The “new normal” has become a frequently used phrase. I hear colleagues, friends and journalists say it. I even hear myself say it from time to time. Yet every time I do, I feel myself resist a bit. I’m not ready for this to be the new normal, nor am I able to envision what “normal” will look like on the other side of COVID-19. These days, normal seems more like a far off dream, a fantasy, an alternate universe where we would like to dwell, but no longer do.
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The truth is that normal has always been more elusive than we’d like to think. Yes, we have our routines. We wake in the morning, brush our teeth, read the paper, go to work. And yes, there are many things we count on without thinking about them: a monthly paycheck, a car that starts, a quick stop by the grocery store. But in reality, none of us is far away from crisis at any given moment. A lost job, a lost loved one, a loss of mobility, an accident or act of violence—in a flash the veil of normalcy may drop to reveal the frailty of our human bodies and the feebleness of our human systems.
Furthermore, those things many of us take for granted as “normal” are actually privileges. Around the world and even in our own communities, many people face each day without surety of income or educational opportunities, of good healthcare or leisure time, of a roof or a meal, or even of basic safety. If COVID-19 has reminded us of anything, it’s that our individual well-being is entirely dependent on the well-being of the whole, and for the whole to be well, everyone needs equitable access to basic goods and services, healthcare and economic opportunity.
Our religious traditions also remind us of our interdependence and vulnerability. The prophets of the Hebrew scriptures and the teaching of the Gospels continually call humanity to a reordering of systems and structures, so that wholeness belongs to the many and not just to the few. Such spiritual visionaries hold before humanity images for an entirely new “normal,” one we’ve never before witnessed, one marked by equity and grace, mercy and justice. This vision is sometimes called the New Creation, or the Peaceable Kingdom, or even the Commonwealth of God. It is the alternate universe for which our souls long. It is the dream so wondrous that our hearts and minds cannot fully conceive of it.
God’s normal is not our normal. It is not routine or for our convenience. Instead, it exists for the glory of the One who is creating it, and so that all creation may find wholeness in it. We are beyond a doubt far from that Peaceable Kingdom today, and yet my prayer is that humanity will hear through these current fear-inducing, heart-rending cries of crisis, a gentler, reassuring voice of promise. May this be a moment when together we lean toward wholeness for all people. May we see our shared humanity and accept our interdependence more fully. And may we come just a bit closer to the Commonwealth of God, the dream, the vision for an altogether new normal.