One year ago, on the first Sunday of fall, I wrote a reflection called “Invincible Summer;” and today, I use the occasion of the second Sunday of fall to revisit the topic. Today, we didn’t hear any words from Albert Camus, who is thought to have originated the phrase “Invincible Summer;” and a lot has changed. But I continue to like the idea of an invincible summer to help us stay in touch with God’s Spirit of Love this fall and winter.
I brought up the topic last fall because we didn’t know how the pandemic would unfold as it entered its seventh month.
Last year, the second wave of the infection hadn’t yet taken shape in the province and there had been fewer than 20,000 confirmed cases and fewer than 300 deaths here. Today we are now in the 19th month of the pandemic, there have been 300,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths in Alberta, and a fourth wave has seen hospitalizations and deaths at their worst levels ever in the province.
Nevertheless, with the arrival of vaccines in December and with every person above the age of 12 having had the ability to be vaccinated for several months now, our approach to the virus has changed. Vaccination doesn’t eliminate the danger of disease, but it lessens one’s chance of being infected and the chance that the disease, if caught, will be as serious.
Many of us believe that if more than 90% of eligible Albertans had been vaccinated, the disease might have disappeared. Unfortunately, with more than 20% of people aged 12 and over refusing to get vaccinated, our health system is being challenged as never before and disease and death continue to spread in heartbreaking ways.
Perhaps if vaccine mandates had been instituted at the beginning of the summer instead of at its end and if they had been more extensive, we might have already seen the end of the pandemic. Almost no one argues that people should be forced to get vaccinated. But if those who are unvaccinated had not been able to enter concert settings, sport arenas, schools, stores, or restaurants – if they had been told, essentially, that they could either be vaccinated or stay home until the pandemic was over – perhaps there would have been no fourth wave.
Most of us have been vaccinated along with billions of other people around the world; and although a tiny minority have had serious negative effects from the vaccines, they have proven to be remarkably safe and effective.
The Alberta government was adamantly against mandates until it reversed course in September; but even this week the Premier said he believes Members of the Legislative Assembly can’t be forced to be vaccinated since, “It’s a long-standing legal principle that you can’t prohibit an elected member from entering the chamber.”
But I am sure the Premier is wrong. If a member tried to enter the chamber naked, they would be prohibited from doing so; and if the Legislature believes that vaccines are important, it can decide to make vaccination mandatory for anyone who enters.
The debate about vaccine mandates has raged everywhere, including among United Church leaders. I am glad that the Mill Woods United Church Council voted to make this building subject to a vaccine requirement on September 1st. Unfortunately, many other churches refuse to take this step citing ethical and constitutional concerns, which are not valid in my opinion.
Churches have innumerable mandates for people who enter their buildings; and when a pandemic is circulating in the community, being vaccinated becomes another — one that is especially important to protect the unvaccinated.
The pandemic is also hard to predict. It may well be that the fourth wave has already crested here or will soon do so; and it may well be that with increasing vaccine mandates and increasing vaccination rates, a fifth wave will be averted. Time will tell. And whenever the pandemic is over in a particular jurisdiction, temporary mandates can also be lifted.
So, I continue to be hopeful as summer has ended and fall has begun. Now its true that the reality of a fourth wave did affect me when I returned from my summer break on August 16. But since then, I have moved from depression, to anger, and beyond that to what I pray is more openness; and some of what has made the latter easier for me are actions here at the church.
For instance, I loved last Sunday’s salute to the church’s own frontline workers. What a great way to be reminded of the contributions of so many people here; and what a gracious display of affection to staff members. Thanks again for last Sunday.
Then there is choir practice. I have loved our gatherings on Wednesday evenings, and I look forward to many more as the fall moves towards winter and the winter moves towards spring.
There is also the physical weather. Many places in the world endured summers with extreme heat, fires, droughts, and/or floods. But at least for urban dwellers in Alberta, summer 2021 felt blessed. There were some days that were too hot (although nothing above 40 degrees, thankfully); and there were painful droughts that affected farmers. But I also wonder if Alberta has resumed its place as a climate change sweet spot. At the least, I enjoyed Edmonton this past spring and summer, and I hope that the fall and winter will not be too harsh this year.
But regardless of the weather, we have faith to help us. The poem by Dana Faulds, which we heard this morning, reminds us that one of our key tasks is to wake up to the moment. Doing so can help us enjoy love and beauty; and help us cope with whatever difficulties the moment yields since they too are just more brief occasions in the eternal now, which is the only place we truly live.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus talks about the beauty of welcoming children. Children’s default mode is to live in the moment, and I imagine Jesus’ call is also partly designed to help us enter the eternal now.
There is much about which we can be alarmed. But when we remember the Spirit of Love guides us, we also remember that in times of both loss and gain our Soul stands in its eternal and unshakeable loveliness. And so, I am sure that even in the darkest and coldest nights of winter, we can touch base with an invincible summer within and remember that Love is all, and Love is everything.
May it be so. Amen