There is a quote attributed to philosopher Soren Keierkegaard that says: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I think this is a very apt saying in these days. In my pastoral visits and talks with people over the past few days, the conversation has often paused around current events for a time. Top among these events, of course, is the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s related happenings:
– Should school resume? If so, how? In person or online?
– When will we all be able to come back to church? As it used to be?
– When will this (virus, time of caution, etc.) be over?
– What will life (ministry, work) look like post-virus?
Many of these questions are forward looking. But they also carry a yearning for understanding that may only be available in hind sight – that is by looking backward. This makes me ponder the relationship between the choices we make to move forward, and how they will be judged when at last we can look backwards. Do you follow?
Every big choice I have made in life has eventually left consequences and outcomes in its wake. The choice to pursue an education is a forward looking choice, that year’s later can yield an economic and quality of life history. The choice to marry, and whom to marry, is one that couples make with great anticipation. Then, in the blink of an eye, they are looking back on 10, 20, 30, 40 or more years of marriage and the legacy they’ve created.
Choices on where to work, who to work for and with, and where to live often shape our lives for years at a time and evermore. In similar fashion those who served a chapter or career in military service often find their life marked by that chapter, while it may be relatively brief in comparison to the remainder of their life story.
Will we look back, some day, at 2020 and it’s unwanted virus? I’m sure we will. But what will we look back on as we try to understand it? No doubt, there will be scientific studies (physical, medical, social and political science) regarding the virus. These will be read and parsed with great care in order to understand, assign blame, and avoid repetition.
Will there be a corona baby boom to look back on, the roots of which go back to that time of being locked down at home? Will there be career changes? How about operational changes for business, churches and schools? Will more people work from home from now on? Or will there be a shift back to more in-person gatherings when this time of separation is over?
Will church always have more of an online presence from now on? Will ministry staff and priorities become more cognizant of persons who join virtually, even post-covid? Will how we staff (paid and volunteer) congregational life be different? What will our current forwards living reveal when we take a breath and look back?
How about in terms of personal spiritual practices? Will we have learned to pray and worship differently? Will some of that, all of that, stay with us? What about priorities in how we spend our time? I’ve heard from several people who’ve said they’ve welcomed more time at home, more time with family, less driving or commuting time. Will those welcome patterns be lost or preserved?
My point in raising these musings is that the forward living we are engaged in now, just like the living we did before it, impacts how we think, learn, love, gather, worship, serve, and live. So, perhaps we should always be more thoughtful and aware of how we are living forwards, even when we’re not in a pandemic? Maybe we should strive to become a more self-aware people, which may mean continuing to live at a pace that is more conducive to such things. Maybe this will be one of the gifts of this time that we will name and recognize, and even miss, when at last we can look back.