When will it end?
Our planet has been visited with an affliction that affects all of us.
We cover our faces with masks, isolate ourselves from those we love, abstain from communal celebrations, walk about protectively, worship electronically, send our children to virtual classrooms, adjust to unsought solitude, bid farewell to some who must leave before their time.
We absent ourselves from much that makes us human.
History has known many scourges through which people have persevered, believing the Persian aphorism, “This too will pass.”
What’s unique about our circumstance is that there’s no end in sight. Indeed, many epidemiologists say the invading virus may join the pantheon of permanent world diseases.
The psalmist cries on our behalf, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget [us] forever?”
To live with no end in sight, what will it mean? Three things:
- Live grounded.
Paul Tillich describes God as “the ground of being.” That connects with me.
When the familiar has gone, when I can’t find a point of reference, when I am disconnected from life – when this describes me, I feel the need to be grounded. I want to be in touch with what is reliable and stable.
This “ground” has been spoken of in different ways: an anchor that holds (the hymn writer), a North Star (the poet), being rooted (the writer to the Ephesians), seeking a rock to build on (Jesus in his great sermon).
How can we find this orienting reality? As important as good theology and the knowledge of religious history and actions undertaken for a just society are, no more human and radical action exists than prayer.
It is not a practice reserved just for the contemplatives. Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the great Baptist advocates for justice and one who had profound influence on Martin Luther King Jr., speaks pointedly here.
In his poem, “The Little Gate to God,” Rauschenbusch has left us this counsel: “In the castle of my soul is a little garden gate, / Where at, when I enter, I am in the presence of God.”
- Live “in between.”
That’s where we may be just now – “in between.” Between what has been and what is to come. It’s a period of disorientation and uncertainty.
When fascism was gaining controlling influence in Germany, a publication was born that took as its title, “Between the Times.” It became the main theological voice against Nazi ideology.
One of the journal’s founders said at its start, “It is the destiny of our generation to stand between the times.” Isn’t this our situation?
We must never let ourselves to be captive to what has been or fearful of what the future may bring. We must live “in between.”
What will that mean for us? When St. Francis was asked a question like this, he’s reported to have said, “I would tend my garden.” Might he have meant he would just “keep on” doing what is right and good?
- Live day by day.
It’s not new, the intention to “live one day at a time.” Two millennia ago, Horace counseled, “Carpe diem,” seize the day!
People given to planning ahead and charting a life roadmap may challenge this philosophy. But aren’t there times when we can do no other? When the future is not clear and there’s no end in sight?
The writers of the musical, “Godspell,” were so grasped by a prayer of St. Richard of Chichester that they made it the theme of their show.
“Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.”
Could we do better than to make it our theme too?
Retired pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Edmondson previously served the First Baptist Church of Berkeley, California. He is an alumnus of Berkeley School of Theology and Regents Park College, Oxford University. Edmondson was a founding member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and in retirement taught in the College of Theology at Central Philippine University. He lives in Oakland, California.