By the Rev. Barbara Threet
It’s been said that every religious leader, regardless of denomination, has a few sermon topics that they approach over and over again, from different directions. I can trace through years of sermon titles, and easily half of them weave around one of my own broad themes, whether affirming it or exploring it from a new angle or even challenging it.
One of my broad themes is the importance of looking at the big picture. Don’t believe what’s happening today is the only thing. This too – this moment – shall pass (whether great joy or deep despair). There’s always more to consider that what is immediately obvious, and so on. They’re variations on a theme. I’ve used the illustration of holding a hand right in front of your face so that it’s all you can see, when in truth, there’s a wide world out there – you just need to move your hand, or at least spread your fingers apart and peek through.
But today, I’m challenging this demand to keep the big picture in mind, at least for myself. I find myself almost obsessed with it these days: I want more facts, more data, and more knowledge of breaking discoveries or missteps. I scour news sources for more reports about how covid-19 is affecting our world, the latest medical assessments, and the most recent responses. I’m hungry for something that will help predict what’s next: I’ve become tremendously future-focused (and from my perspective, it looks fairly bleak, and likely quite different from the fairly recent past).
I’m finding that what is healthy now is to shift my focus back to the hand in front of my face, to take my attention off of the big picture for a while. I need to claim several hours without checking the news, perhaps even claim several hours without checking email. Radical thought! Could I perhaps detach myself for an entire day? I certainly want to stay informed, but I’ve become so obsessed with staying informed that I struggle to notice what’s right in front of me just for itself. Spring – gives me hope in the face of the virus. Family – allows me connection despite the virus. My own health – is at risk because of the virus. Coronavirus has become such a prominent background that it overshadows the immediate. Spring, and family, and so much more, are worthy of my full attention, not just in counterpoint to coronavirus. All the responses to it, all the upheaval, all the fear and chaos and the rest of it, will unfold without my attention: sadly, it will still be there when I look more broadly again. But I may have more balance, even be more resilient and effective in my own responses.
So for today: I want to focus on what is close at hand, for itself. The rest of the world will manage perfectly well (or not) without my attention. And perhaps – just perhaps – I can engage with all of the outside better if I really set it down for a while, regularly, and look close by.
Shalom and Salaam,