Musing 5.8.20

About a month ago Susan and I spent an afternoon organizing a corner of the basement.  This household activity usually provokes a discussion (argument) over what should be saved and what should be tossed.  This time we got along famously.  I view this as a sign of my growing maturity.  Inspired by such maturity I ventured this week to go through the hard copy files in my office.  Since I was flying solo, there would no arguments, just uncertainty.  I discovered 1) forgotten items which I wished I hadn’t forgotten; 2) items I had no idea why they were saved, 3) items I no longer needed, and 4) items I would continue to save. 

Both of these organizing events were exercises in sorting the essential from the non-essential. This sorting is a primary topic of our time.  It does provoke discussion, argument, and uncertainty.  What are essential activities?  What are essential gatherings? What are essential jobs?  I know there have always been discussions of essential importance.  I remember a staff member at a previous church asking who would be considered an essential employee in case of a snow emergency.  We decided that if you thought you were essential, you should come in.  I walked through a blizzard to get there.  I wasn’t going to self-identify as non-essential.  I also remember driving through a level 2 emergency to a junior high ballet rehearsal.  The director said it was essential; our daughter said it was; I said it wasn’t.  I was overruled.  Sometimes essential is in the eye of the beholder.

What makes something essential is that it is integral to who we are and how we ought to live. I have seen this time as an opportunity for us to sort out the essential from the non-essential.  In the last two months we have had so much stripped away that we are building our lives from the bottom up.  We start with the question, “Who are we?” Then move to the question, “How ought we to live?”  Then we examine what is essential to answer those questions.  It is possible this is the first time in our lives we have asked those questions.  Consequently, it is possible we have not yet wrestled with what is essential.  

This week I have been reading the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  I rediscovered them in a file I had forgotten I had.  They wrestled with what was essential and non-essential.  I am sure that I’ll write more in subsequent weeks.  Their insights and wisdom are illuminating as we wander in our current desert.  I have been aided in this desert journey by Robert J. Wicks’ Crossing the Desert.  Here are a few thoughts and questions to begin our thinking on essential and non-essential.  Gratitude and humility are essential.  Humility and a sense of entitlement are bad bedfellows.  Where do we spend the most time, energy, emotion, preoccupation, judgment, blame, and resentment?  This may reveal some false essentials.  When do we become moody?   What are our automatic negative interpretations and responses?   These two questions reveal what may fill us.

One more thought on essential and non-essential.  For many in our society it is a short step from having a non-essential job or losing a job to believing one is a non-essential person.  Sorting a basement is peanuts compared to this tragedy.  A blessing of this time is the realization of how many “non-essential” jobs are essential.  Our society is also more acutely aware of persons heretofore considered non-essential: the incarcerated, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the unemployed.  The most recent news indicates that 15% of our population is unemployed.  Many may consider themselves non-essential people.  That is not true.  We should call that fake news.  Jesus sees all persons as essential; no one is forgotten.  That is the Gospel message. That is the good news.  It is the message his disciples and Church must believe, preach, and live.

I pray that you are safe and well.