“Tentative Reflections on Our Pandemic Moment”
Message from Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey
We are in the early phases of ‘opening up’ after a very strict ‘lockdown’, in this season of Covid-19 pandemic. Even this news of opening up, however, cannot help but remind us of all we have being going through for the past 10 weeks (at the time of writing) as households, as cities, as countries and as a world. It has been unbelievable and it will be a long time before we fully absorb, understand and process what we have experienced and continue to experience.
I believe it is way too early to articulate a fulsome evaluation of key lessons to be learned in this pandemic moment. God’s wisdom suggests to me that our cathartic task at this moment is to articulate, but not rush past, the pain and grief and sadness and surprise and irritation and ‘whatever’, we are experiencing. As well, that cathartic task also calls us to acknowledge and celebrate the love, and courage and support and sacrifice and hope and prayer and recovery and care and compassion, which we have offered, received and witnessed.
I believe this kind of extensive naming of our present moment, though not totally comprehensive, acts both to subvert any denial about how bad things are, as well as to honour the courageous and resilient responses of so many. I am reminded of two very different songs that speak to this naming; one that names the shattering of life and dreams, and one that proclaims the involvement of God in our recovery.
You might remember that raw, emotionally-laden rendition of
I Dreamed a Dream in Les Miserables, sung brilliantly by Anne Hathaway. Here are some of the lyrics
I dreamed a dream in times gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
with their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame
…I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed
As well, there is this simple and comforting song by David Haas called We Will Rise Again (based on Isaiah 40:31)
Like a shepherd I will feed you; I will gather you with care.
I will lead you and hold you close to my heart.
Chorus: We will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength. And we will fly like the eagle, we will rise again.
I am strength to the weary; to the weak I am new life.
Though the young may grow weary, I will be their hope.
Lift up your eyes, and see who made the stars.
I lead you, and I know you, I call you each by name.
Fear not, I am with you; I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; uphold you with my hand.
The people of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures have been naming pain and suffering as well as praising God’s provision of restoration and healing for a very long time. These Scriptures give us language, framed in emotional and spiritual authenticity, that we can use in times of trial, suffering, tribulation and recovery.
“Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” Psalm 6:2-3.
“Why do you stand far off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?” asks Psalm 10:1 plaintively.
And more: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?” (Psalm 13:1).
And there is that terrifying cry we recognize from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
The Scriptures also make readily available speech and testimony about God’s rescue and intervention.
“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. Psalm 30:2
And in the same Psalm, Verse 11 proclaims “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
(2 Timothy 4:18).
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,”
(2 Corinthians 1:10).
As well, God commissions us to be agents of God in healing and in the bearing of each other’s burdens. “Carry one another’s burdens, and in so doing you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1)
Professor of Philosophy, Sam Ben-Meir, shares a similar belief about our mutual burden-carrying responsibility to one another, particularly in this season of Covid-19. He writes:
“A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world”
Certain guidance can also be derived from questions posed in previous pandemics. In the 3rd century C.E. (249 to 262), under Emperor Dionysius, approximately 5,000 people were dying every day. This pestilence was the second of two pandemics which marked the very first transfers from animal hosts to humanity.
At that time, Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage writes:
“How fitting, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one, and examines the mind of the human race, asking whether or not those who are healthy are caring for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, and whether doctors are refusing to abandon the afflicted in their charge.”
In the spirit of Bishop Cyprian, now it is our turn to ask ourselves and each other questions.
In this month of June, we have entered into the liturgical season of Pentecost…celebrating God’s Spirit at work in us and in the world.
What are some of the questions we have in this time of Pandemic?
What is God teaching me/us in this season?
What would we like to see taking place? What else can we do to be agents of God’s burden-bearing and blessing?
(Ask your own questions