    And ALL The Enemy Must Be DESTROYED. UEERLY.

    Shame doesn’t work very well in the sin-management project.

    Yet it remains the ONLY option for the RIGHTeous.
    Except maybe to take over and FORCE everyone else to their RIGHTeousness..


  33. I prefer hypocrisy to open wickedness. Hypocrites at least know they should do better. It won’t be long until we reach the next step – you should approve of what I do because of x1, x2, x3, etc. What’s wrong with you? You sound like you’re on their side.

    Hypocrites can also be shamed into doing better, but only temporarily. Shame doesn’t work very well in the sin-management project.

    Case in point; I am in a rental and all my masks are in the car that’s being worked on. So, I had to make a stop at several places on the way from work to home. No mask. Everybody else was masked. Nobody said anything to me, which is as it should be, but oh, how I rehearsed my [unneeded] response in my head while doing my errands.

    It wasn’t very charitable, I assure you.


  34. I would add I do believe there would be less than 225,000 deaths because IMO there are less nut cases on the LEFT side.


  35. No, because then you would’ve had nut cases on the left saying, “THE HELL IF I’M GOING TO WEAR A MASK IF TRUMP IS TELLING ME TO!!!”


  36. I wonder what would have happened if Trump had a plan for Covid-19 months ago and he wore a mask and he had tweeted to his 87 million of followers to follow his lead and wear a mask. Would there be less than the approximately 225,000 people in the United States?


  37. I’m not sure why but I am still capable of being surprised and disappointed at how selfish and self-absorbed many Americans are. Some of the “anti-maskers”, in a misbegotten attempt to provide some moral heft to their position, have taken to appropriating the language of the pro-choice side of the abortion controversy. MY BODY MY CHOICE, I saw on one poster. This simply demonstrates their lack of understanding. While the mask provides a modicum of protection for the wearer it primarily serves to protect other people FROM the wearer. And this is the real disconnect. A person unwilling to be even slightly inconvenienced* when it can actually save lives** is a person isolated and unable to transcend their own point of view. And yet how our society both longs for and laments a lack of community. How we praise the ones capable of self-sacrifice, veterans, doctors, firefighters! Just don’t expect ME to do anything!

    *How terrible is it really to put on a mask?

    **I would extend this to include the gun debate as well.


  38. Not my situation. Essential worker — busier than ever at work, overtime every day and weekends, cross paths with hundreds of people every day on the job, my employer is buying and selling like never before, etc., etc., etc. Not the slightest bit of Sabbath. Only along with everything else same as it ever was, fear fear fear with every daily encounter. Yawning inner terror at a world that makes no accommodation for my high risk. At best, moments of resignation to whatever fate brings.


  39. from ‘The Path’
    by Lynn Ungar

    ” . . . The path only unfolds behind us,
    our steps themselves laying down the road.
    You can look back and see the sign posts—
    the ones you followed and the ones you missed—
    but there are no markers for what lies ahead. . . . “


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