The coronavirus has tightened its grip, making the world a dramatically smaller place. As self-isolation turns from option to imperative, our personal world is shrinking too. In a lockdown, frustration becomes inevitable, but there is nothing to be gained from venting it. We must remember that we are confining ourselves for the sake of others and that our customary freedoms have always been a privilege. Now, deprived of some of them, we can learn lessons in fortitude and resilience, but also in generosity, public-spiritedness and compassion.
This crisis reveals much about mankind. It exposes the dangers of exploiting of God’s earth and the other species that live upon it. It shows how fear can take hold more quickly than even the most novel virus. Plagues, from Biblical times to the 21st century, have shaped history and there are lessons to be learned from the way we respond to them. A plague needs a host, but that host finds ways of coping with the plague and, ultimately, of overcoming it. If we put our faith in nothing – if we panic, acting blindly and incoherently – we become powerless and we will lose the battle. If we put our faith in God, we can find a way to purity, peace and the common good. The words of Psalm 91 could hardly be more relevant:
Whoever goes to the Lord for safety,
whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty,
can say to him,
“You are my defender and protector.
You are my God; in you I trust.”
He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers
and from all deadly diseases.
As COVID-19 holds increasing sway, we are all learning that, through no fault of our own, we can lose control of aspects of our lives. Technology puts so much at our fingertips – we have become virtual masters of information, interaction and transaction – but the dynamics are vastly different when it comes to climate change or a pandemic. At a time of global crisis, by surrendering to God we embrace humility and learn compassion. All the world’s people are in this crisis together and – as the current stream of Italian obituaries makes only too clear – many are suffering more acutely than we are. Equally, many people are devoting their energies to caring for the sick and to maintaining the infrastructure and systems upon which we all depend.
Just weeks ago, we did not foresee how our physical horizons would narrow and our unmediated interaction with the broader world would diminish. Perhaps this unexpected separation from society can become an opportunity to reassess our lives and maybe even experience a rebirth. This is about far more than self-preservation or even the protection of those dear to us. During and beyond the time of Lent, we are being tested in our own 21st century version of the wilderness. But we must still take time to care for one another in whatever way we can, whether face to face (taking suitable precautions), through charity or with the aid of technology. If we now have social distancing, we also have social media. Families and friends can keep up with FaceTime; livelihoods, education and training can be assured through online collaboration; theatrical and musical artists can perform in real time on digital channels, conveying their messages to a far greater audience than a roomful of people.
This is a moment for us to look at where we are now, where we came from and where we are going, to build and deepen our relationship with nature and with God. By seeking to know what this pandemic can mean for our lives, we will awaken deeper, life-enhancing truths. These will form the warp and weft of our spiritual fabric and strengthen our relationships with the people around us – even those whose response to the crisis we might initially find impatient, selfish or even foolish.
Life has many mysteries, but if we are not brave enough to ask questions and find answers, we risk seeing the world as merely haphazard and perilous, a place in which we simply aim to survive. On the contrary, the world is a place in which we must feel empowered to exercise a productive influence. For now, as we batten down the hatches, we need to be patient, to remain calm and confident, and above all – as St Teresa of Avila so eloquently reminds us – to trust in God.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
John Studzinski, CBE is co-founder and chair of the Arise foundation, which develops and supports frontline networks that are seeking to abolish modern slavery.
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