Into the Woods

Don’t go into the woods. Unless you bring bug spray. And a vaccine. And unbiased information. And the Gospel.
An article (by Mark Torregrossa) posted last month on shared that there is a “tick explosion” underway in Michigan this season. Michigan State University entomologist Howard Russell confirmed that twenty years ago, it was difficult to find a tick in the Lower Peninsula; but since then, there has been a dramatic increase in dog ticks and deer ticks (which are more properly called black-legged ticks) and are the ones which can transmit Lyme disease. I know a pastor who was infected with Lyme disease. He’s now confined to a wheelchair.
And this explosion can be attributed to subtle changes in weather patterns which have provided better breeding and survival conditions for these ticks. For example, ticks like to overwinter in wet leaves because the moisture keeps their bodies from drying up; and ten of the last fifteen winters in the Great Lakes have been wetter than normal. These observations have been correlated with scientific measurements.
In March 2020, I anticipated that before the pandemic was really, truly over, there’d be people who’d act as though it really was completely over, and put others at risk. And that even when the pandemic was really, truly over, there’d be people who’d act as though it wasn’t even close to being over, and who’d perhaps stay home from church even when it was safe(r). But pandemic life isn’t “full on” or “full stop.” It’s not like a light switch. It’s more like a rheostat. It’s subject to the subtle changes in activity by individuals and groups, like the undulating patterns of bird flight we see in murmurations (see May 2020 newsletter). And the trend lines we’ve been monitoring for the past fourteen months –– either up or down –– have and continue to be fueled by both individual and corporate behavior; e.g. going out only where and when we need to vs. going to Miami Beach for spring break. And getting vaccinated is one of the most effective things we can do to ensure that this particular pandemic ends sooner rather than later. Yet being vaccinated has become not politicized, but partisan-ized; though I don’t remember and can’t find any such similar reaction to the polio vaccine when I received it in (about) 1960.
Now when it comes to the unbiased information (aka “the news”), there’s spin and there’s spin. Fox News and MSNBC both put their own spin on the top stories, hoping to sway viewers closer to their side. To their perspective. And they do what they can to make the other side seem as suspect as possible, in order to reel in those who are “undecided.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola was a psychological and spiritual genius. He developed the Spiritual Exercises, which include the insight and caution, that decisions which seem expeditious in the short run, may in fact be disastrous in the long run. That what seems like consolation, may in fact be desolation. And somewhat counter-intuitively, that decisions which at face value seem disastrous, may in fact turn out to heap blessing upon blessing. So it’s up to each one of us –– both individually and in community –– to wade through the spin and the science and draw our own conclusions. And sometimes, for some decisions, we must make them in community.
The Christian life may seem simple. All we have to do is follow two commandments. That’s all we’re asked to do. Not the 613 of the Jewish Scriptures. But only two. But it is difficult. It is challenging. Because we’re asked to follow the Two Great Commandments: To love God with all our heart, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But the 613 leave little room for interpretation. The two do.  And in following these two, we’re asked to make, to discern, both trivial and monumental decisions. Do I pick up my neighbor’s trash can that’s been blown away by the wind? Do I vote for the candidate who thinks (or at least says) that global warming is a hoax? Do I believe the new voter suppression laws are warranted? Do my decisions impact anything more than the here and now? Or do they impact the natural order and supply chains and foreign economies and families being able to feed their children far beyond my ability to know? The Gospel asks us to consider the long term ramifications of our decisions by asking us to love our neighbors not only as we love ourselves; but as God loves them too.
The forest is an ancient archetype which symbolizes the mental journey of going into the mind and soul. It is a dense place where monsters and witches and fear lurk deep in the woods and can dig in like a tick; but that’s where we also find the secret castle with its unfathomable treasure. So enjoy your summertime times away, and if you go into the forest of your mind, bring some bug spray and the Gospel.
Rev. Mike

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family. He relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the ELCA N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and in July 2020, he finished a two-year practicum to become a Spiritual Director.