The word quarantine was first used in Venice, Italy, in 1127 with regards to leprosy and was widely used in response to the Black Death. However, it was not until 300 years later that society properly began to impose quarantine in response to the plague. The scope of quarantine required by the COVID-19 outbreak is unprecedented, but some of the residual human effects can nonetheless be anticipated. There is much data from similar situations, including the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) quarantine of 2003. In short, the human toll will be enormous, and it is the responsibility of the church to step up right now.
Walt Whitman scorned religion. Famous even in his time for his deep introspection, he was thirsty for wisdom, but like so many of us, he looked within himself for answers. In his preface to his masterwork Leaves of Grass he wrote
Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.
When he died on this day, March 26th in 1892, he passed having never laid hold of (as he might say) life’s marrow.
Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah Georgia on this day in 1925. One of the greatest writers of the twentieth-century, O’Connor felt the weight of Jesus’ words as He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil.” She called herself a “Christian realist” and understood doctrine to be far more than adornments to daily life. She read Thomas Aquinas every evening before going to bed and fortified herself every morning. For O’Connor, her work was “invading territory largely held by the devil,” and a weapon in the battle against the nihilism of our age.
The church today celebrates the Annunciation, a personification of faith in essence. Here we find a simple girl accepting the inexplicable on the basis of God’s word alone. Her unique privilege of bearing God’s Son was to be matched only by her unique sacrifice, and without appreciation of the full implications of either, she says yes. The Bible correctly calls her the blessed, and as Malcolm Guite says, “in every age and every church she has been, for many Christians, a sign of hope, an example of prayer, devotion and service, and an inspiration.”
This is Dante Day in Italy. Many of the country’s cultural events have been canceled or postponed, but that’s not the case with Dantedì. The celebrations will be entirely online, with performances and readings tagged on social media with #Dantedì and #IoleggoDante. Italy’s culture ministry has invited everyone to mark the day by reading and sharing the “verses of timeless charm” by Dante, as a way to unite the country and bring some cheer to people at a difficult time.
These days of imposed solitude have been difficult for some. A lot of studies have been done on the long term effects of solitary confinement, and (no surprise) some people take it harder than others. Depression has been accurately described as emotional solitary confinement. The body can be isolated but only the soul can be lonely.
Have you ever tried to teach a toddler? It’s a challenge for you and for them. You need to hold their attention long enough to communicate, but their interest is fleeting, and our noisy world is your competition. It turns out, they have much to teach us about ourselves.
I played in the woods as a boy and had to be forced down from tall trees when the day was over. Back then, the woods were my friend and I memorized every leaf. I spent hours alone and there learned the good company of books and a boy’s imagination. I see the woods differently now. These days I spend time looking at them from a comfortable swing rather than high in their branches. They are still my friends, but we are old men who silently nod as they teach me about things I still don’t understand. I hear their voices, but I can never quite understand what they are saying. It reminds me of a line written by Nathaniel Hawthorn,
There seems to be things I can almost get hold of, and think about; but when I am just on the point of seizing them, they start away, like slippery things.
I think about what all those old trees have seen – the people they’ve known and the secrets they keep. I appreciate Ralph Waldo Emerson, who saw little distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Rather than compartmentalize science and theology, he wrapped one in the binding of the other. Echoing Augustine in The City of God he wrote
The difference between the actual and the ideal force of man is happily figured by the schoolmen, in saying, that the knowledge of man is an evening knowledge, vespertina cognitio, but that of God is a morning knowledge, matutina cognitio.
Today there seems to be an unnatural division between science and religion. Emerson will have none of that. Truth is truth and it is not less so simply because we don’t fully grasp the details. The evidence of God’s existence and continual presence is hidebound in every atom, every gene. As he wrote
No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something. But when a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall, at the same time, kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will God go forth anew affections, then will God go forth anew into the creation.
I treasure my grandchildren’s laughter as they play in the shade of these old trees. Like me as a boy, they appropriately take it all for granted, not yet understanding the value of the gift, but also like me, their spring days under the forest’s watchful eye are creating and shaping a safe place in their soul they will retreat to when they are older, where they will remember first hearing the still small voice of God.
Like a lot of men, I resist asking for directions. I have been known to drive around befuddled for hours (though I wouldn’t admit it), thinking I would eventually sort it out. In life, people are not truly docile until they are desperate. If you have ever been lost in a foreign county you know what it means to humbly seek someone who can communicate meaningful directions.