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A time in life that requires some reflection

This is a time, almost worldwide, when we can agree with Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  The times of the novel A Tale of Two Cities, was for the eye to be delighted with grand cathedrals, but also hunger, illness and poverty that were widespread in the streets.

We are prodded to reflect on these weeks leading to months and then O’Lord, might it be years?  Years, it will be to recover from this crisis, if that is a word that we dare employ?

The contrast can be uncovered in any place we look.  In the May/June 2020 issue of the journal “Book Marks,” a pointed review is given by Jessica Teisch, of a novel by Elena Ferrante, “The Days of Abandonment.” The review’s summary reveals a woman’s descent into what she (the novelist) describes as an “absence of sense.”  This follows a marital betrayal filled with emotion and carnal candor, turmoil, rage, and violence.  The novel “assails bourgeois niceties and domestic proprieties; it rips the skin off the habitual.”

ONE:  RIPS THE SKIN

The Rev. Arnold Lowe, past minister of the Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church wrote, “Whether we like to admit it or not, moral convictions by themselves are no longer enough.  Our moral persuasions must have a spiritual under-girding.

“Perhaps we cannot follow the language of the church or the language of our fathers.  We are not concerned about petty doctrine.  We are not concerned about trivial practices and rituals.  We are not concerned about the things ecclesiastical pitchmen have to say.”  Dr. Lowe urges one to ask for a fresh passion from a Divine Source, not unlike that which empowered the life of Jesus.

With that, we are a people of mercy, wisdom, and compassion.  These words, for some of us may sting.  So be it.  But we need the best voices, the best scientists, the most humble servants in the political realm; the best neighbors, a just economy, and for all of us with a noble conscience that is alive.  There are very few persons who have not been ripped apart by a virus that respects no person. Even animals?  At this time, hearts that can bleed, eyes that can shed tears, and a sacrificial medical profession are desperately needed to sew up the wounds.

TWO:  A DUAL VIEW OF THE PRESENT

In a special programming on April 7, Bill Maher interviewed the Los Angeles Mayor who remarked:  “It’s a mess all over!”  That’s the reality we live in.   The New York Times on Sunday, April 5, printed an essay by Beth Waltemath:  “We Will Need New Ways to Grieve.”  She is the co-pastor who serves the North Decatur Presbyterian Church.   Within her writing, is a personal reflection:  “We can savor the dampness of our tears and the coolness of the water when we wash them away.

We can care for those with whom we are quarantined, if not in the bathing of little feet and anointing of brows; then by taking the time to practice silence together, to offer a long, loving look into the eyes of someone seated a safe distance away or on the other side of the teleconference camera.”

I cite this pastor’s feelings and think of others in the religious community, and that is a large community, laity and various leaders in the religions of the world.  Various reflections, songs, liturgies, prayers, and rites are offered to the God of many names.

Being honest as a seeking pastor, I have appraised my convictions as Methodist (Protestant), Roman Catholic, and skeptic.  I’m still on the road of discovery!  I have bundled to myself a newly baptized baby and also, through the night, held the hand of a church member, unconscious, slowly dying.  The daughters requested that I be by their father’s bedside.

THREE:  LIVING WITH THIS PANDEMIC

We may curse our living or brace ourselves and with those who need to work to provide for our survival, grant our goodwill. The words that we wrestle with in our minds seem not to go away.  I am very fortunate to have by my side a caring, informed wife, Becky, giving encouragement to friends over the phone.

The exchange of emails are a necessity.  Words, and a seldom-employed vocabulary that we stumble over:  Hospital beds, death, shortage of masks, and personal protective equipment, wages, social distancing, unemployed, stay-at-home orders, wages, essential jobs, distance learning, teachers, technicians, religious leaders, Pope Francis, transportation, civil employees, engineers, law enforcement personnel, child-care workers, health industry, nursing homes, Dr. Fauci, recovery, drugs, vaccines, wash hands, money, postponement of weddings/funerals, panic, distribution, government officials, informed and honest journalists, loneliness, statistics, ventilators, etc.

A response to this mish-mash of tribulation and anguish must be seen in the vision of hope.  It’s terrible, of course, but there are persons and resources to bring some sort of end, some kind of peace.

The Sunday edition of the “Star Tribune” (April 5, 2020), carried an obituary for a saintly (so many have said) lady, Sharon Diane Opheim of Buffalo, Minnesota.  Her life was one of living for 23 years with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

She died at age 80 and often spoke of God’s love shared with members of her Lutheran and Catholic friends.  This woman was an inspiration to others and radiated beauty and laughter while living with her own serious health concerns.  Maybe that is the faith we all need to sustain us.