This is not over yet. Even as some of us take our first, tentative, steps (carefully, since our masks have fogged up our glasses and blurred the way) toward the altar rail, others are building funeral pyres. Millions mourn as those who cannot look forward to a new normal without the more-than-3-million lives left behind during this pandemic. Not to mention all of the other minor and major disasters, mountains, valleys, and cliff edges that life has to offer (along with its often spectacular views).
But this is a cautionary tale for the hopeful.
After the Flood, after the destruction of Sodom of Gomorrah, after the Exodus, after disaster and the narrow escape of grief, the claustrophobia of survival, the families of a number of our biblical ancestors seemed to be diverted into – that is, their appetites and attention were perverted into – stories that do not always bear telling in polite company. Incest and idolatry, drunkenness and discontent followed the lifting of a cloud like mosquitoes after rain.
Before disaster fell, we went about our lives of small despair and joy, pretending that each was within our grasp and our gift. During the catastrophe, numbed by the knowledge of how much of life – those little strands of biology – is beyond our control, we drifted. Emerging, are we tempted to wrest back our influence, that illusion of omnipotence, to become, as though we had ever been, masters of our own and others’ destiny?
Is this why violence seems to have flared up among us like fire before a stiff breeze? Do we reckon by force to retrieve the fruits of the tree that once tempted us to clothe ourselves as gods?
A danger recognized is not always a danger avoided, but it at least gives us half a chance to remember that our highest goal is not the pursuit of happiness but the discovery of the grace and mercy and loving-kindness, the grounding of God. It is not the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that will sustain us, restore us, pave our way forward, but the much less tangible, untouchable yet multi-faceted grace of God.
Wiping glasses from the fog of breath and unwept tears, I pray that I may approach the altar this time with humility, with compassion for the grief that drags along behind me, with an ear to the shuffling footsteps of the ghosts of my ancestors, the communion of saints and sinners, to correct my direction; with knees to catch me when I stumble, and a Spirit to spin my curses into prayers too deep for words.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, and author ofWhom Shall I Fear? Urgent questions for Christians in an age of violence (July 2021), and A Family Like Mine: biblical stories of love, loss, and longing. Read more from Rosalind at rosalindchughes.com.
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