To Be or Not to Be

I cannot help but violate my own rule. The writing of this piece is at odds with the message I mean to convey. Were I to live out that message, I would not write this. But write it I must or at least, will, because not doing so violates the importance of the message; an importance that would be urgent if it were a call to action, which it is not. It is a call to being. As a call to being it cannot be urgent though it may be timely.

By “being” I do not mean it as the line from Hamlet means it. It is not about pondering the merits of existence. It is about simply existing or being. This is not to imply thoughtlessness or whatever is the opposite of mindfulness but rather to convey a sense of relief of not having to do one damn thing. It is completely surrendering the notion of an ought or a must that we should do or accomplish.  The pandemic is a direct assault on the “can do” of our culture. The thing we must do is “nothing” and that seems to many to be too much to ask. 

Before the “ought” critics assail me with their truths that “being is a privilege reserved for the few” or that “surrendering responsibility is nothing but self-indulgent laziness” I would say that doing is also a privilege and that in fact, privilege is closely tied to what a particular person is permitted to do. I would also say that “doing nothing” is the absolute hardest thing to – (do, achieve, reach-doing even commands my language here)  and that resisting the urge to do or accomplish is virtually impossible in a guilting and shaming age. 

What I’d like to “do” is have the serene nowness of a dog who can neither hope nor dread (but can anticipate, which is different). I’d like my doing to proceed from my being in such a way that my freedom to do or not to do is based on my ability to be or not to be. Therefore, I do not call for privileged avoidance or narcisstic indulgence but I do resist the notion that I am a doer first and a being second. In theology, grace affirms being and justice affirms doing. Give me too much of the former and I become ignorant, calloused, and nauseating. Give me too much of the latter and I become preachy, obnoxious, and predictable.

I have said elsewhere that the more accurate way of defining Original Sin is to say that we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Doing no harm has never been an option. Doing causes harm. Being causes harm. Doing can heal. Being can heal. It is never one or the other but always both together.

I am going to stop doing now and try to be (technically one cannot try to be) by breathing and quieting my thoughts. For many, this article would have gone down easier if I had named it, “The importance of meditation” but such a title urges you to do something and converts being into an exercise. So to all I say “stay home if you can,” “go to work if you have to” but by all means try to “be” more because no matter what you are doing, something or nothing, we humans do better when we learn to be better. 

2 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be

  1. Nicely put, John, particularly your closing lines. I have commented to members of my congregations “that we are not meeting for this brief time precisely because we support life, and we love one another too much to endanger any one of us.” Thus we choose to be a community of love by not coming together as a community, for this time. What we shall be when we are able to gather will not be the same, for sure. But sometimes the harm done by being or doing (as you are placing the terms) can give rise to new modes of being and doing that would not have been or done without the being or doing of the thing that was perceived as being harmful.

    1. Thank you Craig. We often think in similar ways.

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