As we anticipate the impact of the Corona Virus Pandemic, many of us are looking for ways of calming down or finding the inner peace that eludes so many of us in these troubled and anxious times. We are being warned of a tsunami of illness heading our way. How can we prepare? Of course, there are the very practical steps, and the advice is everywhere. But, how can we prepare spiritually?
The search for contentment and wellbeing might go on eluding us if we are not alert to the reality that the ‘ache’ of life is not an aberration, something to be overcome, but a lived reality for all of us at some time. The pandemic is a massive reality check that we are fragile beings, always on the edge of tragedy and loss. This one happens to be on a global scale.
At the heart of the Christian message is the story that tragedy is a part of what it is to be human. It is about learning, as Jesus did, to live with and through tragedy, rather than imagining that we can live our lives avoiding it or pretending that this is not a reality.
Coming from our tradition, which is based on the idea of suffering and the cross, it has always fascinated me how difficult it can be for the church to get its message across. People struggle with the idea of a tradition underwritten by taking suffering seriously. It might seem counter-intuitive, but success is not really a Christian word, and sometimes you are nearer to the point of it all in suffering and crisis than you are in the midst of wellbeing.
I think people who are sceptical think that Christianity is all about keeping our fingers crossed for a better life on the other side of death, when, in reality, it is about grace, kindness, humanity and compassion at work in the midst of the ‘ache of life’. This is what Jesus means when he invites his friends to ‘love one another, even as I have loved you’. (John 13:34). His love took him all the way to Calvary and beyond it to the mysterious community of compassion, tenderness and love that is his risen body at work in the world.
This is what makes us truly human, and taking the stuff that life throws at us seriously and enabling those experiences to shape us is what produces some of the world’s finest people. I read many years ago a reflection on the story of Jacob in the Book of Genesis (32:30) when he is supposed to have seen the face of God.
The writer, Frederick Buechener, asked the question, what would Jacob have seen? He answered, ‘he would have seen a face like that of Christ, half ruined by suffering and fierce with joy’. Some of the most wonderful people we are ever likely to meet are people whose eyes sparkle with laughter that is never far from breaking out across their faces, but their eyes are also pools of profound sadness and compassion as they feel the suffering of their fellows. In times like these, we may not be able to reach out with our hands, but we can open our hearts.
– Richard Frazer