John 1: 4-5
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
My mom died on March 4, 2020, a week before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. A few months later, George Floyd was murdered and the systemic racism that impacts the lives of millions of African Americans was brought to fuller light. The months rolled on, each one throwing up challenges that could feel overwhelming.
When January 1, 2021, arrived, I remember saying “This year will be better.” A few days later, an insurrection attempted to overthrow our government. COVID continued to work its way through our family, friends and neighbors, taking some lives and irrevocably changing others.
On January 1, 2022, with a vaccine and various boosters lessening the chance of dying from a microscopic virus, I once again declared “This year will certainly be better.” And then my dad was diagnosed with an incurable condition and died a few months later.
This January, I didn’t make any forecasts for the year ahead. But for some reason, I feel more hopeful. Life is returning to a new normal, and big issues – racism, climate change, anti-LGBT sentiment – are being addressed by political leaders and everyday citizens around the world. The words from John 1: 4-5 started to resonate. The constant struggle between love and hate, hope and despair, faith and doubt is our reality. But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Darkness will always be a part of our lives. It will try to overcome the light, and some days will be dark indeed. But the light will not give up and let itself be extinguished. That belief is at the heart of our Lenten journey as we watch Jesus hung on a cross to die. That was a dark day, but the light burst back into our existence on Easter. Thanks be to God.
Some musings for the journey
I grew up with three younger siblings who all fit with me in the back seat of one of those huge cars everyone seemed to own in the 1960s. The four of us created “property lines” that delineated our portion of the space and were carefully guarded.
When we weren’t disciplining each other for violating those property lines, we were usually asking the driver, i.e., Mom or Dad, when we would be arriving at our destination. The cries of “When are we going to be there?!” became louder and more plaintive as the trip grew longer and our last bathroom break receded from memory.
As we enter Year 4 of the pandemic, we’re all crying out “When will we be there?” Our destination, ever receding, is the somewhat mythical town of Normal, at the intersection of highways Usual & Customary.
When even cute puppy videos can’t calm my anxiety, I remind myself that uncertainty is part and parcel of the human experience. The Israelites meandered for 40 years as driver Moses became ever more exasperated with his children’s complaints. My parents and grandparents wandered through the wilderness of World War II, wondering when daily reports of death and destruction would cease.
Our family’s 1960s car odysseys ended each time at their hoped-for destinations, and we eventually ventured out for some cross-country trips that challenged both the drivers and the passengers. The Israelites finally found their Promised Land, but the struggle to possess it was only beginning. World War II ended, but it would take decades to rebuild devastated countries. Our current pandemic will someday cease, or at least abate, but scientists and governments will need to prepare for the next one that will offer new and currently unimaginable challenges.
Christians around the world are all experiencing a “journey” of their own right now – through Lent – that takes us to a cross. Like many of our human journeys, that seeming end is just the beginning as we round the corner to an empty tomb. What happens next? That story is still being written by each of us – both a daunting challenge and an incredible gift.