A meditation offered by The Venerable Calhoun Walpole, Archdeacon of the Diocese of South Carolina
The other day, David Brooks wrote a column about the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. During that time in certain cities, health care workers would plead for people to step up and care for the sick, including thousands of children. He notes that few stepped forward to care for them—for fear of contracting the disease.
Brooks goes on to point out that one of the truly perplexing features of the 1918 pandemic was that when it was over people didn’t talk about it. Very few books were written about it. Yet, roughly 675,000 Americans died. Maybe, Brooks posits, it is because people did not like whom they had become during the pandemic. The cultural effect, after the death of those hundreds of thousands, was one of disillusionment and fatigue and spiritual lethargy.
Jesus says: “If you want to save your life you will lose it. If you lose your life for my sake and the sake of the gospel you will find it.” It is the Christian paradox. Jesus went to the cross--not so that we don’t have to—he went to the cross and asks us to meet him there. It is Lent, the season in which we have the special privilege of denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Christ.
Recently, my father was telling me about being a young boy in the 1940s during a local polio outbreak when people were advised to stay home. The disease had indeed hit close to home: A fellow parishioner, a teenager, had contracted polio while at Camp St. Christopher. (The young man, Fred Sosnowski, would go on to become a faithful priest in Christ’s Church. He was a deep kindness and support to me, personally, early in my ministry, and his wife was the chair of my parish discernment committee.)
My father remembers Morning and Evening Prayer at home for a season. (It is interesting to me: it was my grandmother who led the liturgies at home during this time and at church she taught the parish confirmation class for years—but it was my grandfather whom I remember in prayer—the indelible image of him kneeling at his bedside in his bed clothes—saying his prayers before turning in for the night. Every night, it was his ritual.)
My father said he did not remember the details of the Morning and Evening Prayer services his mother led in their home. Instead, what he remembers are the candles she lighted. He remembered not the darkness or the fear—he remembered the light—the hope illumined by the light of the candles—the light of Christ—shining through the all darkness and fear—the light always outshining the darkness.
Brooks goes on to note that during the 1918 flu it was the health care workers who found their life—even if they lost their life—in service to others.
We the Church are also a hospital—dispensing not antibiotics or performing surgeries on the body—but rather dispensing living water for thirsts too deep for words—and providing the space—even if now, for a season, from a distance—for us all to bring whatever scars or pain or wounds too powerful to name—to our Lord Jesus.
As a priest, often times when I visit with people who are ailing physically—what they want to talk about is not their physical predicament but rather the worries and preoccupations they have for their loved ones; or they want to discuss matters of faith—all of which comes down to the root question we hear in the passage from Exodus: “Is the Lord among us or not?”
That is, can I really trust this Lord when I am so unsure of the road ahead? Will our Lord be there through it all, no matter what? Can I trust him—even through pandemic and panic?
Yes, you can trust our Lord Jesus. Yes, he will be there. Yes, he is there. He is here, and with you always. No matter what.
During the uncertain times created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, leadership of the diocese will send out regular meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for the next while as we all adjust to a new chapter of living and being the Church.