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Reflections from the Epicenter

March 28, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10a (NIV)

 

A surprising stillness has descended on Seattle.  I search my memory for prior similar experiences.  The closest I can recall is when Seattle experiences a large snowstorm.  People engage in panic buying, legendary traffic congestion evaporates almost overnight, and everyone hunkers down in their homes.  Normal life gets interrupted, suspended in midstride.

There are other similarities.  People check on their neighbors.  Families spend more time together.  Folks take time to think and reflect, as the cadence of life dramatically slows.  But there are also profound differences.  Even though it snows relatively infrequently in Seattle, we know what to expect when it does.  But none of us have been through a pandemic before.  You can see the anxiety in our eyes and hear the worry in our voices.

When will this be over?  What will life be like then?  How will we cope with the likely devastation?  Will I even still be alive?

We pride ourselves on being resourceful, intelligent, and self-sufficient people.  But if there’s one thing that’s become clear through this pandemic, it’s how vulnerable and dependent we are as human beings and as a human society.  Despite our desire to be (or at least appear to be) invulnerable and independent, we are clearly otherwise.

To use the language of the biblical creation narrative, God creates human beings “naked” (Genesis 2:25), which is another word for being vulnerable and dependent.  What may seem odd at first glance is that this is not a consequence of what theologians call the Fall.  Instead the biblical story makes clear that this is who we are intended to be as human beings, and something for which we need to feel “no shame” (Genesis 2:25).

What might that mean for us at the epicenter of the pandemic?

First, I think this reminds us that God is God, and we are not.  In a world that idolizes human capacity and achievement, we need to hear today’s text: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  That’s a hard word for those of us who live in secular Seattle to hear.  Perhaps that’s partly because some of us in the Christian tradition have despised and denigrated the value of science and technology, which is so much a part of the culture and work in Seattle.  Surely, the pandemic reminds us all how essential good science and effective technology are.

At the same time, the pandemic serves as a stark reminder of the limits of our humanity and of our scientific and technological prowess.  This pandemic should call us all to turn from our individual and collective hubris to a renewed humility towards the pursuit of truth in all spheres of life.  I am grateful for the gift of modern science and technology.  I am also grateful for the gift of faith in the Living God, who made all things visible and invisible.  Both are essential to human flourishing.

Second, the biblical vision of being human reminds us that our human vulnerability and dependence are a strength, not a weakness.  As Andy Crouch has written about the creation story, humanity’s original “vulnerability and dignity were not opposed to one another, and neither were (their) dependence and dominion” (Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power).  We are made as human beings to depend on God and one another.  Our current crisis creates the opportunity for us to rediscover that relational faith and trust are at the core of human life and work.  It seems increasingly clear that if we going to weather this pandemic, we are going to need both God and one another to carry us through.

Finally, the coronavirus pandemic reminds us that the human race shares a common humanity.  There is no “us and them” with the virus.  There is only “us.”  The virus doesn’t know the difference between black, white, yellow or brown.  The virus doesn’t respect national, ethnic or economic boundaries.  The virus doesn’t care whether you voted for Trump, Warren, Biden or Sanders.  And the virus is indifferent to whether you are an atheist, an agnostic, a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian.  This virus is a stark reminder of our common vulnerability as human beings.  And that’s a good thing.  Perhaps in the providence of God, a microscopic virus will motivate us to do what we’ve been unable to do by ourselves: bring people together from opposite poles of the political, economic and religious spectrum to work together for the common good.

May God grant all of us mercy in this our time of great need, and help us to learn to work together for God’s glory and our common good.

Prayer:

My LORD GOD,

I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.

I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my peril alone.

Amen. (Adapted from Thomas Merton)

Excellent article on “Flourishing Amidst Coronavirus.” So much wisdom here from Tyler VanderWeele, Director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard. He writes about: helping others, strengthening relationships, finding happiness, and facing suffering. I highly recommend this piece to you.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Best of Daily Reflections: Why Are We So Afraid?

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3 thoughts on “Reflections from the Epicenter

  1. Joy Neubauer says:

    Uli,
    You certainly have a wonderful gift of writing and refocusing our attention on the Lord! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they truly blessed me. I feel so fortunate to know you and to “listen”to your teaching.

  2. Torque Zubeck says:

    Uli-

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Moving and humbling and centers us on God. You are a blessing my friend.

  3. Leslie Newman says:

    Uli
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful gift (one of many!)
    We are in uncharted waters.
    I hope and pray that all persons gain an internal tenderness toward all things living not only for today but the future as well.
    Blessings to you and Gayle and your family.

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