On Monday, over video, I enjoyed a lunch-time break with kids from church. It was absolute bedlam. It was magnificent. A couple kids were going bonkers, yelling at the screen, gobs of kids all jabbering at once. One kid stared intently, straight into the camera, picking his nose–and with real earnestness. They began a parade of stuffed animals, with kids pulling out their favorite friend and providing proper introductions. It was great. Halfway through, somehow we corralled them enough for a few minutes of Q & A, and one of the girls, with piercing eyes, asked: If God wants nothing but good for us, why is there coronavirus?
Whew. I wish you’d been there. I’d have passed you the mic real quick.
Christian Wiman says “silence is the language of faith.” I think there’s a lot of wisdom there, especially in the face of questions like this. But there she was, looking straight into my Zoom-pixeled face, waiting for me to say something. I honestly don’t remember what words tumbled out of my mouth, but I do remember that after we logged off, I thought, Man, wish I had a do-over.
I have one friend, a woman with a long history of scary health issues. She’s been through the ringer. Twice. And then again. When the Coronavirus showed its fangs, I thought of my friend, with a little tremble in my heart. A week and a half ago, I told God: she can’t get it. Of all the people I know, God, she can not get this. Well, right now, she’s quarantined in her house, her body racked with Covid-19 pain. And her husband’s got the virus. And two of their kids. And then, two nights ago, their gargantuan Maple tree crashed. Their front yard looked like a small Kansas town after a tornado ripped through.
The takeaway seems to be that if you’ve got a precarious need and Winn’s the one praying for you, you best take cover. All that said, I don’t have a satisfactory answer for my young friend on Zoom–or a satisfactory answer for my own bewilderment.
This is familiar territory for me. If I had a nickel for every perplexing question I carry, I could take you and Mer and Miska and me on that two-week walking tour of Tuscany. You could have whole barrels of cabernet and bowls of your beloved carbonara every night. There were long seasons of my life where these suffocating question almost buried me. The questions loomed so large. They snuffed out all joy and laughter, all hope.
And I got angry at God because he went mute. Maybe God agreed with Wiman and was just practicing his faith (Ha!). I kept digging into the Good Book, sifting through philosophy, and peering into the dark night–looking for answers. I needed the answers. Where was God? Why was God so far? Why was God so deathly silent? Why was my heart turning so icy cold? Why did I feel so brittle and empty and far, far away?
I suppose this is the point where most letters would wrap things up tidy with a pearl of wisdom or a rousing epiphany that puts all the awkward pieces into place. But who am I kidding? This is Winn writing. And I’m writing to John.
Still, it’s not lost on me that I’m scratching out these sentences on the evening of that Holy, Dark Saturday where, as the old Creed says, God was literally hell-bent on love. Nothing–not death, not abandonment, not all the violence of all the empires, not human arrogance or ignorance or fear, not Hades itself–could stop the love. What’s a global pandemic or a crumbling economy or a shattered heart got to say to that?
I’ve always loved these words from Teresa of Ávila:
God is always there, if you feel wounded. He kneels
over this earth like
a divine medic…
I love this picture of the divine medic, kneeling over this virus-riddled earth, a divine medic healing us. God is always there. Love is always there. Always.
I wish I’d said something like that on Monday, to my young friend with the piercing eyes.
Hug Mer and Sarah and Abbey for me. And next time you have Will on the phone, tell him hello.