I’ve often wondered where God is in the midst of crisis.
When my “normal” gets flipped on its head, such that what was once “up” now appears “down.” When I’m faced with a new kind of normal.
I’m a fan of routines—especially for my prayer life. And these past several weeks have been anything but routine. I’ve spent most of my time careening around from one unexpected crisis to another; dealing with the inevitable fallout from said crises; getting back on the beaten path only to get knocked back off—wash; rinse; repeat.
It began with the sudden and unexpected death of a priest of our diocese.
Handling certain facets falls under my purview. And so off I went, on numerous road trips to a town two hours away.
During my second trip, a large rock incredulously pounded right smack dab on top of my sun roof. (How does that even happen?!) After checking my vital organs to ensure I hadn’t just been shot, I slid back the top to discover the sunroof glass completely shattered.
At the end of my third road trip, I walked into our downstairs guest room only to find the carpet completely soaked. At first angry at our dog (thinking she’d peed in protest of my absence), I then realized the problem was much worse. And then wished my dog had just angrily peed in protest, which would’ve been significantly more manageable.
The devil is real, y’all!
The following weekend was spent clearing out the room, tearing out ruined carpet, and dumping it on our street corner for all our neighbors to see (“Gee, Matt, you got an exciting re-carpeting project going on? Exciting!” “You guessed it, Bob, there’s nothing I love to do more during an international pandemic than to tear out and replace carpet all by myself with my many years of carpet-replacement experience under my belt!”)
Speaking of international pandemics, in the midst of the above adventures the Coronavirus decided to make its way to our state. At our diocese (where I work), difficult decisions had to be discussed, planned, formulated, and executed, which would impact how Catholics across our state could worship for the foreseeable future. And so off I went into the vast webosphere of emails, websites, news media, social media, and Twitter (from whose abyss I only barely returned….).
My communications these past weeks have run the gamut: from bishops, to Catholic media, to fellow chancellors, to canon lawyers and civil lawyers at the local and national levels, to local priests and laity (whose opinions, you can imagine, also run the gamut). Most people locally just needed to vent their grief. (A grief which I share right along with them.)
But despite a wide variance in opinion, most agree on a common refrain: we’ve not seen anything like this before, and life as we used to know it has (at least temporarily) been turned upside-down.
A “new normal” has arrived.
In the midst of struggling with this “new normal,” I found myself watching Mary Poppins Returns (again) with my wife and kids one night. As my little girl beep-bopped to the songs while sitting with me in my recliner, one song stood out in an entirely new way: “Turning Turtle.” Meryl Streep plays a cousin of Mary Poppins, and every second Wednesday her entirely house literally turns upside-down.
Most of Streep’s song is spent bemoaning her woes and wallowing in self-pity.
Until the end.
Mary Poppins tells her how lucky she is to see things from a new point of view: “You see, when the world turns upside down, the best thing is turn right along with it // When you change the view from where you stood, the things you view will change for good.”
All of which of course reminded me of St. Paul on the folly of the cross. (Work with me here—it’s been a long few weeks….) “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:18, 20, 25).
I can’t control when a beloved pastor might unexpectedly pass away. I can’t control when my house might spring a leak and flood my carpet. And I ultimately can’t control what impact the Coronavirus will have on my community, my income, my family, my life.
But when my world seems to turn topsy-turvy, upside-down—when I’m faced with adjusting to an entirely “new normal”—I’m challenged to change the view from where I stood, so that the things I view will change for good.
For me as a Christian, that viewpoint is always seeing things through the lens of the cross.
That cross looks like folly to the rest of the world. But, to me, it looks like the gateway to eternal peace and salvation. No matter what “new normal” the world might throw my way, I’m reminded that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And seen through the lens of the cross, any “new normal” is changed for good.