Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Pandemic: Faith and the Fragility of Being Human

At the beginning of September 2020, the world continues to pass through various kinds of unusual and uncertain situations in the ongoing effort to control the spread of coronavirus, treat those who suffer from it, and learn more about it.

Some places have loosened restrictions (e.g. careful attempts are being carried out in Virginia and other U.S. States to reintroduce at least some measure of in-the-classroom education). Other places (such as parts of Latin America) are seeing a return of restrictions due to a flare-up of new cases.

Meanwhile industries and patterns of employment have changed, people have lost jobs, businesses, livelihoods, and it's difficult to imagine how the longer term impact on human society will unfold. And people continue to lose loved ones, compromise their own health, or at least live with an ongoing anxiety about health problems and the continually shifting practices judged necessary to stay safe.

People are afraid. They are battered (physically and/or psychologically) into exhaustion and traumatized by this ongoing vivid experience of their own profound vulnerability.

This overextended fear keeps people in a state of tension, always aware of the threat of great personal losses if the objects of these fears were suddenly to come upon them. Indeed, at this point, every scenario for the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to entail one form or another of loss, diminishment, and suffering for at least some people. We may become sharp and belligerent, or obsessive beyond all practicality, in our efforts to protect ourselves from being among "those people." Underlying these aggressions, howerver, is fear and anxiety fueled by the recognition that we don't have the power to guarantee, absolutely, our safety. The fear of loss, and the experience of loss, are traumatic to our human frailty.

No doubt this trauma is intense for those who see their horizon of attainable happiness as limited to the empirical world that they can measure - to a world that holds no promise for transcendence. Indeed, it is terrifying to be helpless and alone and losing something (or someone) into the void of a meaningless universe that is not held in the hands of Infinite Love. So many people are afraid that life has no meaning, that love doesn't win in the end, that everything is swallowed up by nothingness.

But we who believe in and worship God are hardly strangers to this fear and sense of helplessness (and if we are honest, the fact that faith doesn't simply take away our fears and the experience of our human frailty can be unsetting in itself). But this really isn't so surprising, because faith does not replace or eliminate our humanity. Ultimately we walk by faith in the One who is true, good, beautiful, but also the Infinite Mystery. Faith does not "resolve" the mystery of God or of reality; rather, it brings the mystery closer to us, yet in doing so it also gives us a path and a reason to hope even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Mystery has entered the history of our lives. Jesus didn't say He had come to explain the often difficult ways and obscure challenges of our lives. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He said, "follow me" not to form an exclusive club, but (among other things) to draw us more intensely into the experience of being human, all the way to the Cross.

So even in faith we feel this great fragility of being human, this "helplessness" - but we learn that it is rooted in our need to live in dependence on something greater (on the One who lovingly holds our destiny and accompanies us and every human being). Even in the anguish of our lives and the feeling of fear and loss, He is opening a path for us and a "space" inside us so He can lead us and shape for us a good and beautiful fulfillment that we cannot yet "understand."

We live in the world with a HOPE for a transcendent fulfillment in which everything is transformed but "nothing is lost." Often we can't see what this means for our concrete aspirations, circumstances, and relationships and why there is frustration and loss (or "sacrifice").

But Jesus sees; He has endured it all and He is risen. He lives (indeed He IS) the fullness of being human and He stays with us.

In this crisis, and in every human crisis, the power to rise above fear and desperation, the power to find courage, comes from the fact that He has raised up our humanity and (whether we are explicitly aware of it or not) He is with us and He is drawing us to Himself.