The restaurants are empty, and the school desks sit silent. The coffee shops, church pews, and barber shops are void of conversation. Trips have been cancelled and weddings postponed. Our world is stained with the stench of isolation, fear, anxiety, and restlessness. The quiet is unnerving, and the spring flowers like a contradiction.
“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense,” wrote the prescient C.S. Lewis, in his book, A Grief Observed. “Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, fidget…up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.”
This empty successiveness, this pure time, continues on; the hands of the clock tick away, mocking us with their continuity, but for what? Our world has stopped but still keeps turning, the weight of this paradox feels crushing. We ask ourselves, “when will this end?” Little do we know the answer is found in the persistence of spring flowers.
It is this persistence of nature that reveals to us the eternal truth: flowers bloom after the frost.
Suffering, and more specifically, earthly plague is not new to humanity. From the Antonine plague of the first century to the modern COVID-19 pandemic, mankind is no stranger to global disease. In fact, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, wrote about a plague that, beginning in Ethiopia around Easter and spreading across Rome, Greece, and Syria, reportedly was, at its height, killing as many as 5,000 people per day.
In his Treatise, he writes of this plague, reminding Christians that, “the Lord has foretold that these would come…that wars, and famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences would arise in each place.”
It should be no surprise, then, when these trials arise. We ought to acknowledge ourselves, says Cyprian, as ones who, “already hope for divine things, so that we may have no trembling at the storms and whirlwinds of the world, and no disturbance.”
As I’ve reflected on these times we’ve deemed unprecedented, I am reminded that, as just a chapter in the story of humanity, this is an incredibly egocentric determination. As I’ve wrestled with the fear of the unknown, I can look to the past, to the storms of our fathers and know that this too shall pass. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun,” writes King Solomon in Ecclesiastes.
As I consider this current pandemic, with its shuttered doors and social distance, I look forward to the day when, at last, our doors are opened and we flood the streets, hugging and dancing, laughing and singing.
We will be like the spring flowers, shooting up victorious over the frost.
What a foretaste of deliverance! How unwavering our hope! This celebration of joy will be nothing in comparison to the coming Joy set before us.
“All Joy reminds, writes Lewis in Surprised by Joy. “It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.
And the joy we will feel on this day, this day when we visit our loved ones and go to restaurants and hug our students, will remind us of the ‘about to be.’ Our hope, writes Cyprian, “is the difference between us and others who know not God, that in misfortune they complain and murmur, while adversity does not call us away from the truth of virtue and faith, but strengthens us by its suffering.”
Remind yourselves today of this Joy:
“The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away.” (Cyprian, Treatise VII).