Who among us has not felt the deep sense of dislocation over these past many months. As we emerge in different ways as the vaccinations ramp up in the United States, finding a way through that disorientation of dislocation, we need a Holy Spirit presence to navigate every step forward.
Diana Butler Bass, an award-winning author, popular speaker, inspiring preacher, and one of America’s most trusted commentators on religion and contemporary spirituality, recently wrote an article that both defines that dislocation and points a way forward into the future. May you find meaning and purpose in her words:
We’ve been dislocated in four major ways:
1) Temporal dislocation
We’ve lost our sense of time as it existed before the pandemic. How often have you thought: What day is this? What time is it? Did I miss an event? What month is it? That’s temporal dislocation.
2) Historical dislocation
We’ve lost our sense of where we are in the larger story of both our own lives and our communal stories. History has been disrupted. Where are we? Where are we going? The growth of conspiracy theories, the intensity of social media, political and religious “deconstructions” – these are signs of a culture seeking a meaningful story to frame their lives because older stories have failed. That’s historical dislocation.
3) Physical dislocation
We’ve lost our sense of embodiment with others and geographical location. For millions, technology has moved “physicality” into cyber-space and most of us have no idea what to do with this virtual sense of location.
Without our familiar sense of being bodily in specific spaces, things like gardening, baking, sewing, and painting have emerged as ways of feeling the ground and the work of our hands. We’ve striven to maintain some sort of embodiment even amid isolation. But the disconnection between our bodies, places, and other bodies has been profound. That’s physical dislocation.
4) Relational dislocation
We’ve lost our daily habits of interactions with other humans, the expression of emotions together in community. Have you worried you won’t know how to respond when you can be with your friends without distance, with no masks?
How it will feel to be in large groups again? How will work or school feel back in person, with others at the next desk or waiting on customers face-to-face, or in the first in-person meeting? What happens when the plexiglass comes down, the mask is off? That’s relational dislocation.
With these dislocations in mind, the task comes into focus. Surely, religious communities need to be about the work of relocation – finding what has been lost, repairing what has been broken, and re-grounding people into their own lives and communities.
The word religion is believed to have come from the Latin, religare, meaning to “bind” or “reconnect.” Religare is about mending what has been broken, recovering what has been mislaid, and reconnecting that which is frayed.
What is the future of religion post-pandemic? Well, it depends. It depends if we continue to insist on the other definition of religion – as obligation to a particular order of things (like doctrine, polity, or moral action – a “bounden duty”).
If nothing else, the pandemic has revealed that particular orders of things can be upset, overturned by the most unanticipated of things. If religion is about maintaining a certain order of liturgy, dogma, or practice, well, then, we can consider religion one more pandemic loss.
If we think of religion in terms of religare, however, the task of the post-pandemic church – the work of finding, repairing, and relocating – is clear. We must reconnect ourselves and others with time, history, physicality, and relationships.
In this sense, the future of religion has never been brighter – our lost world needs finding. Pandemic dislocation calls for guides and weavers of wisdom. We don’t need to return to the old ways, we need to be relocated. We need to find a new place, a new home in a disrupted world.
And at the very heart of finding our lost selves is relocating our hearts in and with God. There is a journey beyond the pandemic, and we will find the way a step at a time. We haven’t been to this particular future before. And we will need one another to get there.
Peace and hope,