The famous story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt found in the Book of Deuteronomy narrates an important truth about our human experience. One, in fact, that we might take note of during the current health crisis. The story involves Moses, called by God, to lead his people from a place of slavery through the desert to the promised land flowing with “milk and honey.”
At different times in our lives, God calls us to leave what we may be enslaved to and enter into a stage of purification (into the desert if you will) to experience the true freedom that only He can bring us (the promised land). Today, one of the most conspicuous, and yet seemingly hidden realities of this 21st century is just how enslaved we are by certain secular gods, or idols.
Could the coronavirus, with its sweeping changes to our normal lifestyles be bringing this divine narrative right into our world with striking clarity?
What am I referring to?
Many idols in our society today, not evil in and of themselves, dominate our minds and hearts and they are being stripped from our grasping hands, whether we like it or not. What idols, you ask?
First, the idol of busyness. Think about it. What is our classic response to the question of “How are things going?” “Things are busy, I’m swamped, life is busy,” or some form of the same is our typical answer. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve said something similar because we are so caught up in the frenetic world around us of “doing.” Now, this busyness has been brought to a screeching halt for many.
No travel! No school! No activities! No nothing!
It’s like we’ve left Egypt with its “god of busyness,” and we’re walking in the desert. The feeling is strange to us. It’s foreign. We actually have permission not to rush around.
The second god, or idol, is sports. The cancellation, or at least suspension of virtually all sports, both on TV and in-person, is another purification of the highest form. Sports have, in many respects, replaced organized religion. It is the new secular religion. Much like religion does, sports bring people together and gives us something that unites us.
However, the secular prophets, known as sports commentators, have nothing to say because there is nothing happening. At one time a college athlete myself, sports are fun and entertaining. The problem with sports is that they have nothing to do with the transcendent, that is, something beyond this world. So, sports can fill us to some extent with recreation and fun, but they will never totally “fill” us, or “fulfill” us. We need more. We were created for more!
Two gods down and one to go. The third god, or idol, that one could identify and serve (and there are surely more!) is the god of freedom. Today, the emphasis is given almost exclusively to that freedom called freedom from restriction, that is, from all things that might inhibit our capacity to choose whatever we want. The mere arbitrary power to choose appears to be the essence of this freedom. However, this apparent unconstrained freedom is impossible (like a mirage in a desert, it doesn’t really exist).
Human freedom will always have boundaries because we are finite, limited creatures. The current health crisis has all but proven this with limits on everything from going to your favorite restaurant, to attending Church, and restricting travel all over the world. We’re told to stay put and normal routines have been severely hampered.
The higher form of freedom, however, that we are really called to is not freedom from restriction but rather freedom for excellence. It challenges us to understand the power of choice and how we form our own lives – in a sense, our own selves – through our choices. This feeling, thinking, and choosing takes place on the level of personhood. It is what being human means.
Freedom for excellence best reflects our dignity and self-respect. Our dignity merits that we are in a relationship with the ones we love (God and neighbor).
Giving ourselves in love is that ultimate good which is, in the end, the best use of our freedom of choice. Every time we choose to give ourselves to another, to love them actively, we choose excellence because we are choosing what is best for another person and what is best for ourselves.
Will I trust that this time of crisis is actually a time of “exodus” from busyness, excess attention on sports, and the false notion of freedom?
Will I allow it to benefit my most important relationships?
Pope John Paul II said, “ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of ‘doing for the sake of doing.” Will we resist this temptation by trying to be before trying to do?
Yes “just be” with your family, your friends, the most important people in your life. Be present to them. Busyness, distractions (sports or otherwise), and perceived control (or false freedom) do not give real value to life, relationships do!
Will this radical shift in our lifestyles be the good that will come from the coronavirus for you? An authentic relationship with one another and with God is the “promised land” we all long for. Here’s to each of us reaching the Promised Land!