I am staggered when I resurface and enter the world for a while by watching the news, reading the newspaper, or checking social media.
For my own well-being and to avoid burnout, I am monastic about my media consumption of late: I read the headlines once daily, in the morning. I choose carefully what I watch or read otherwise, and I try to avoid anything related to the virus. And yet when I do enter these fields, either to gather some updated information or by accident, I can almost smell the fear, the desperation, the panic in my country.
We might die. I could die. So many people are dying.
It’s like the end of the world. This is a nightmare.
I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. I don’t know how to handle this new reality. I don’t know how long I can cope with what is being asked of me, or the fear or anxiety I feel.
It is as though the sudden lightning-quick spread of this virus has laid bare every vulnerability of society, every flaw, every truth that entertainment and work and play otherwise hide. The fear, the desperation, the sense of confusion and depression – will life ever be normal again? – is palpable.
And all of this has made me feel keenly what it means to call myself a follower of Christ.
Because, in truth, followers of Christ are weaned on the knowledge of death. We come to Christ under a curse, recognizing our fallenness and the fallenness of the world. Everything in us and around is badly broken: it is only Christ who saves. This is the fundamental knowledge of salvation.
It is the believer who, solemnly on Ash Wednesday, hears, Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.
It is the believer whose salvation is premised on the gruesome death and resurrection of God.
It is the believer who reads Job and all his nigh-unendurable pain, who reads Revelation, who sees in Scripture how broken the world is, and how it must be redeemed.
It is the believer who has, as a heritage, the good works and the bright names of the saints – but who has also inherited, and remembers, their martyrdoms and their sufferings.
That everything in the world will end does not surprise us. That death and suffering is present and inescapable on earth does not surprise us. And we know that it is only by God’s grace and our belief in the sacrifice of His son, the giving-over of our lives to Him, that we can hope for happiness, grace, or hope beyond it.
The believer knows that everything that is good is from God.
In the book Domestic Monastery, Ronald Rolheiser shares an anecdote about a pastor who, counseling a man with terminal cancer, shares that for the believer, the tragedy is not an early death, but a life lived without sharing one’s love or without being loved. The man, comforted by God, then moves forward into his remaining days with great joy, for he has shared his love for everyone he cares about, and knows he is loved. That is the heart of the Christian perspective: secure as beloved of Christ, we know – although we certainly might succumb to our own fears, flaws, and failings – that death is not the thing to be feared. The world without Christ is.
And so, rather than read the news or delve too deeply, I pray for those who do not approach this worldwide pandemic from the same context that I do, because I can sense the pain and the fear and the panic. I donate where I can, minister how I can, make the effort to be doubly generous. I do as my church has asked and I try to contact ten people a week in one way or another. I sit at the table with my husband and I marvel that, even as the embodied church has been scattered to the winds for an unknown amount of time – even as I feel that sense of fracture – I still feel the presence of my community when I recite the creed with my pastor.
I think the words to myself:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
I am grateful, now more than ever, that God has permitted me to be His. That He has permitted all of us to be His. That He seeks such a thing, desired it, gave His life for it.
Easter this year will be strange. But I suspect it will also, for this reason, be beautiful in ways we could not have imagined before.