The global pandemic of 2020 has been challenging in every way – personally, financially and spiritually. But we can be the healing balm we need, if we just come together for our common good.
COVID-19 has changed everything for most of us. More than 3,500 Coloradans have died because of the virus and close to a quarter of a million more have been sickened, many with lingering lung, heart and neurological problems that could last a lifetime.
Many Coloradans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic’s vicious blow to the economy – and face eviction and hunger without additional relief. Essential workers in grocery stores and hospitals risk COVID exposure every day just by going to work. Others work from home glued to computer screens, juggling care for and education of their children in the same room.
Isolation from others – our extended family, friends, co-workers and even strangers – makes our situation feel even worse. Frustration is high. Some complain about government overreach in public health rules while those wearing masks and practicing social distancing rules are angry at those flouting the public safety rules.
But the truth is, COVID is a cruel disease that recognizes no political, religious or other affiliation.
In December, Christians celebrate Christmas, Jews observe Hanukkah, Buddhists have Bodhi Day, Zoroastrians mark Zarathosht Diso and the winter solstice is holy for earth-centered spiritualities and indigenous traditions. These are all sacred times when the faithful come together to pray, honor tradition and enjoy the fellowship of each other.
Even though it’s painful and disappointing, I urge faith leaders and congregations to remain steadfast. We have hopeful news of a vaccine on the horizon, but it cannot protect all of us yet.
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Keep your doors closed and your laptops open for virtual worship this year because the virus doesn’t care what religion you practice. Since “love your neighbor” is a central tenet of every religion, we should stay at home to protect the health and lives of others.
There will be some who dismiss this plea out of hand, citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down public health regulations limiting the number allowed to gather for religious services and Colorado’s understanding of worship as an essential service. But the fact that an action is legal doesn’t make it moral or responsible.
As a pastor, my faith guides everything I do, and when confronted with a balancing act between religious liberty and public health during this virus crisis, the well-being of my fellow congregants comes out on top.
I encourage us to elevate what we can do for the good of all of us, including the immuno-compromised grandmother, the young father battling lymphoma, the child with asthma and everyone else who may be completely healthy but could end up perilously ill with COVID.
And we need to start addressing the overlapping pandemics of systemic racism, economic inequality, and political division – none of which can be miraculously cured by a vaccine.
While 2020 has been a year plagued by illness and rancor, we have an opportunity to heal our divides, tone down the rhetoric and build a more cohesive public life. The December holiday season can be an important attempt at finding common ground for ourselves and our neighbors, as well.
Our current challenges provide us with a valuable opportunity to practice the love embedded in our religious traditions. I am using this time to center others rather than myself, and I hope other people of faith will do the same so we can work to cure what ails us as a society.
As 2020 comes to an end, I am praying that the lessons we have learned from this difficult year will inspire us to create the Colorado we seek in 2021: one in which all of us are healthy, safe and thriving.
Rev. Tamara Boynton is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and is the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado interim executive director and director of strategic engagement.
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