COVID-19 and the healing of our sight
I’ve been noticing signs outside churches since we’ve all had to cancel our services and lock our doors. The messaging ranges from simple and moving to comical:
NO MASSES – PLEASE PRAY
CHURCH CLOSED – KEEP IN TOUCH – BE KIND
GERMS ARE EVERYWHERE, SO IS JESUS – BE NOT AFRAID
I’LL MEET YOU AT YOUR PLACE – GOD
We’ve been plunged into extraordinary times, and the ways we see and respond to this are critically important if we’re to find healing for our bodies, our communities and our spirits.
In today’s gospel story of Jesus healing the man born blind, there’s a pivotal sentence that comes after Jesus’ disciples have asked if it was sin that caused the blindness – either his own or his parents. And Jesus replies that it isn’t because of sin, but it IS an opportunity for God’s works, God’s grace in action, to be revealed.
What happens next is that Jesus heals the blindness, but his opponents refuse to see the grace of God at work here. Instead they blame and deny and accuse, until Jesus points out that now they’re the blind ones – their spiritual sight, their ability to perceive God’s hand at work, has clouded over.
In this pandemic situation today, the question that comes to mind as I ponder this story is this: How do we see God’s grace at work here? And how can we walk in the light of faith, so that we not only see God’s grace here, but also reveal it?
There have been moments when I’ve felt afraid, no question. A friend of mine has contracted the virus and is at home but very poorly. We were due to visit him in Guelph last week, but cancelled just in case, before he became sick. I was lying in bed at 3 am worrying about all this, in an AirBnB we’d rented for a few days. I couldn’t find any peace of mind to grab onto that would allow me to go back to sleep. And then I noticed the ceiling fan over the bed: the blades looked like a thick black cross, like the ones we mark on people’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday. And in that moment of recognition I felt so strongly the presence of God.
God is with us. God is always with us, no matter what’s happening. There will be sickness, and there will be death and turmoil, but we can’t fall out of God’s love and grace. What’s happening isn’t a divine punishment for sin, but it IS an opportunity for us to see and show God’s grace at work more clearly.
I’m seeing signs of that pervasive presence of God in new ways now:
- in the people on my section of Willow Avenue who’ve formed an email chain and are checking in with each other
- in the steps our politicians are taking together, across party lines, to make sure the most vulnerable are included in a network of care
- in the ordinary people keeping on at their workplaces in hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, working around the clock for our benefit
- and I’ve seen so many small acts of kindness and connection, as we overcome physical social distancing with emotional closeness
It’s hard to keep our physical distance. I know people feel guilty sometimes for not being able to go out there and help. It was a very hard decision, for example, to shut down our Out of the Cold. And it goes completely against the grain for us to close the church at a time when prayer and community are needed more than ever. (I never thought we’d be giving up church for Lent! – and for what looks like being a long period beyond Easter.) I miss you all. I miss the eucharist and the kids and the music. I can’t imagine Holy Week and Easter without being here. But I know God is working in this, and bringing forth new depths of compassion and creativity and resilience in us.
Is it possible that there is, in fact, a great healing of our unsustainable lifestyle underway? We can’t go on with business as usual now, and some of the things we’re stopping needed to end: flying all over the world at the drop of the hat just because we can; ignoring the poor and vulnerable; under-serving the homeless, the unemployed, indigenous communities.
Could the reaching out in care that we’re seeing be the beginning of a new normal, where people take priority over material things, and the earth has a chance to heal from our pollution of travel and industry? In Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, the skies are clear of pollution for the first time in years, and people say they can hear the birds sing again.
Perhaps we’re beginning to see more clearly what we’d lost.
Perhaps God’s grace at work in this crisis is healing our sight, our perspective.
Perhaps we’ll be able to do things differently not just to get through this but afterwards as well.
Back to my favourite church sign:
I’LL MEET YOU AT YOUR PLACE – GOD
I hope you’ll take time on Sundays and at other times to meet God in prayer, in quiet Bible reading, in meditation. We’re planning to continue sending out videos of homilies and prayers each week. There are some excellent resources online that we’ll be telling you about.
And let’s look for God’s amazing grace at work in the midst of all this.