Our Soul Pandemic

Our country is in the midst of a pandemic, a plague that is crippling both citizens and society. I am not talking about COVID-19. The virus that I am thinking of has a much wider reach, but it is not our bodies that are getting sick, but our souls.

In light of COVID-19, our world has drastically changed. Nearly everything that we do has been touched by the virus–our economy, our social lives, our religious observances, our mental health. As the weeks pass, our fragmentation becomes more obvious. As stresses build, those dark parts of us rise to the surface and they play out not only in our homes, but across social media which, it seems, is now our principle form of connection.

This pandemic of divisiveness and hatred dwarfs COVID-19 in both its effects and its reach. Although many of us may not get COVID-19, if my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, many of us have been showing symptoms of hatred and division, more and more each day. Unfortunately, we are a whole lot better at seeing these things in others than in ourselves. We are much more capable of justifying our anger and name calling in the name of justice. When we have no doubt that we are correct, everything is permitted.

Just in the last few days, I’ve seen people I love calling Governor Evers an idiot or, alternatively, President Trump. I wish I were immune. I’ve seen boatloads of misinformation disseminated, but we believe these “facts” because they come from “our side’s” media outlets and experts. We use this misinformation to justify our righteous indignation. Suddenly, it seems that all of us are experts in virology, epidemiology, economics, and constitutional law.

Friends, this hatred, animosity, and division is killing us. Anger can make us feel alive, but too often it is stoked by toxicity. Many of us are thoughtful about the food we consume, trying to keep our bodies healthy, but we allow these viral thoughts to take hold and our souls get sicker and sicker. I pray we begin to wake up to the effects this soul pandemic is having.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Galatians 5 recently, which is one place where Saint Paul contrasts flesh and spirit. In each of us, there is this battle between flesh and spirit and they do not lead us to the same outcome. Starting in verse 19, Paul identified a number of “works of the flesh,” which are opposed to a Spirit-filled life. I won’t mention all of them, but I was struck by “enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions.” Sadly, this list seems to characterize so much of what I read every single day. Paul is clear that these things do not represent the Kingdom of God. But he also said that when we are walking by the Spirit, there are different evidences in our lives. A Spirit-led person shows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, not perfectly, but I believe in increasing measure.

I invite each of us, myself chiefly, to regularly ask ourselves, “Who am I? Are my thoughts and actions characterized by fits of anger and division, or am I increasingly gentle and peaceful?” This soul pandemic has a cure, love.

God,
The evidences of fragmentation and division are growing day by day,
both without and within.
You call us to peace, but we are in turmoil;
you call us to grace, but we are full of judgment;
you call us to love, but hatred consumes us.

We are a double-minded people.
How can we be for peace when this war rages within?
We do spiritual violence to others and ourselves
when this plague of strife takes hold.

We are afraid.
We are angry.
We are confused.
Too often, we let our flesh lead,
forgetting both who you are
and who we are.

Forgive us.
Heal our hearts.
Make us whole.

What is Reconciliation?

He [Jesus] was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.-Colossians 1:18-20, The Message

It has taken ten days, but I am finally writing about “reconciliation.” I started by writing about integration on March 16 and then followed up writing about wholeness on March 20. As I indicated, these concepts are important and how I think about life, and, they are in many ways connected, though I do think about them in slightly different terms.

Reconciliation, in my thinking, is closely tied to integration and wholeness, but implies a broader understanding. In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, there is a magnificent description of the “preeminence of Christ” in verses 15 to 20. In the final verse, we discover that in Christ, all things are being reconciled. What are those things? As Eugene Peterson suggested, “people and things, animals and atoms.” Redemption goes beyond the forgiveness of individual sins or restored relationships with people. In reconciliation, God is making all things new.

Yet God does not exclude us from this process. According to 2 Corinthians 5:18 we, as Christ’s ambassadors in the world, have been given “the ministry of reconciliation.” We have been invited to become agents of integration, wholeness, and reconciliation by pointing people to the love of Christ and the hope of reconciliation, which is so much bigger than the forgiveness of sins.

It is no less than God making all things new.

Why Wholeness?

Every weekday morning at 5:45, I have the opportunity to be on the radio with my friend Mark Halvorsen for the “best five minutes of the day.” Although we discuss a variety of topics, our principal purpose is a connection between friends and putting love on display by how we relate. On Monday of this week, Mark asked me about a T-shirt I made with this graphic:

Concepts like integration, wholeness, and reconciliation have become the major focus of my thinking over the past few years, I believe because several different streams have converged powerfully. As an avid reader, several books that have fertilized my thinking about wholeness. I cannot mention them all in this post, but a few come immediately to mind, including Wholeheartedness by Chuck DeGroat, Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, A New Heaven and a New Earth by J. Richard Middleton, and The Hidden Life: Awakened by Kitty Crenshaw and Cathy Snapp. A growing love for creativity and artistic expression has also fueled my interest in wholeness.

Additionally, I have been trying to do my own inner work, albeit sometimes reluctantly. A few good friends provide safe space as I seek to sift through my fragmented inner life. Some of us also meet for lunch weekly to discuss what integration means and how we put it into practice. Ultimately, it seems to me that as each of us seeks to understand what it means to be fully human, we all must wrestle with these disconnected parts both within and between us.

In the days ahead, I want to begin to explore what I am thinking when I use words like wholeness, integration, and reconciliation and why I think they are important concepts to consider.

What thoughts, images, or feelings come to mind when you hear the word “wholeness”?