For some unknown reason, the sun still rose this morning, and it shone all day long. The chilly Atlantic winds still stung my cheeks and brought tears to my eyes. The taste of chocolate was still my favourite refuge. The joy of birdsong outside my window still reminded me of a world that is not mine, or ours, but God’s.
I cannot count the number of times I have written the phrase, “this strange time” in emails and messages this past week, or have read it in others’ notes to me.
This time is utterly strange to us, foreign, unexpected, unbidden, and unwanted. It has loosed our moorings and disoriented us, making our usual maps inaccurate and less useful.
Disney, let alone the plotless new children’s movie, “Frozen 2,” is hardly my go-to. I know that thousands of kids are watching and rewatching it over and over this week, singing all the songs from memory (I won’t be one of them). But one recurring line in that film keeps ringing in my ears. When you’re not sure what to do, “do the next right thing.” It’s not a phrase original to Frozen 2, but it’s not bad advice for “this strange time.” In the middle of the mess, sometimes one step at a time is all we can manage.
COVID-19’s continuing wreckage is unfolding day by day. Everyone is struggling to adapt and manage. Tempers are short and fears are close by. It is so hard to get grounded and to feel the feelings we’d much rather feel.
This is not the first great upheaval; many centuries, many societies have been through as much and worse. I remember seeing some of my grandfather’s sermons from the Second World War, in which he mused aloud about the way we would have to rebuild a civilized world if we defeated fascism. In retrospect, we know the war ended and there was a period of peace and prosperity afterward. But in the midst of the cataclysm, certainty and reassurance were far off.
Will we – will I – become more gentle, more generous, more forgiving through all of this? I hope so.
Will we – will I – reconsider our relationship with the earth and live more lightly on the land? I hope so.
Will we – will I – work to reshape economic structures to make our societies more just and equitable? I hope so.
We are so good at the opposite of all those things. But there is always another way.
When I was still quite young, I latched on to Psalm 136. Every second line of that Psalm says, “His love endures forever.” Over and over and over, the psalmist sings, shouts, whispers: “God’s love endures forever.”
This refrain was then, and still is, a source of great comfort and hope to me.
When the COVID-19 crisis was starting to break over Canada, I wrote the following to all the students at Atlantic School of Theology, where I teach:
In theological school and in my home church, I was taught that every Sunday is a “little Easter” on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, I am holding that grace and promise close to my heart. Through trial and temptation, through suffering and loss, through every dark valley, God accompanies us. The triune God still redeems, guides, heals, transforms. God still hears our prayers. May God be with you, to empower, encourage, and strengthen you, and to hold you as you work and rest.
I pray that the presence and peace of God would be especially near to you just now. I pray that you will find islands of grace in the midst of this stormy sea.
You are a blessing, and I am grateful for you. Be of good courage. Do the next right thing.
For some unknown reason, the sun will still rise tomorrow morning.
Rob Fennell is Academic Dean of Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Chair of Touchstone’s Editorial Board.