421: Readers Tell Us About … coping with communion in a swine flu crisis — and reflections on saints and sages

All this week, we’ve been focusing on good news and hope in
the midst of frightening times. Once again, thanks to readers like you,
we’ve got your feedback to share …


, religious responses to swine flu rose like a rocket.
By mid-week, the World Health Organization moved the alert status
up to the terrifying: “Pandemic is imminent.” Families around the world
are seeing frightening images like the one at right from the Dallas Morning
News showing men scrubbing down equipment at a school
where a child was diagnosed with flu.
    This has been an ominous weekend at worship in many parts of the U.S.! Remember that some churches celebrate Eucharist only on the first Sunday of each month. At one big Protestant church in Michigan near our Home Office, a pastor explained to the whole congregation why clergy had bottles of Purell hand sanitizer near the altar. Worshipers who normally would reach out and pluck a piece of communion bread from a common loaf—instead had it handed to them by a pastor with sanitized hands.
    Our readers have been sending emails all week on this subject,
recommending prayer and pointing out Web sites like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops new page on swine flu awareness at Mass.
Basically, the bishops are calling for calm, for special attention to
hygiene in preparation for Mass—and clearly we’re going to see
localized adaptations.
    Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell announced
just days ago that people can miss going to Mass if they feel sick;
people can decline to “pass the peace;” and in some areas distribution
of Eucharist may be suspended or significantly changed.
    Most importantly, Bishop Farrell said: Pray. Pray for people who are affected, for health care professionals and for calm.
    Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News is all over this story—a reminder of the importance of vigorous newspapers in our communities. Yesterday, Sam reported that one United Methodist church in Texas quickly switched to wrapped communion servings for this weekend.
    AND, tell us what you think about the effort to change the name in media to “2009 H1N1.” Seems like a good idea to us on a number of levels.

Johann Christoph Arnold contacted us to spread word about his
organization’s efforts to promote prayer, calm fears and encourage
helpful action. Arnold is known around the world for his inspirational
books that grow out of the centuries-old Anabaptist movement and stress simplicity,
service, sharing and nonviolence.
    Here’s a link to his complete commentary at the Plough.
    He writes, in part: The fear of death and sickness plays a big part in this panic. Too
often, this fear drives us apart, to isolation and even to mental
illness. If the swine flu is really going to become a global pandemic,
then the only answer is to join hands and work together. And let us
look not only at our own need, but also at the need of others–like
the many families in Mexico who are now having a much harder time than
we. It is only in working together, also on a global level, that we
will be able to face this crisis.

A reader with a background in
Christian Science, Christine Redmond, pointed out that prayer is needed beyond health concerns in this outrbreak. Prayer for
reconciliation and for clarity of vision is needed in our often
all-too-disparaging attitudes toward Mexico. Here’s a link to a commentary Christine published this week on her blog.
In her note to our Home Office this week, Christine wrote:
“ReadTheSpirit is read by thousands. Seems to me we need thousands to
antidote the fear ASAP and the most effective way is through
mental-spiritual-prayerful means.”

    She suggests asking people
to share stories “on how folks are helping combat the Swine Flu
epidemic,” and specifically she points out, “My own first line of
defense is always prayer, especially when what we seem to be combating
is so much FEAR. How are folks praying? What action is this prayer
leading them to take?”

PLEASE, send us notes about your approach to this crisis.


OUR MONDAY STORY WAS HEADLINED: “In tough times, can we be saints? Here’s a “trio” on Saints & Sages!” We reported on a cool new movie about saints by James Martin, SJ, which is great for small-group discussion, plus a new book on saints by an Orthodox theologian—and a new Jewish collection of daily wisdom from great sages.
    We heard from a number of readers who are intrigued by these offerings, especially the DVD that’s great for classes. Martin has a terrific sense of humor—combined with a solid sense of church history. you’ll enjoy that if you’re one of our readers thinking of ordering a copy.
    One of the intriguing connections in the Monday story was between the book by the Orthodox writer, Michael Plekon, and the work of Dan Buttry, author of the “Interfaith Heroes” books. Dan sent us a note this week about his own approach to thinking about saints.

    DAN WROTE: There are so many people who affect each of our lives in a way that helps us learn of God, and most of them are relatively unknown. My wife and I were going through a list of some of the people who have shaped the direction of our lives and our ministries. Some of the main shapers of our lives were people with whom we had lost contact.
the Internet, we were able to contact one of our sages/saints after over 30 years since our last conversation. We shared what we had done and the way that person’s thinking had affected us. His humble gratitude for this gift was sweet to us, for we have been immeasurably enriched by him. We’ve maintained our connection since then.
    While our sages are alive, let us tell them. Sometimes they pay a high price to live and love out of step with the larger world but in step with God, so the word of appreciation can be refreshing to the soul.
    Our sage? Ka Tong Gaw, a sociology professor when we were students at Wheaton College in Chicago, also a pastor of a multi-cultural experimental church. Ka Tong taught us about faith that relishes in and learns from diversity. He taught us about having the courage to speak the truth. He taught us how to hear the hard word we need for our growth. He taught us a love for the world in its brokenness and a love to be engaged at places of pain.

    Peace, Dan.

WHAT A TERRIFIC WAY TO END, TODAY, hmmm? Yes, we’re facing some frightening and potentially tragic situations in the days ahead—but let’s also remember to pass along that “word of appreciation” when we can. Thank you, Dan!


WE RECEIVED SO MANY NOTES this week from readers that we’ll continue a few themes into next week. For example, readers have responded to our story on the new Pew data on “spiritual switching” among Americans. Keep your notes coming on that—we’ll return to the subject next week.
    ALSO, coming Monday—we’re going to equip you with creative and inspiring reflections on “Star Trek,” which zooms back into the lives of millions of Americans next week! Stay with us through it all …


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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