We are living an apocalypse.
This year, we shared 2020 Apocalypse Bingo memes, checking off items like “murder hornets,” “mass hysteria,” and “raging wildfires.” Back in January before the novel coronavirus was given a name, we read articles about the Doomsday Clock inching closer to midnight and felt deep dread settling in our bones. To cope, we rewatched films like Contagion and Wall-E, devoured novels like Ling Ma’s Severance and Lawrence Wright’s The End of October, and shook our heads. “Uncanny,” we muttered, wondering at the prescience with which these writers predicted our 2020 reality.
This year has been a meditation on death and decay, disaster and destruction, doom and gloom. An apocalypse?
The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek apokalupsis, which means, literally, “an uncovering.”
Yes, this year has been an apocalypse. The events of 2020 have uncovered for us what has already been in existence. It has revealed the truth of who we are, what we value, how we choose to be in the world.
I uncovered latent skills (including: origami, cross-stitching, crocheting, jigsaw puzzling), new interests (including: cryptic crosswords, house plants, participating in UUCC worship), and new contexts for existing skills (including: everything I’ve done on Zoom, coordinating 300 volunteers for a campaign in my city council district) during my endless months at home.
I uncovered patience buried in the depths of my soul to tolerate my husband’s lackluster sight-reading as we played through 4-hand arrangements of Mozart symphonies at the piano nightly. I uncovered profound appreciation for him, his baking proclivity, and his willingness to take the lead on all house chores at the end of his long days caring for COVID patients. In my house, 2020 has been an apocalypse, indeed.
Together as a community, we uncovered the scope of righteous anger simmering within us, the will for action to dismantle white supremacy baked into the systems and ethos of our society, and how maybe we weren’t actually motivated by a call for radical transformation but were swept up by trends of the moment.
We uncovered our calamitous selfishness as we “drank away our children’s future” this summer by choosing to reopen bars over schools, decided that vigilance is overrated, and counted on others to make sacrifices so we don’t have to.
We uncovered the priorities of this congregation during June’s annual meeting, as we affirmed a Board resolution inspired by the proposed 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism after a long, tense meeting that was certainly not “business as usual.”
Why do we run from that which is apocalyptic? Perhaps because when the ground beneath us is shaking and structures around us are crumbling, we already know what exists beneath the earth and behind those walls.
But it is only after the pain of uncovering that we arrive at a place of reckoning, of healing, of growth.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia series, the character Eustace Scrubb is transformed into a dragon overnight. His grotesque physical shape is an expression of his greed, self-centeredness, entitlement, and misogyny.
After a journey of self-discovery and internal transformation, Eustace encounters Aslan the lion, who returns him to his human state through a painful descaling process.
Eustace later vividly recounts the experience to his cousin Edmund:
“Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—’You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off— just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”
In the aftermath of his transformation and baptism, Eustace is a kind, selfless boy. No longer does he bully, taunt, sulk, and whine. Instead, he helps others and makes courageous choices outside his comfort zone. It’s a predictable resolution for a moralizing children’s fantasy tale, but I can’t shake this image.
An apocalypse is like peeling off scabby, scaly skin so we can discover the better versions of ourselves that exist underneath. It’s a lion’s claw sinking into our dense, hardened defenses and stripping them away, casting them aside in a bloody, clumpy mess. An apocalypse destroys the bold and indestructible image of ourselves we sometimes project, leaving us small, fragile, and subdued. And in this tender state, we can forge the better versions of who we are, what we value, how we choose to be in the world.
How has 2020 been an apocalypse for you?
And with all the kindness in my heart, UUCC, I wish for you an apocalyptic holiday season and new year.