Last weekend, my housemate and I saw the aurora. It was faint, but we chased it anyways, out towards Shelly, then Giscome, eventually stopping where the train had derailed. The night was clear, the stars shining, the aurora faintly dancing in the dark sky. For almost 30 minutes, we forgot about COVID-19. Sitting in the truck, lights off, we gazed up at the Creator’s handiwork, the old hymn’s “infinite thy vast domain, everlasting is thy reign” echoing in our ears.
What joyful entry I can make here, as I was advised to by clergy and laity alike, I am not sure. But by analogy, the short story above reveals what I can affirm in these times. Truly, we’re in the midst of crisis and tragedy. Without doing any injustice to the scale of the pandemic, it is still right and just to declare unequivocally that God is sovereign. I find it hard to believe that His plan for us, considering the span of the universe and the potential of our souls, is in its final act.
Working from the assumption then that this is not the end of all things, we are forced to face the precariousness of our world the pandemic has revealed. In literally hours, ways of life hitherto forewarned as inalterable have been reorganized. Without putting too fine a point on it, the paranoid prophets appear to have been more correct than not - our paradigm was pretense, supported by greed, incompetence, and the unwillingness to change. Now the axis has shifted.
To be clear, I am not making light of this, reveling in the misfortune of my colleagues. But from the thousands of empty offices once staffed by the managerial class to the possibility of EI being transformed into Universal Basic Income within a month, why did we collude in our Tower of Babel civilization being run by emperors without clothes? People on all sides of the spectrum had been complaining about the social contract for decades. One virus has brought us renewal.
Perhaps even joyfulness then has a tragic reality to it, at least in this life. Just as Christ’s Second Coming will not be good news for everyone, politico-socio-economic readjustment is not good news for each of us even if overall it might make a more humane world. I am still bound by my fast this Lent, but to rebuttal accusations and outflank all counter-arguments, let me remind us the Bible calls for a Year of Jubilee in Leviticus, which is the opposite of house foreclosures.
Some might argue you can’t run an economy on releasing people from their debts every 50 years. Of course we’re living through what happens when you pretend infinite household debt and vast disparities in wealth are nothing to worry about. In a sense, the only difference between our current economic resets and a biblical one is that the former grinds people to powder, while the latter might restore people to dignity. Can we really answer that we prefer our current panic?
But if we follow the honest path, as Chesterton, Tolkien, and Dorothy Day did, we cannot let our crisis go to waste. Perhaps the lack of leisure and the hyper organization of everything is actually evil. Perhaps the redistribution of wealth is a dodge, as we do not help our neighbour personally but allow Big Brother to dole out the crumbs for us. Perhaps we ought to free the captives and give land back to the poor, as crops are still edible even after a market collapses.
In short, there is a happy-fault in any joyful message, just as any fall from pride hurts but is cause to be thankful so long as it wasn’t too late to correct our path. Rude and humble things are still enjoyable, indeed they built the culture of our ancestors. Poverty was called a virtue until a few minutes after the Reformation, if for no other reason than it birthed empathy with “the least of these.” This crisis, if nothing else, has relieved us from a woeful spirit of covetousness.
After every other cataclysm, people have emerged with renewed commitment to justice and charity. If that is what happens when this pestilence is defeated, that will be a cause for joy.