In-Sight: January 2021

“A New Normal?”

Living in the pandemic for a little over a year, we find ourselves asking, “Will there be a new normal?”

As I have read articles in which the question is raised, it is an expression of anxiety, hope, and longing. I offer my response to the question from those three vantage points.

Anxiety….this is the place of fatigue. The past year has worn us out, not only through its sickness, sadness, and stress but also by its revelations of how low we can go individually and collectively. Our egotism and ethnocentrism has ridden roughshod throughout the land.

We have once again exposed the hard truth of how far we can go into inhumanity when we live in the flesh rather than the Spirit. We are naturally anxious in times like this, wondering if the underbelly of existence will persist.

When we ask, “Will there be a new normal?” in this regard, it is an indication of our fear. And as Henri Nouwen so often said, when we live in the house of fear, we must move into the house of love. [1] Anxiety is a means through which we hear God’s call to leave the “far country” and return home. If we do so, there will be a new normal.

Hope….this is the place of faith (Hebrews 11:1). Hope is not a polyanna positivity based in fancy; it is a considered confidence rooted in revelation. It is the conviction that God is with us (Immanuel), and that God’s presence is an active presence walking with us through our darkest valleys (Psalm 23:4).

Hope is not something rekindled as much as it is the thing which keeps the candle of faith from going out in the whirlwind. It is the conviction expressed in the hymn phrase, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” [2]

When we ask, “Will there be a new normal?” in this regard, it is an indication of our trust. Hope is our way of telling ourselves and others that we are not defined by circumstances, but by principles, two of which are that the arc of the universe bends toward justice [3], and that light is is the primal element for life. In our hope we choose light. [4]

Longing….this is the place of resolve. Longing includes our wishing but goes beyond it to willing. Longing is desire that’s decisive. Longing means we are committed to enacting what we envision.

When I think of the place of the will in spiritual formation, I remember Dallas Willard, who emphasized the importance of willfulness in the spiritual life. [5] Longing is the way we remind ourselves that renewal is never automatic. We must respond to grace. In the words of St. Francis, we must pray to be instruments of God’s peace.

When we ask, “Will there be a new normal?” in this regard, it is an indication of our involvement. We are co-creators with God in the creation of a new normal. As John Wesley put it, “Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.”

So….will there be a new normal? That is a question yet to be answered so far as the extent of it is concerned. But when we ask it in the contexts of anxiety, hope, and longing the answer is, “Yes.” There will be a new normal when and where love, trust, and resolve prevail.

[1] Nouwen’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ is a good place to see this movement. He also describes it well in ‘The Inner Voice of Love.’

[2] Hymn, “This is My Father’s World.”

[3] I attribute this phrase to Martin Luther King Jr., but I am not sure it is original with him.

[4] Paul Chilcote and I have co-authored, ‘Living Hope’ as a resource for recovering it in our day.

[5] The Dallas Willard Institute is the means to explore his thinking in more detail, not only about the importance of the will but also its place in the larger process of spiritual formation.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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