Virus offers lesson in interconnectedness

These past few weeks, many of us have developed new habits and picked up new vocabulary.

We discuss contagion maps and read emails that advise us to wash our keys and credit cards, and show us how to pump gas without picking up viruses.

Some of us wipe down groceries and quarantine our mail.

Cocooning at home, we talk like epidemiologists, expressing our desire to “flatten the curve” and how best to practice “social distancing.”

If we could flash back six months and overhear these conversations, I’d think flattening the curve had something to do with my need to do more jogging and less cake-eating. Social distancing? Must mean taking a step back from the close talker” Seinfeld introduced us to in the ‘90s.

I would never have expected a virus, such a small thing, to bring so much of our planet to its knees.

I also would not have anticipated how it could make me feel more connected to everyone else on Earth.

COVID-19 has in some ways brought us all closer than air travel, the World Wide Web and smartphone technology combined. It has drawn my awareness beyond the people I gather with in person, beyond my “Friends” listed on social media. COVID-19 has reminded me that I—and you—are connected to everyone else.

Everyone.

I saw a couple of images on Facebook recently that I haven’t been able to forget.

The first is a depiction of the spread of COVID-19 by New Zealand cartoonist Toby Morris. It shows how one person can spread it to a few others, who spread it to a few others each and so on:

Illustration by New Zealand cartoonist Toby Morris, from The Spinoff

The second is his depiction of how individual decisions can make a difference in the spread of the disease. By taking action, they did not get sick and, therefore, did not pass the virus along to others:

Illustration by New Zealand cartoonist Toby Morris, from The Spinoff

What I love most about these images is how they illustrate our interconnectedness.

This idea of interconnectedness is nothing new. Back in the 1st century, a man named Paul wrote a letter that said,

“If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.” (1 Corinthians 12:26, The Message version)

He sent that letter to a church he had founded a few years earlier at Corinth in Greece. In it he compared people to parts of the body, illustrating that each is essential in the body of Christ. If we were all ears, how would we see? If we were all eyes, how would we hear?

“The way God designed our bodies,” he wrote, “is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part.”

COVID-19 is reminding me how dependent we are on one another, that what we do and what we don’t do impacts people we’ve never met.

And if that’s the case for a virus, how about for other parts of our lives? What we say and don’t say, what we eat and don’t eat, what we buy, what we pray for, what we spend our time on … even though we might not see immediate impacts, are we not influencing and impacting those around us—possibly even those far away—every moment of every day?

I think of the butterfly effect in chaos theory—the argument that small actions can have large effects … a butterfly flaps its wings, and it sets in motion atmospheric changes that over time can affect the timing and path of a tornado.

Are we, sometimes, that butterfly?

Can we be that butterfly?

Morris’ visuals captured my imagination as I considered the apostle Paul’s assertion that we are one body. I’ve been thinking how much what we do matters to those we know and to those we will never meet.

Here is how I started envisioning this idea—adapting it to what can happen when we see ourselves as one body and recognize our impact on those around us:

My adaptation of an illustration by New Zealand cartoonist Toby Morris

My adaptation of Morris’ illustration depicts the spread of love.

Whether in the time of COVID-19 or in “normal” times, this is how we make a difference in the world … through small efforts that spread the love of Christ — because when we love our neighbors, near and far, they become primed to pass love along to their neighbors who will, in turn, share it with others and on and on.

As Paul writes, “If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”

Perhaps one outcome of this COVID-19 era will be to open our eyes to our dangerous and beautiful interconnectedness, and to live lives that will help everyone share in the exuberance we find.

*

Here is the article where Morris’ animated illustrations originally appeared. While you’re there, be sure to check out his “Alternatives to Handshakes, Hugs, High Fives and Hongi.”

And here is more from Paul:

“What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?

“The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

“You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”: apostles prophets teachers miracle workers healers helpers organizers those who pray in tongues. But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. And yet some of you keep competing for so-called “important” parts. But now I want to lay out a far better way for you.”

1 Corinthians 12:18-31 (The Message version)

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