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  • Reverend James Squire

Metanoia: Is That All There Is

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Photo by Ross Findon

The Philadelphia Inquirer 9/20 had a section in the paper on “Life Interrupted”. People from all walks of life were asked to comment on how their lives were changed during the Pandemic. A bartender indicated that, “Every once in a while I check with my co-workers and say: How have you been? You’re good? You’re trying not to lose your mind?” Talking about that and thinking about that is really difficult. It is a cloud over everything.”

A sports’ broadcaster reflected: “I think that the silver lining is that it has given me more opportunities to really think about what I want from life.”

Never let a good crisis go to waste. Learn and experience something that changes your life.

“Is that all there is, my friends, then let us keep on dancing.” is the refrain from a song made famous by Peggy Lee. It grows out of a sense that there is something missing in our lives that we don’t realize until we are challenged by experiencing a life changing time such as the Pandemic. The verse ushers in a moment that is referred to as metanoia in the Greek which is a change in one’s life as a transformative experience of the heart or a spiritual conversion.

The event in Christianity that is often associated with metanoia is the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus when he is transformed from being someone who persecutes Christians to someone who takes the Gospel into the world.

Events such as the Pandemic have caused many people to feel “that there is a cloud over everything” until they see the sun that enlightens them that there is more to life than what I have experienced. They are disappointed at first, but that disappointment propels them into a new way of seeing what really matters. They expect more. The Pandemic puts the brakes on just “moving through life with each day feeling like the day before”. That is the soil that leads to making a difference in your life and others in gestures that take you out of yourself and turn it to helping others such as the bartender began to experience. “How have you been? You’re good? You’re trying not to lose your mind?”

Metanoia can be dramatic such as the lonesome words of Peggy Lee saying and singing that haunting melody or the pivotal conversion of St. Paul. But often metanoia comes in more subtle words such as “what do I want out of life”. Usually the answer is “more”.

We can see the dramatic in three of my friends who were corporate lawyers who decided after 9/11 that they wanted more from life than what they were getting in the corporate world. They set that vocation aside and became teachers and coaches of young people. Their metanoia is clear for all to see. But there is more subtle metanoia like the rise of enrollment in independent faith- based schools after 9/11 where parents wanted to have an environment where their children would be getting a spiritual/ethical context for shaping their lives. They wanted a values inculcated education to have more of a possibility of their children leading an ethical life as opposed to a “winner take all in any way you can” mentality.

“Is that all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing.” is the soil from which meaning and purpose can grow. Who knows what changes for the good could evolve from something so insidious as the Covid-19 flu. Don’t be surprised if the Pandemic changes people along the way who want more from life by asking and acting on caring questions of others.

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