What Sustains Us?
Updated: May 27
A sunset view from Silver Beach, St. Joseph, MI
In a time of the coronavirus and COVID-19, we all are focused on the practicalities of life – food, shelter, health, employment and income – as we should be and, from an evolutionary standpoint, as we’re designed to be. These are the necessities of life that sustain us. But are they all that sustain us?
In my own spiritual tradition of Christianity, Jesus said that we are sustained not only by these practical things, but by a spiritual connection to the Divine: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4, quoting Moses’ address to the Israelites in the Jewish scriptures, Deut. 8:3).
We need to ask what sustains us, when our lives are constricted out of necessity and concern for the common good, when we are pared down to the essentials.
Certainly, we need to be connected to something beyond ourselves. That connection may come from the people we live with or the friends and family we call on the phone or talk with on-line. Daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute news updates on the coronavirus and events around the world connect us through the internet, perhaps to the point of overload.
Being outside, whether it’s walking around my neighborhood or even better getting to banks of the Wolf River in my town, ties me into a reality that extends beyond my own life to the Life that sustains all of us. And knowing that the river water I’m looking at will eventually make its way into Lake Michigan gives me peace, as I’m unable right now to make my own way to the Lake’s shore.
That kind of connection to the Great Lakes, and all they represent, sustains us in ways that go beyond quantification or easy explanation. And that connection doesn’t need to be tied to a specific religion or spiritual tradition.
In his book, Lake Nation: People and the Fate of the Great Lakes, Dave Dempsey tells the story of Paul Parks, whose family had a home along Lake Michigan in the state of Michigan. A lifelong lover of the Great Lakes, Paul worked very hard in his later years, and with many other folks, to successfully beat back the State’s proposed directional oil drilling under the Lakes.
Dempsey quotes Parks’ daughter in describing her father. “My father didn’t believe in God or the stock market... He believed in the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes. The former as the home of his ancestors – copper miners, ship builders, teachers – and the latter because they represented everything in his life that was true. Everything that was noble. Everything right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Michigan and the Great Lakes were his religion: he drew his comfort and meaning from them.” (pp. 103-104)
So, what is it that sustains you? From where do you draw “comfort and meaning”? These days, we all need to be aware of what sustains us, because these essentials will carry us through.