Recently I received a copy of an essay about grief and COVID-19 entitled “This Too Shall Pass,” coauthored by Alex Evans, Casper ter Kuile, and Ivor Williams. My personal takeaway was I need to grow as a collective mourner.
However, the most intriguing content was the hope of restoration following the pandemic, following the grief. And believe it or not, they referenced two Old Testament concepts-Sabbath and Jubilee years-as their example. Here’s the excerpt:
The idea of self-sacrifice that leads to rebirth found its concrete application in the ancient concept of Jubilee. In the original biblical context, every seventh year was a sabbatical year: a time of “solemn rest for the land.” No crops were sown. Instead, people lived off what the land produced naturally, with the soil given time to lie fallow so as to maintain its fertility. Then, every seventh sabbatical year was a Jubilee, when in addition to normal sabbatical year observances, land ownership would be reset to prevent inequalities building up, debts canceled, prisoners freed, and everyone would return home.
In fact, Sabbath and Jubilee years were the socio-political version of atonement: a set of concrete procedures for how to correct economic, social and environmental imbalances through resting, slowing down, halting economic activity, and sacrificing the grasping ego that always demands more, in order to protect the covenant.
These principles turn out to be profoundly relevant to our own crisis today. Countries all over the world have released prisoners. Low income countries have seen $12 billion of debt payments suspended. Some governments are moving to find homes for all rough sleepers. Proposals for a universal basic income look closer to being implemented than ever before. With the world economy on lockdown, carbon emissions and air travel are in freefall while air quality has improved dramatically; in many cities, people can hear birds singing or see stars at night for the first time.
2,500 years after the rules for Jubilees were codified in the book of Leviticus, they have bubbled up from our ancestral memory once more.
Is there grieving? Yes. Most likely more than we may have taken time to grasp.
Should we grieve? Yes. It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s restorative.
Is 2020 restorative? Possibly. Looks like that might be up to us. You in?
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Jack Sharp