From the beginning of the shelter-in-place mandate, I have felt many different emotions. Confusion, concern, safety, freedom, strange excitement, anxiety, obscurity. I’ve experienced a loss of my sense of control many times before in my personal health struggle, so this was not new to me. But as I saw countless news articles of the COVID-19 virus spreading and increasing amounts of people being forced to stay home, I’ve been a bit scared since I’ve never seen such a widespread mandate enacted. It feels surreal. Strange. This is really happening, and it’s not stopping. All of California was just put on lockdown by the governor effective March 19, so this is very pertinent. Gray clouds of unknowns lie ahead.
I’ve written poems on the potentially life-giving side of our world returning to rest and balance and simplicity through all of this. But before I continue, I do not want to overlook the disaster this is for those who are infected by the virus itself, by the economic impact this has on so many, and by the unstable homes many are now forced to abide in for the foreseeable future without any way out. This is not easy. However, I want to think about what good can come of this and what we need to do to make the good come of it. What is that good to be seen? What is God doing and desiring of us in this time? These questions saturate my mind as I’ve been trying to see what God sees in all that’s been taking place. Like a freshly squeezed lemon, we must seek this tragedy’s proper place in the bigger recipe of life so as to see its transformation for good.
I believe in God’s sovereignty. His goodness. However, for all the other posts about God being in control and bigger than this situation the world finds itself in right now, I feel a strong lack in these posts. Something’s missing, they don’t paint the full picture. Yes, God is good. He is sovereign. But this faith in His sovereignty is a prerequisite. Belief isn’t something we decide upon intellectually, comfort ourselves, and then go our own ways. Belief is action! So what’s missing? How are we supposed to act spiritually?
The answer that came is something many have heard before, but it hit me in a new way and is as pressing as ever. His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, reminded his church on Sunday March 15, “this is not the first time the Church has faced such a tragedy. In the history of the Church, there have been many different epidemics, cholera, dysentery, and so on." He explained the importance of following government-mandated protocols and sanitary guidelines for the health of our bodies. But he did not stop there. He stated that “the most important thing for a believer is prayer and repentance [emphasis mine]. "If we pray, entreat God, and repent of our sins, then we will destroy this sickness," His Beatitude affirmed. "Therefore, the most important thing in this is not so much sanitary standards as it is prayer and repentance.” “God allows us to be tested not for our virtues, but for our sins," Met. Onuphry preached. "And to get rid of this ordeal, to bear it with dignity, we must say: 'Lord, forgive me, I am a sinner. I have sinned and am guilty and worthy of punishment, but I ask you, Lord, have mercy on me according to Thy mercy.’ This is something that can help us all overcome this temptation, the trial that has reached us today."
In Western Christianity, we are not often taught the connection between our bodies and souls. Yet, the Church teaches there is a direct link between what we choose to do with our bodies and with our souls (see an example Paul gives in 1 Cor. 6:18 and Rom. 12:1). In this time, we cannot forsake the cleansing of our souls if we are so concerned about the health of our bodies. If we only seek to build our immune systems and protect from outward viruses, but do not cleanse ourselves of our sin-filled inner lives, we will remain white-washed tombs (Matt. 23:27-28). We must instead seek Christ. Fall at His feet. Every day. Be brought back under His commands and wholeheartedly obey Him. Like Jonah directed Ninevah, we must call urgently on God and turn from our evil ways and violence. Not only physical violence, but also the violence to our souls through the passions, the uncontrolled desires that have not been surrendered unto Christ through ascetic discipline/struggle (e.g. lust, anger, pride, vainglory, etc.). See to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Enter His rest as long as it is called today. Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. Humble yourself before Him. Fight and struggle to discipline yourself for the sake of being made holy as Christ (Hebrews 12:1-14). But it begins with repentance.
God has given us this coronavirus out of love to be reminded of the cross we take up as Christians. Our primary life goal should be on the forefront of our minds--reconciliation and unity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This can only come through our death to self and life unto Christ. If we do not seek to suffer with Christ, we cannot be resurrected with Christ. So what must we do in this time? Repent. Pray. Seek God. Be reconciled to Him. Embrace our neighbors’ suffering. Change our minds about what we think is important. Listen to what He says instead. Physically prostrate ourselves before Him for the inward nourishment of our souls and the outward restoration of our bodies. St. Isaac the Syrian says, “this life has been given you for repentance. Do not waste it on other things.”