During this global pandemic we invite friends to share their perspectives with us. Today we welcome Mike Walker from the North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois.
Recently, someone asked me if I had “any thoughts on our current situation.” My thoughts on the coronavirus would fill a mid-length book…maybe a disaster novel by the late, great Michael Crichton…so let me name my three most-pertinent clusters of thoughts.
First, I’m terrified of the effect that the coronavirus has on human relationships. Whether I’m in my apartment in Chicago, at church with friends in Toronto, or with my family in Ottawa, I look forward to eating, drinking, playing games, singing, praying, and/or dancing with others. The pandemic prohibits virtually all of those things. I grieve the loss of dancing to blues music with friends; I yearn to share the peace of Christ, and the Eucharist, again with my neighbours…but I can’t, because the CDC (in their great wisdom!) cautions everyone who’s able to stay two meters away from others! I’m an extrovert. I draw strength from people, and I ache for intimate relationships, affection, and deep conversation…so, to put it mildly, having restrictions on how close I can be to other people is a very serious buzz-kill. That’s part one.
Second, I’m a person with spastic cerebral palsy, and have always – my entire life, which is currently thirty-five or so years long – experienced respiratory issues. I’ve had the flu, innumerable colds, ear infections, and whooping cough. For all I know, I am at higher risk than many people of getting this terrifying virus, simply because I’ve had serious breathing problems in a prior phase of my life. So how do I deal with the fear?
Sometimes – and by sometimes, I mean every day – I stretch, and pray, and sing…and I pray the rosary for my friends, and I miss my nieces, and sometimes it’s all I can do to keep from weeping openly. Sometimes, I cry out along with Bono, longing for the kingdom come “where all the colours bleed into one.” Sometimes, I fall into a deep depression. Sometimes, I shut my eyes, and just breathe, and listen to Sixpence None the Richer and the Hip. Either way, I know that the most important thing I can do is just to keep breathing. That’s part two.
Third, I know that this indeterminate period of isolation will end…but I don’t know when. None of us do, and – to quote the eminent theologian Tom Petty – “the waiting is the hardest part.” We sing, Wait for the Lord, whose day is near… but how near is it?
In Romans 8, Saint Paul tells us that the whole creation groans in labour pains, waiting for the redemption of the body. We too groan in yearning. We long for an end to the suffering, the tedium, the frustration at incomplete solutions…
And ideally, we keep breathing. I, and we, hold our loved ones close – as close as we can, anyway – and we focus on our breath, and listen for birdsong in the morning light. We wait, this Eastertide, for the breath of God to fill us anew.
Mike Walker is a theologian of disability from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada; he completed a doctorate in theology at the University of Toronto in May 2018, and has numerous church-related publications and presentations to his credit. He’s currently at North Park Theological Seminary as a visiting professor through the Louisville Institute; his greatest desire is to be an accessibility advocate within the theological academy.