READING MY WAY THROUGH THE PANDEMIC

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
   let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
   incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
   a strong fortress, to save me,
   for you are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 71:1-3 NRSV

By my calculations, we are now in the 21st month of the Coronavirus pandemic. When it became obvious that it was going to last longer than the originally predicted couple of weeks, the world went into panic mode.

No one knew what to do.

Scientists scrambled to find a cure.

Historians looked to the past in search of similarly alarming periods in antiquity (of which there were many, by the way).

And politicians, in typical fashion, pointed fingers at potential persons to blame.

Distrust was at an all-time high. People turned on each other.

The faith community was no less uncertain about how to go forward. Fortunately, Scripture offers us a myriad of illustrative moments of crisis. In those we can find models on which to fashion a response and direction. And the theologians got busy.

Two of the earliest publications that crossed my desk were Virus as a Summons to Faith, by Walter Brueggemann; and God and the Pandemic, by N.T. Wright. Both were released in April of 2020.

Brueggemann, as is to be expected, relied primarily on the Old Testament prophets, quoting heavily from passages of forgiveness and hope.

Wright’s was more a practical approach, citing examples of how the Christian community has responded in the past. It is more of a “how to” manual of guidance in the midst of calamity.

Both are short, less than 70 pages each. But their brevity should not be mistaken for light reading. They are not to be simply read once and forgotten. I was still in active ministry when they were published, and I found myself returning to them often, for sermon illustrations as well as for personal and group devotions and reflection.

Earlier this year I was introduced to the writing of Steven Charleston, an Episcopal bishop and member of the Choctaw Nation. Though not written with a focus on the pandemic, Charleston’s, Ladder to the Light, presents the reader with a Native American perspective on facing adversity. It was a supplement to my Lenten devotional reading. I quoted from it in March, in a reflection you can read HERE.

I had to resist underlining as I read, otherwise, the entire book would have been nothing but pen marks. It is skillful writing. Not a paragraph goes by that isn’t worth remembering.

What I have found most uplifting, however, is the latest offering from Pope Francis. Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, is totally centered on the Covid-19 crisis. It offers a wealth of advice on how to personally deal with the crisis both as individuals and as a community.

Francis’ style is conversational, as well as comforting. While it is heavy on Catholic Social Teaching, much of what he says cuts across doctrinal lines with the goal of urging us to set aside our divisions and work for the common good.

“To be Christian,” he writes, “is to know that we are part of a people, a people expressed in different nations and cultures, yet which transcends all boundaries of race and language.” (Page 104)

He speaks frequently of a shared destination, shared concerns, shared goals. It is a call to action to do God’s mission in the world.

At this point we don’t know when, or if, we will see an end to this pandemic. As one who doesn’t become easily frustrated, I confess that I’m close to reaching my wit’s end, not so much from the pandemic itself, but from the many and varied reactions to it.

I’m fed up with how it has been politicized, and the stress has seeped into other aspects of our life as a society. All around we see death, anxiety, anger, and every other negative feeling imaginable. It is a wonder that this country and the world hasn’t collapsed under the weight of such a heavy mental burden.

So I find my comfort in my books. Although I try to read much lighter fare, I am not yet ready to take flights of fancy into escapism. That is not meant as a criticism of those who do. It just simply doesn’t work for me. Perhaps someday, but not yet.

But I guess the point of all this is to encourage you to read – whatever satisfies you. Turn the pages and find your pleasure.

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Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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