Yesterday I wrote a bit about the “work” that I had set up for myself this summer using some thoughts from an Ephraim Radner article from March 2020. At almost the same time, the folks at First Things also posted a piece by Radner titled “The Time of the Virus.” Some of Radner’s thinking in the first article rightly shows up here. But he also asks about what Christians might bring to the table for the time of Covid:
What Christians may perhaps offer is a special sense of the times we are traversing. Cities are locked down, borders closed, schools shuttered; production and distribution lines have unraveled; work and retirement income is threatened. These disruptions have cascaded in ways that seem novel and imaginatively overwhelming. All of a sudden, we see before us something we have perhaps talked about before, but never really faced: the way, as societies, we have allowed our personal lives to become enfolded in and seemingly dependent upon intricate and vast networks of collective construction that have diminished our humanity. Suddenly we must “go home,” stay with our families, turn to ourselves. And we are, surprisingly, afraid!
He then goes on to call the potentially good things that Covidtide could offer “fallow time,” thus drawing a line to the Old Testament concept of Jubilee, which was to be a time of deep rest and reset for both God’s people and the land. Radner continues:
The Jubilee is not simply a time of rejoicing. It is not simply a time to play enforced Scrabble games, let alone turn on the gaming console. It is a time to turn to God, to reckon God’s gifts, to tend and cherish common responsibilities and the life given through birth, children, and parents. No flying about the globe, no boardroom deals, commercialized sociality, mass political campaigns, pushing to get ahead, or making one’s mark. Instead, this is a time for living with the gift of life God has provided. In doing so, God’s own being and grace is unveiled to the otherwise distracted and self-absorbed creature. “You shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.” Dare we say that it is providential that the Time of the Virus has come in Lent? Not for penitence alone, but for the sabbath of sabbaths—for a place where prayer and thanks are actually nurtured and where they can flourish. This is something Christians should not only ponder, but embrace and share, in a posture not of resignation, but of joyful hope.
While I wouldn’t go as far as Radner in making the Jubilee connection, I do think that he was onto something we might have missed: the opportunity to pro-actively reorient ourselves, to reset our habits and practices and communities, in a way that points to our deep and “joyful hope.”
By the end of the article, Radner calls “the Time of the Virus” “both a gift and a provocation for Christians– not only for our personal faith, but for what we have to offer others.” Looking back, I’m not sure how well we were able to see it as either. Necessary, perhaps, but unfortunate.
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I imagine it might seem odd for me to be writing about articles from over a year ago, articles that I probably wrote about back then, too. It’s a kind of context-building for the rest of my “summer work.” Last year I had started a new “tag” for this site: Notes for a World’s End. Even though a good portion of that world is returning to normal, the effects of moving from one world to the next (and back again) still linger. And they are an opportunity to learn. And that’s both a personal and an institutional thing. But if our institutions won’t learn, perhaps we as individuals can.