Running around the elementary school playground as a youngster, one of us would handpick a classmate who was immediately determined to be contagious. Given this imaginary affliction, the rest would, in turn, playfully “run for our lives!” We called the idiopathic disease “cooties.” The infection was quite random, the scourge was never life-threatening, and thankfully all were cured of the affliction by the time the bell rang to end recess. No quarantine was necessary.
Of the relative few school dances I attended in junior high, for much of those evenings while amassed in the multipurpose room, I plastered my back against the wall as far away from the giggling girls on the opposite side as I could possibly get. Oddly enough, though I had a distinct aversion to “fast dancing,” I was easily persuaded to risk partaking in a slow dance, especially when I heard the opening lines of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude!”
By the time I was a senior in high school, and with one year of journalism, an English course equivalent, under my belt, I took on the position of a co-photography editor for my high school newspaper. Our large school came equipped with its own darkroom for developing and printing. To great degree and for much of that year, I was literally “alone in the dark” having a blast while secluded with film, chemicals and photo paper. It did nothing to enhance my grammar, let alone writing skills.
After my first year of college on basketball scholarship, I was inspired to cut weight, run and jump rope all summer long. Wearing layers of sweats, I ran for miles and regrettably limited accompanying hydration. About two weeks in, I came down with what put me “down for the count.” The total count was most of the summer, as the doctor determined I had a serious case of mononucleosis. Quarantined in my bedroom for weeks, I hardly saw a soul, all the while jokingly warned of this “kissing disease!”
My girlfriend never got it, that is, until the summer’s end when I went back to college. My bad!
Today we find ourselves joining forces attempting to navigate our way through a most complex, unprecedented, dangerous, challenging, unpredictable and fluid time given the arrival of the COVID-19 public health threat. There may have been an occasion in days past where we’d have thought we could sidestep this crisis and somehow distance ourselves from much or any impact. Those days are long gone.
Even as we take all these intentional steps to hopefully ease the spread, the implications remain both mind-boggling and exponentially unquantifiable!
So, what do we hold onto during the living of these days filled with mounting anxiety, endless lifestyle alterations, and the arrival of heightening worry and fear? It is “what” as opposed to “whom” because of the escalating mandate to keep a safe distance from others and to do our part to mitigate risks.
Today, as a pastor of nearly 40 years, and even with the authoritative directives for “social distancing,” perhaps we might draw, given the vast amount of biblical history, some measure of comfort and encouragement.
To be honest, I am only just scratching the surface, but way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve, having eaten of the forbidden fruit, attempted to hide from the presence of the Almighty. Cain, having taken the life of his brother, Abel, was marked and shunned to the Land of Nod.
Sarai, unable at the time to bear children, cast off Abram’s mistress Hagar, after she gave birth to Ishmael. Following deceptive thievery of a birthright and blessing, Jacob fled from his brother Esau, fearing for his life. Resentful brothers threw Joseph into a pit, but “came to their senses” and instead secretly sold him off to slavery in Egypt.
Moses, after killing an Egyptian and burying him in the sand, escaped to the land of Midian for 40 years. Most know that the Children of Israel wandered homelessly in the wilderness for the same amount of time.
Ruth, urged by her mother-in-law, upon the death of Ruth’s husband, to go back to her kindred, boldly and eloquently refused saying, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge.”
King David, most certainly, should have employed “social distancing” after he gazed upon the bathing Bathsheba from afar. Elijah did everything he could to put space between him and the wicked Queen Jezebel following his victory at Mount Carmel, scurrying off to a hideout cave.
Job, suffering from the loss of nearly everything, garnished by loathsome sores, endured an extended dialogue with his three “friends” as they “consoled” him from a distance. Esther, a Jewish queen of a despot Persian king, risked her life to cross life-threatening boundaries to save her fellow Jews from a evil plot to have them annihilated. Almost endless in scope, I could speak of lepers, paralytics, demon-possessed, and even women suffering from barrenness who were all socially ostracized.
And on multiple occasions, even Jesus himself would step away from the encroaching crowds that followed him everywhere, to go off to some distant place to pray and be alone.
For all of them and more, the Good Shepherd-God of Psalm 23 was with them, walking through those dark valleys, alleviating fears, guiding, comforting, and yes, forgiving. May each of us, in these tumultuous times, find solace therein and be encouraged by the same.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org