Keeping Faith in the Midst of Contagion

Bulletin

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“Keeping Faith in the Midst of Contagion”

Like everyone else, I suppose, I’ve been thinking a lot about this situation in which we all find ourselves: on virtual lockdown in the midst of Coronavirus’s arrival in our community… our world. Two books that I have read kept coming to mind.

First: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, takes place somewhere near the Caribbean Sea, most likely Colombia, during the half century between 1880 and 1930. The city’s steamy and sleepy streets, rat-infested sewers, old slave quarter, decaying colonial architecture, and miscellaneous inhabitants are the matrix out of which the novel unfolds.

Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall in love as teenagers. But her father forbids their courtship, sending Fermina off to school. In time she marries another. Many years intervene. Florentino goes through dozens of romantic affairs and social mishaps, but he continues to carry a torch for Fermina the whole time. When her husband dies—of cholera—Florentino immediately reinitiates his pursuit. By the end of the story they are together and their love is finally allowed to blossom in their old age.

Love in the Time of Cholera is a story about trying to remain human and alive in the midst of panic, confusion, and death. Even more, it’s a story about passion, about finding the right inner balance between too much passion and not enough. And about how finding the right balance can

help people carry on, especially when trying to stay healthy and connected when surrounded by disease, both medically and culturally.

The term cholera as it is used in Spanish, cólera, can also denote passion or human rage and ire. (The English adjective choleric has the same meaning.) Considering this second meaning, the title is a pun: cholera as contagion, and cholera/cólera as passion. Passion—when it’s mature and grounded—can carry people through many life-threatening confrontations and traumas. Let the current quasi-quarantine we’re muddling through together serve for us as a reminder: we don’t always have to touch people to remain passionately in contact with them. Especially in this day and age, what with the telephone, Facebook, FaceTime, emails and so many other ways to correspond. Let those you love and care about know how you feel about them.

People are of various types. We clearly are not all Florentinos and Ferminas. Human beings have all kinds of traits and personalities. Another book offering insights to help people carry on through a diseased world is The Plague by French existentialist Albert Camus.

Published in 1947, The Plague tells a fictionalized story about a Cholera epidemic in 1940s Algeria. Camus’ characters, running the gamut from doctors to vacationers to fugitives, all have their own mantras, their own ways to keep breathing, and to remain cool, as the expression goes, under fire. Dr. Bernard Rieux is the protagonist. He’s a doctor whose job is to relieve human suffering. He is a practical and scientifically minded man. An atheist, Dr. Rieux has no high-minded religious motivation for his unswerving dedication: he’s simply a trouper and he does it work dutifully and gladly despite the ever-present specter of death. Dr. Rieux’s mother finds her center through steady devotion. His friend, the priest,

offers his efforts in homage to God. And two others—feckless ne’er-do-wells before the plague arrives—find order and new meaning by working collaboratively with others for the first time to combat a shared threat.

Both Garcia Marquez’s and Camus’ stories are meditations on maintaining a level head and an open heart in the midst of a community—a nation—that has been seized by contagion. As has happened to Washington State. And to our country, too, metaphorically and literally. Health officials tell us a remedy to this health crisis is not around the corner. A vaccine may take up to a year and a half. Note that a national election—offering remedy of another sort—will arrive in only eight months.

In an effort to keep from overwhelming the healthcare system we have all been told by Governor Inslee to practice social distancing. This is exactly what we’re doing this morning. And what we’ll continue to do until we have more tests available and can determine the full extent of the epidemic and where the hot spots are. It is our intention to continue offering services electronically in the weeks and months ahead, even after we begin meeting once again in our beautiful sanctuary at church.

It’s strange: here we are as a church designing a shared worship experience of keeping one another at arms’ length. And just at a time of extraordinary stress to the people across our region and, indeed, across the whole country and the world. So ironic!

When confronted with roadblocks and detours such as this one, I always ask myself “What’s the gift here?” I think one of the gifts—for those not confronting economic dislocation—is being forced to take the time to slow down and step off the merry-go-round for a couple of weeks. And to check in with the loved ones you live with or away from and about

whom you really care. There are other things we can do. The Pastoral Care Team is calling all of our members to make sure everyone is feeling safe and cared for. But this need not only be formal: Call your friends from church this week and ask after them to see how they’re getting along!

Catching up with friends and family on the phone or via other means is always of value. Yesterday, several members of my extended family all agreed to read a book together these next two weeks and chat about it early on the next two Saturdays. If you’re not a reader, consider being a writer, by sending an actual USPS letter or card (like the beautiful one I received this week from ESUC member Jeanne Gardiner. We all could learn from Jeanne when it comes to sending encouraging letters and cards!)

Another thing you can do: take a walk by yourself in nature, or (keeping six feet apart) with companions. Read some poetry. Listen to a favorite musical composition. Always, look for the gift; ask yourself: what’s the gift? For me it’s finding new ways to come across and connect when familiar ways have temporarily been curtailed. How creative can we be about this? And how warmly connected can we remain even when we’re perfecting our skills at social distancing?

Let this be our goal, and let our spirit remain strong and our chalice shine ever brightly throughout this ordeal—

that we may emerge

tempered and resolute

when the coast is clear.

So may it be. Shalom. Salaam. Namaste. Amen.