Over forty years ago, Henri Nouwen, in his book, Clowning in Rome, wrote an introduction that has stuck with me, even all these years later. He described some of the events of the day all the way back then, declaring that “our world has entered into a state of emergency.” “We have to be prepared,” he wrote all those years ago, “to live in a world in which fear, suspicion, mutual distrust, hatred, physical and mental torture, and an increasing confusion will darken the hearts of millions of people.”
And as we head off into this pandemic summer, those words ring true. For good reason, people are afraid of the novel coronavirus and what it is doing to our communities, our country, and our world. And as we try to combat it, we are hobbled by our suspicion of what the experts are telling us, by our distrust of each other and our hatred of the “other side,” by the mixed messages that pull us apart and leave us completely confused about the way forward out of this present darkness and into the light.
“It is in the midst of this dark world that the Christian community is being tested,” Father Nouwen wrote all those years ago, in words that stick with me as we head off into this pandemic summer. “Can we be light, salt, and leaven to our brothers and sisters in the human family? Can we offer hope, courage and confidence to the people of this era? Can we break through the paralyzing fear by making those who watch us exclaim, ‘See how they love each other, how they serve their neighbor, and how they pray to their Lord’? Or do we have to confess that at this juncture of history, we just do not have the needed strength or the generosity and that our Christian communities are little more than sodalities of well-intentioned people supporting each other in their individual interests?”
Forty years later, I don’t think that there has been a definitive answer to Father Nouwen’s question, but I think that there is a chance that this pandemic, along with the economic crisis that has flowed from it, along with the rising demand for our nation to live up to its ideal of equal justice for all—I think that there is a chance that this is the moment when we most desperately need to be the Church, not as we have been, but as Jesus knows that we have it in us to become—deployed in the world to shine the light of Christ’s compassion for each, to be the salt of Christ’s grace for all, to be the leaven of Christ’s hope.
–Pastor Don Steele