By Pastor Tom Snyder, Pastor Emeritus, Ashland First and Christ United Methodist Churches, Ashland Ohio
Listen to an exchange between two whimsical characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings reflecting upon a cataclysmic event:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I”, said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Penned many decades before the Coronavirus, Tolkien’s imaginative dialogue could have been written for us. How, like Frodo, we wish this disruptor need not have happened in our time! But it has, and how we, as persons of faith, meet, adapt, behave, learn from and steady ourselves through this unprecedented challenge and change puts us with wise Gandalf: “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us.”
Around the time Tolkien was writing in England, the monk, mystic and social critic, Thomas Merton, was writing something remarkably similar in spirit from his monastery in the hills of Kentucky:
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”
This might all sound easier said than done. However, from what I have seen and experienced in just the past week from my own living space is the leadership, creativity and compassion of our churches, pastors and conference leaders; community agencies; our schools and universities; local, state, and federal public health leaders; the wisdom of science; and the repeated sense that we are in this together. Are not all of these examples of our adapting and carefully embracing our current crisis, with all of its unknowns, with courage, faith and hope?
Two millennia ago, Paul wrote to the church at Rome, beset in their time by their own questions, uncertainties, fears and suffering, urging them on toward these same qualities. Beloved, these words are for us as well:
“What are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us…Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more that conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 31, 35, 37-39 NRSV
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+