Our living room has seen a lot of sacred moments. My husband and I got legally married in front of the fireplace, with our pastor, my best friend and future brother-in-law as witnesses (our wedding itself was in another state that wouldn’t allow us to use an out-of-state pastor). We’ve broken bread and drank bottles of wine in countless meals with beloved friends. We’ve delicately held newborn babies and attempted to nap with them on the couches. And, most recently, we’ve had church. My husband likes to turn on the twinkly lights on the mantle, light all the candles, and set up a little altar on our couch table with my old, wooden cross from Belize. The kids are running around and paying no attention, but we manage to get a few holy moments.
In the sermon from this past Sunday, one of our pastors was talking about faith as waiting and watching. Faith means not having black and white answers, but resting in the unknown, and staying calm in the face of mysteries. He quoted my favorite author of all time, Madeleine L’Engle, who I give credit to forming much of my early spiritual development. She was a mystic and blew my mind from early on with her open-handed approach to life and faith and Christianity. She was not afraid of mystery, but embraced it whole-heartedly. So I’ve been ok in gray spaces filled with unknowns and haven’t always needed to find the black and white absolutes.
I’m seeing a lot of talk lately admonishing people to “live in faith, not fear.” I’ve seen it mainly from people who are confrontatiously critical of the government-mandated social isolation and business closures affecting our country right now. “Live in faith” seems to be code for, go about your normal business and trust that God will protect you. When did faith become an anti-viral?
There are so many things wrong with this logic that it’s difficult to know where to start. First of all, God does not promise to protect us from germs. I know a lot of religious people that have gotten sick. Along that argument, for folks saying “no big deal” if they catch COVID-19, it is selfish and unloving to willingly expose yourself and to not prevent that exposure to those you encounter in life. Secondly, the Bible warns us, with Jesus himself providing a strong example, not to test God. Arrogantly saying that God will protect you from the global pandemic because you have faith would have been like Jesus throwing himself off the cliff to be caught by angels when tempted by Satan. Having faith does not mean ignoring science and best practices for healthy living.
I understand the push back against life as we know it getting a hard pause. The financial strain alone is enough reason to freak out and urgently want to reopen businesses. I know businesses that have shut down permanently from this, others that have laid off or furloughed employees (I myself being one of the millions of the unemployed from this virus). People are worried about the businesses they’ve painstakingly built or about keeping/getting a job so they can keep food on the table. There is a lot of stress for everyone right now, no matter your situation. Add to that the American mentality of “each man for himself” and not being in the habit of caring for the well-being of our communities as a whole, and you’ve got people protesting in the streets. (A small number of people by the way, seems bigger than it is from being reported in the news).
“Live in faith, Not fear” to me means that I will respect the recommendations and pleas coming from healthcare experts and front-line staff to stay home in order to stop the spread. I have faith that life will go on if we all do the smart thing and protect each other. And I value life more than finances. I don’t say that to demean people who are worried about their business. But maybe business can start over and rebuild, or get revamped and redefined? I have faith in our creativity and resourcefulness. Maybe we need to grossly overhaul the system and build in more safety nets to protect all of us in these scary situations. Maybe we can all learn to live on less and give up some of our privileged expectations and assumed comforts.
I believe that life is all about love and relationships. In the Bible, it says, “what is important is faith expressing itself in love.” I think it is more loving to sacrifice our financial security, our ability to go out and have fun, our social lives, and our routines in order to protect vulnerable people in our very communities. The numbers are staying relatively low because people have been doing that. The “antibiotics” are working, so don’t stop taking them because we’re starting to feel better.
This is a scary, unique, mysterious new reality we find ourselves in. There are a lot of questions and few concrete answers. So much has changed and will not go back to the way it was before the pandemic. We are living in a gray zone, a world of mystery with an unseen future. The faith that I have is a belief in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-seeing Creator who did not send this as a punishment or a test. I think blessings and challenges come from life itself, the random colliding of a million chance encounters and exchanges. I think that God sees us, knows us, and is present with us if we only pay attention. God will be with us in this pandemic, in our unemployment, while shuttering our businesses and tightening up our belts. God can guide us to live in a spirit of peace, joy and gratitude even in the midst of suffering. Here’s to faith, hope, and love.