Pandemic patience is paper thin. Truncated versions of worship, the Eucharist, graduation ceremonies, weddings and funerals have frayed the familiar. Far too many lives are lost or compromised. Can we meet the COVID-19 era with anything other than grief, fear, anger, despair or teeth-gritting endurance?

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr describes this as a “liminal time” — a threshold moment bridging “before” and “not yet.” Our solid ground of five months ago is gone; we’ve lifted a foot toward … no one knows what.

Liminal time is unsettling and worrisome. We’re adrift and vulnerable. Frantic voices scream “Free the economy!” “Open the restaurants!” and “Get back to normal!”

But liminal time has its own voice: calmer and quieter. Invitational rather than demanding. It redefines these moments as a pause between worn territory and fresh new ground. It’s a reset for a better future.

The spiritual call of this pandemic is not a reflexive return to accustomed life. Nor is it a safe (if agonizing) wait before easing slowly back to familiarity. “Returning to normal” squanders an opportunity.  Liminal time is not a den of hibernation: an onerous grizzly bear in autumn emerges as the same onerous bear in springtime.  Rather, liminal time is a chrysalis: enter as a crawling caterpillar and emerge as a soaring butterfly!

We must eradicate COVID-19. But other, and arguably more dangerous, ills also cry for healing.  This unintended liminal time can equip us to treat an unholy trinity of plagues:

First, a broken community. The obvious irony of the COVID-19 Era is that we are “all in this together,” yet more universally isolated than at any time in anyone’s memory.

But let’s be honest: the human community was already fractured. “Social distancing” was a distressing pre-COVID 19 reality in the forms of xenophobia, political tribalism, institutional racism, sexism and a host of other divisive, violent and cruel “-isms.”

Nowhere is this clearer than in the persistent stain of the white community’s sin of personal and institutional racism against the African-American community. To our shame it took nearly nine minutes of George Floyd’s gasps for white America to hear 400 years of “I can’t breathe.”

This world will not survive a COVID-19 free world so long as we incubate the virus of dehumanizing our sisters and brothers. In liminal time we undergo deep personal examination. We understand the “other” in our midst and practice radical acceptance of all. Those are but baby steps from the threshold of love. Then, as the Apostle Paul wrote, we can finally “become an adult, and put an end to childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Second, a broken planet. Consider this chilling reality: COVID-19’s physical suffering and socio/economic disruption is a trifling foretaste of the massive consequences of climate change to come.

In his 2019 book, “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,” David Wallace-Wells projects 12 ways in which climate change will severely disrupt human life. One of those — Plagues of Warming — is unleashed or intensified diseases, leaving high loss of life and socio/economic havoc in its wake. Look around: Here is Exhibit A. The 11 other effects will likely be equally or more disruptive.

But it’s not too late. We’ve been given this liminal time to discard our denial and complacency. To reflect, “is this the future we want?” To probe our priorities, reimagine necessary changes, and commit to the massive cooperation required to heal the ¬≠planet.

Third, a broken economy. The global economy favors the wealthy, privileged, powerful and overwhelmingly male, white and well-connected few over the impoverished, disadvantaged, powerless and ignored many. Runaway climate change is a direct result of an economy that demands expansive consumption and rampant environmental degradation. It’s time to toss the idol of “the economy” from the altar.

An economy requiring persistent growth is not sustainable. It drains limited natural resources, disrupts the delicate balance of ecosystems, permanently sickens the planet (and its inhabitants) and widens economic disparity.  If our only path to recovery is to “restart the economy” as we’ve known it, we’ll achieve neither sustainable consumption nor compassionate sharing of resources. We will have colossally failed the opportunity of this moment and our most vulnerable sisters and brothers.

This is an enormously challenging time. The COVID-19 pandemic will not “magically disappear.” Death, sorrow, inconvenience, hardship will continue for one, two, three years or longer. But it’s also a threshold moment. It invites us to embrace and learn from the discomfort, and then move not back to a familiar and dysfunctional past, but forward into a transformed and yet unimagined future. It’s a call to live out the Paschal Mystery from death to life. Where will you spend these moments: In a den of hibernation … or in the chrysalis of transformation?

Henry Frueh, a resident of Troy, is a retired United Methodist pastor, former Community Hospice chaplain, and currently a spiritual director trainee at the Society of St. Ursula’s Linwood Spiritual Center.