In the small New England town my wife and I call home, cars no longer bustle through the downtown as most eateries and boutiques have indefinitely flipped their “Open” signs to “Closed.” I still hear the train most mornings but know it’s been running a reduced schedule, full of empty seats, heading to and from a city that’s now a shell of itself. The walkers, joggers, and bystanders the spring weather beckons outside is less for leisure but a temporary reprieve from the confinements of our quarantined quarters. The sidewalks outside an AA meeting place are barren; the congregants no longer idle outside.
COVID-19 brings about a new normal: remote schooling, working from home, losing a job, contracting the virus, fighting the virus. And with it comes the unsettling idea that we may not be as in control as we thought. With many of our daily rhythms off-beat, anxiety and concern creep closer towards the surface. CS Lewis’ thoughts on the anxiety World War II produced shed light on the war-like predicament today. He writes,
“The war creates no absolutely new situation, it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.”
The permanent human situation’ is our longing for ultimate security. When calamity strikes, what we cling to for meaning gets displaced. Worry sets in, and rightfully so, for the things we’ve lost along the way; playdates, parties, jobs, freedoms, loved ones. We’ve lost control and don’t know what to do.
For me, my loss of control has intensified my need to regain it. And my means of regaining control often falls in line with socially acceptable practice and analysis. My false sense of security works its way into the suds of my 20-second hand wash and the shelves of my well-stocked pantry. It nods approvingly at my reliable news feed and my support of local businesses. But it also all too readily focuses on the times my hands touch my face rather than fold in on themselves in prayer. And while these practices and habits are vital and quite literally life-saving, they also make for efficient blinders to the anxious shadow that’s holed up in quarantine with us.
In this time of need I’ve often thought back to the time Jesus asked his disciples to feed a crowd of five thousand with the remains of a meager lunch. I’ve thought of the disciples’ doubt and how I too would scoff at Jesus’ simple plan to create something out of nothing and give it to everyone. In front of thousands, people who were hungry for probably more than just food, he calls them all to sit, be still, and brings what he has to offer to us.
And like all good gifts, the good news of the Gospel meets us with surprise, in our shared need, at just the right time. Like bread and fish for the hungry. Like ships of Mercy and Comfort coming to the sick and needy. Like a bleeding and lamenting Savior on a Roman cross for the likes of you and me. Like an empty tomb whose short term tenant comes and knocks at the doors of our isolation.
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