I, like most of the rest of the world, am stuck in quarantine. There are stay-at-home orders in my state until the beginning of June, and summer has never felt further away. The monotony of my tiny apartment does little to offer insight or alleviate anxiety about life-altering events like pandemics. There is little to “do” other than to take a deep breath and continue to stay at home until it is – hopefully – safe to go outside again.
I have read hundreds of articles in the last four weeks. I’ve read analyses of the virus and its trajectory, I’ve read optimistic and pessimistic predictions about the fate of the world, and I’ve looked at the graphs showing the now infamous curve more times than I can count.
Knowledge is often something that I turn to when I’m afraid. You’ve heard the phrase - “knowledge is power”. For me, knowledge is safety. Comfort comes from understanding something, from being able to hold it in my hand and saying that I know what it is;knowledge is hope that things are not as scary as they seem.
Regardless of the amount of information I ingest, there is little comfort in this knowledge. There are still too many uncertainties to know what is real and what is aspirational. For every video of a patient recovering, there are ten more of rising death tolls in neighboring cities. It is a cacophony that is overwhelming and unhelpful for making sense of what is happening around.
My second attempt at understanding the new world is by seeking comfort in the shared experience of others. Almost the entire world is being asked to stay inside their homes right now with varying degrees of uncertainty and anxiety. None of us know what the future holds; we are all in this together. While this does make me feel less alone, it does not give me a language or a framework for processing the sheer magnitude of it all. I have no reference for the sheer amount of grief, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, anger, and mourning. There’s just no way that I can understand how something so small – a virus so tiny that I can’t even see it – can come and change the world in such a huge way.
But, of course, there is a way for me to understand how something so small could change the whole world. This is a story that I – and many others – have heard so often we could recite it in our sleep. And stories are something I understand. Stories have been used time immemorial to help process the un-processable, and simple stories are often the best. I know there are more theologically profound interpretations and meanings to this story, but whether from my lengthy morning commute to the couch or too many Zoom calls, I need this simplicity now more than ever.
I am thinking of the story of a God that comes to the world as a baby and then changes it forever. The story where the God of the entire universe–a God so big that I cannot wrap my mind around Him, no matter how hard I try – chose to enter into the uncertainty and suffering of the human condition to be with us.
The story where the God of EVERYTHING decided to become the most helpless kind of human – one who couldn’t walk, talk, or think past his own immediate needs for several years of his life – to step into a broken world with no immediate ability to change any of it. He had to wait until the time was right. And, when the time was right, this small human went on to experience suffering and death for no other reason than to show how much he loved me and you and that nothing, not even death, could separate us from Him.
I know we just began the season of Easter, but there is something comforting in the simple story of Jesus beginning as a helpless baby, Emmanuel, God with us, through this excruciatingly long Lenten journey leading him to the eventual empty tomb. Emmanuel through the uncertainty of Good Friday. God with us through the uncountable days between now and a hopeful return to normalcy. God with us through the coronavirus and all the change it brings.
Maybe it is sacrilegious to compare God to a virus, but both are big things that I can’t quite wrap my brain around, and there’s something about the familiarity of baby Jesus that is helping me understand my current situation more than any of the other knowledge I’ve tried to accrue.
Stories help us to make meaning of the unknown, and the meaning of Jesus will always be the same. He will always be the God that chose to be with us in the midst of uncertainty, doubt, and even death. This story will always be a story of closeness and love that seemingly led to the opposite: dying alone away from family, friends, and his Father.
And yet the story ends not with the suffering, the anxiety, the uncertainty, or even the death, but instead with the knowledge that there is a God that loves each and every one of us, so, so much, even when we don’t understand. And that knowledge is hope.
Rebecca constantly strives to practically love people around her. She also loves fuzzy socks, her five sisters, pink and orange alstroemerias, calligraphy, and sour gummy worms.