Journey of uncertainty
“Go, my people, enter your chambers and shut the doors behind you. Hide yourselves for a little while till this indignation has passed by” (Is 26:20).
“I am living this as a time of great uncertainty”—Pope Francis
Dear Fellow Quarantine Sojourners,
I hear your sometimes shrill voices. I see your worried faces. I feel your fears. I join your laughter when you try hard to find humor in the many tales of Covid-19 horror. I notice your anxious but determined struggle to grapple with an unseen enemy. I should know. In varying degrees I share these same realities with you. Your impatience is understandable, as is your panic when rules seem to be as changeable as our leaders’ understanding of the deadly disease and how to deal with it. Why do I sound like I’m talking to myself? Maybe I am.
Covid-19 has changed our country, as it has changed the world. We no longer live under the rules we once knew. Society that tries to bring it under control has surprisingly been so controlled by Covid-19 that it is effectively the reason behind new ways of looking at the world, at fellow human beings, at human activities, at the present and at the future.
The world is no longer a stream of endless faces but of face masks. Fellow human beings are no longer friends-or-colleagues-in-the-making but potential carriers of the dreaded virus to be kept as far away (at least one or more meters) as possible. Human activities are mostly around the most basic.The present is a battlefield. The future is a blur.
The reality it uncovers is uncertainty. While many governments—including ours—have imposed measures and protocols to keep the current virus at bay, almost all of them manifest little to no confidence in any predictable outcome of their efforts. So much is invested in keeping people quarantined, effectively punishing the poorest of the poor in the hot and suffocating conditions of their crowded homes and neighborhoods. Work stoppage among the poor’s breadwinners with its effect of income-deprivation, is hardly offset by relief goods and insufficient social amelioration money. If Mother Earth’s cry characterized life before Covid-19, now it distinguishes itself as the cry of the poor. Even the so-called middle class joins in the groans of the nation’s poor under the weight of a seemingly ever-menacing crisis.
On the other hand, we cannot ignore the lessons and even the blessings of quarantine. Social media abound in them, and much of the chatter they create either make sense or, at least, amuse and entertain. Many of us, in fact, think that quarantine has allowed the earth to rest and us—save for the ever-present fear of the virus—to take a long and even extended vacation with our families and loved ones. Those of us who previously had very little time at home, now find ourselves almost always there. Those of us who have young children and adolescent family members not only to feed but also to discipline and keep obedient to the ever-changing quarantine rules have our deep sympathy. I add, too, my prayers and best wishes. Children are a joy; they can also be a trial. Family life is a constant attempt to discover in our trials greater joys. Still, it is true, Covid-19 has further exposed life’s uncertainty, even in the family.
But I suggest that we take this uncertainty that we live with as an open invitation to take a leap of faith. This is what makes faith what it is. The uncertainty born of our human powerlessness and helplessness in the face of a deadly threat to our very survival and sanity is an arrow that points to our need to rely on a higher power without the powerlessness and helplessness of our best human efforts. The journey of uncertainty must follow where the arrow goes. Otherwise the alternative is the dead-end of life’s absurdity.
The Holy Father Pope Francis once observed that the current corona virus has exposed mankind’s undue bias to the economic and the material rather than to the human person. He cited the case of many empty hotels that cannot take in the many homeless persons, themselves under threat of viral infection, just because doing so obviously does not translate into business benefits. I might add that we are a part of this humanity. We must check our biases against humanity’s own. It appears to me that we are set to discover that the bias is simply due to the failure to follow where the arrow of the journey of uncertainty leads to. In effect, it falls into the absurdity of seeing what is material as primordial and what is human as inconsequential. This is a disease more deadly than covid-19.
On the other hand, when we take the leap of faith, we are bound to find ourselves face to face with the Risen One whose greeting, “Peace/Shalom be with you!” (Jn 20:19, 21, 26) is the fruit of being caught in the arms of the Lord. Thomas the Apostle’s bias to the physical and material had to make way to the spiritual. “You believe, Thomas, because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).
Let us take the leap of faith because it enables us followers of Jesus to see him in others. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did or did not do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did or did not do to me” (Mt 25:40, 45). This is the kind of vision that matters the most because its light takes us to the Father’s house.
But it begins with the journey of uncertainty. At its backdrop remember the words of Benjamin Franklin: “The only certain things in life are death and taxes.” I beg to disagree. There are other certainties. But for now let me mention two: the uncertainty of things earthly (Covid-19 shows that) and God’s love for us. One is passing; the other is permanent.
Cling only to what is permanent. The uncertainty will lose its sting.