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Profound faith experience, even without church

For the first time in over five decades I won’t be in church during Holy Week or on Easter. A year ago, that would have been unthinkable, but now I believe this Easter may be the most profound I’ve experienced.

Full disclosure: I’m no Pollyanna. No one has ever accused me of being courageous or optimistic, and while I may not be a gold winner in the category of fear, I’d certainly place. The Coronavirus has stripped bare my lifelong battle between faith and fear. In fact, it has laid us all low, revealing our most terrifying vulnerabilities.

The questions we do our best to avoid, are now unavoidable. Will I sicken or die? Will someone I love be stricken? Will I be able to procure life’s necessities, food, shelter, clean water, medication, heat and electricity, mail? Will I be laid off?

Even the small things that give us comfort and confidence are up for grabs. How long will my hair stay this color? When will I feel safe getting my teeth cleaned or straightened? Will I get back to work in time to buy my kid a few birthday presents?

We are in the perfect storm of fear. In “The Book of Joy,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama insist that when faced with extreme threats we can respond by folding and giving in to the worst of human instincts, or we can recognize and seek to meet the challenge. Normally, that’s the kind of declaration that makes me roll my eyes. But life is no longer normal. So I’ve been searching for what God wants from me now, for what faith means in this crisis. I’ve been searching for silver linings.

And they abound. From the unimaginably big things like Congressional Democrats and Republicans collaborating on a rescue bill for individuals and businesses, to the seemingly inconsequential stuff like the friend who called to let us know where toilet paper could be found for sale – OK, maybe not so inconsequential.

There’s the clerk at Stop and Shop who gives away bags so that elderly shoppers don’t have to pack their own. There’s the crowd of alone-together people in virus-stricken Spain who open their windows every night to cheer the brave health workers who are giving their all, sometimes their lives, to care for victims. There’s Ford and Tesla and 3M preparing factories to manufacture ventilators instead of cars. There are the small businesses trying to keep their employees by offering take-out specials and no contact deliveries.

There’s EWTN, the network that offers televised church services and spiritual programs year-round and especially now during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.

One of the greatest fears now, as always, is the future. What will life be like when this crisis abates? In facing that “challenge,” as Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama would put it, will we fold or soar? We will have an opportunity, unlike any we’ve ever known, to make the lives lost count for something.

The coronavirus is truly an equal opportunity killer. It has no party, no ideology, no hatred, no agenda; and when its attack is over, there will be no enemy left to despise or destroy. We will be left with each other. Individuals. States. Nations. Races. And that’s when the real challenge will come: to honor those who fought this war by weaving silver linings into lasting change, by treating one another as God meant us to — with decency, kindness, cooperation, honesty.

Can faith conquer fear? It may well be that there is no true faith without fear. The question for us this Easter, and next, is: will we rise?

Marci Alborghetti lives in New London and has written more than 20 books and numerous essays on faith, religion, and social advocacy.

 

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