The briefest of looks back into world history will unveil many disruptions. There are of course natural disasters, extramarital affairs unearthed, and the silences after a knock-down-drag-out-fight. There are disruptions like after whatever killed the dinosaurs. And then there are the silences in the streets of Paris after the French Revolution. And the silences after a death in a bishop’s prison during the inquisition. And the silent disruption when an Apollo mission disappears behind the moon in radio-silence. And after the space exploration’s Challenger explosion. And just prior to the scream of a new-born baby. And when a child thought he heard something in the night making a sound in his closet.
Disruption can be a good thing because it creates an alert. It wakes us up. The Star of Bethlehem wakes us up to Advent – a time of awake-ness. And yet science tells us that people with PTSD from experiences of war or from child abuse or from episcopal abuse or neglect live with a kind of hyper-vigilance that is dangerous to the human body – too many chemicals and too much adrenaline can be detrimental to health after years of hyper-vigilance.
But occasional disruption can be a good thing. This is well known by shepherds. The reason shepherds are so often referred to in history as having slingshots on their person (e.g. David of Goliath fame) is because disruption is their primary tool. Most of us think the shepherd’s primary tool is the shepherd’s crook (think sugary-sweet night paintings of the shepherds under the star of Bethlehem) but that is simply not true, it just makes for spiritually-romantic paintings. The real tool of a shepherd is the slingshot – a small, long, narrow strip of leather, readily wrapped around their wrist for quick and easy access.
The shepherd watches the sheep. When a sheep or ram gets too close to something dangerous or wanders too far off, the shepherd unfurls the strip of leather around his or her wrist – the slingshot – then picks up a stone, and with the accuracy of a sharpshooter, flings the stone hundreds of feet across the herd to hit the ground an inch away from the wandering sheep’s nose, which had been buried deliriously in green grass, munching in a fog of oblivious satisfaction. The stone does not hit the sheep. The stone hits the ground by her nose. She is startled by the stone. She stops munching grass. She looks up and then looks around. In this disruption, she sees, suddenly, that she is too far from the flock or too close to the cliff and so she wanders back to the flock or away from the wilderness or the cliff. Shepherds have used slingshots – just a strip of leather and a stone – for thousands of years, and do to this day, on much of the planet. It was the first text message. “Hey you, stop what you are doing and read this: you are in danger, look up, move.”
This shelter-in-place time has been just such a disruption, but on a planetary scale. It has stopped our normal routines. It has startled a planet of humans and caused us to sit up and look around us. It has pushed us out of our complacency and our busy accumulation into a season of taking-stock. This disruption has startled us, brought us up short, and has reminded us of the reality of our own mortality – something about which we are loathe to think. And when we become aware of our mortality, something shifts inside us like moving an app button from “silent” to “alerts.”
The word “disruption” comes from two medieval words: “dis” (apart) and “rump” (to break). A disruption “breaks us apart” from regular moment-to-moment life and in the shock and resulting momentary silence of the break, allows us to see what is true and not just what is factual. The story of the star of Bethlehem was a disruption. The story of the flood was a disruption. The story of the raising of Lazarus was a disruption. The story of the transfiguration was disruption. The shelter-in-place final-supper was a disruption. The darkness and thunder after the story of the crucifixion was a disruption. A pandemic is a disruption.
In this disruption, many of us have had the chance to stop. Really stop. Parishioners have lifted our heads like the sheep and looked up from the go-to-church herd mentality and some will never go back. Clergy have lifted their heads like sheep and looked up from the obedient-to-their-bishop mentality, with slow awareness that loyalty is earned. We have looked around. We have seen the danger. And not just the danger of the COVID-19 virus, but also other herd-mentality dangers.
Sheltering-in-place, I am noticing things I never had the time or took the time to notice. Here are some:
- Eating six small meals (about the size of my fist) feels better than three big meals.
- My bathroom is more enjoyable when it is more frequently cleaned.
- My Rule of Life needs adjustment in this stay-home times.
- Going to church is over-rated if the clergy are under-delivering pastorally or in the pulpit. There is a lot of other really good, healthy spiritual food out there. Try onbeing.org by Krista Tippett for example.
- A bishop who does not pick up the phone and call his or her clergy and wardens needs a new job.
- A brisque walk at noon, rain or shine, is now as important as drinking enough water.
- It is correct to wear pants on Zoom calls in case one needs to get a drink of water.
I am saddened by any disruption that causes death and illness, including this pandemic. But when making lemonade out of lemons, I am finding that the disruption is valuable to my choice-making and my discernment.
It turns out that, except when having fallen into a crevasse, I do not need a shepherd with a long, wooden crook to grab my neck and drag me, choking, to where they want me; which may, let’s be honest, be a meat-packing truck. Rather, I need the shepherds of my life – friends, loved-ones, authors, poets, spiritual directors, Krista – to employ their slingshots and the pebbles by their feet. Wake me up. Startle me. Don’t push or drag me. Don’t manipulate or bully me. Just disrupt me. Please.
Charles LaFond is an Episcopal priest, author, speaker, potter, and fundraiser living on the cliffs of an island in the Salish Sea. He writes The Daily Sip (thedailysip.org); which is neither.