“What now?” – two small words that hold a lot of power. They represent crisis, turning point, choice. A few days ago, Muslims celebrated Eid, the end of the month of fasting, repentance and almsgiving that, like Lent, should be a time of rethinking one’s life and annually asking the question “What now?” thus hopefully raising the bar for how one practices the faith. This weekend, Christians celebrate Pentecost, the end of the Easter season.
When the disciples experienced the crucifixion of their leader, it was undoubtably an agonizing moment of asking “what now” as their dreams and direction abruptly vanished. At the resurrection, the question quickly flipped again as they tried to make sense of how drastically this affected their lives going forward. Then Jesus left them again, and in his challenge to go forth, he gave them another big “what now” to digest.
Our world seems to be at a critical turning point as well. As we wonder how much longer the dying will go on and economics will suffer, there are so many unknowns. Some “what now” questions have no predictable answer. No one can say when there will be another round of infections, or even if this one is still spiking. No one can predict when we will have effective vaccines so this killer can be in the rearview mirror like polio or smallpox.
However, there are many answers to the question that are within the power of leadership. The answer to “what now” can be decisions about health care improvements, better care of the most vulnerable, emergency preparedness and cooperation. Since we live in a democracy, the driver behind the leadership is each of us. What now? Will we accept our responsibility to vote and to hold our elected leaders accountable? Will people of faith challenge policies that go against their moral imperative for the protection of all vulnerable people?
As members of the civic community, we have to ask “what now” in our own localities. The past few weeks have exposed shocking incidents of racism. While moral people choose to decry the injustice, violent and criminal people have chosen to fuel and take advantage of the chaos. While people in economic hardship choose to plead reasonably for opening the economy, angry and armed people have chosen to wave weapons and spew insults. While people who care about their fellow citizens try to observe healthy practices, selfish and irresponsible people have chosen to gather carelessly disregarding whom they might contaminate. “Do unto others” and “love thy neighbor” can easily be lost in a crisis.
Beyond the questions surrounding citizenship and community, there are plenty of “what nows” for individuals. For many, their whole lives have been upended by personal or financial loss. They are unwillingly faced with huge questions going forward. For others, personal relationships may have been challenging or lifechanging. In our last few columns, various sisters have reflected on ways in which this pandemic may have brought people to a new awareness of their interior life. What now? Will we be more caring, more prayerful, more appreciative? Will we head in a new direction in life or at least give the old way a tune-up?
The apostles, between the Ascension and Pentecost, thought the answer to “what now” was to hunker down in fear once again. Pentecost was the ultimate answer out of the blue. Each person of every race and language got a huge shot of encouragement, indeed of courage. If only all the people of all the nations that have been struck with this pandemic could be open to an infusion of the spirit of love and hope and goodwill, the answer to “what now?” would be a new era of peace and cooperation.