A Close Encounter with Corona: Embracing Vulnerability
After a long day of online classes, and meetings, I came out late one evening to take a stroll on the balcony of my study room at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune. In front of me was a panoramic view of the Seminary Chapel, the library, the classrooms, and a part of the administrative block of the institution.
The Chapel with a cross on the top looked elegant, silhouetted against the sky which was thick with dark clouds - a sure sign of impending monsoon rain. I glanced around the locked classrooms, the library entrance, and the administrative blocks which, a few months ago, were the hub of activities most of the day and even at night. Now they all had was a deserted look!
Day and night, my ears were continually bombarded with the news of the multiplying Covid19 casualties throughout the world and especially in my home state, Kerala. The medical world which remained speechless for a while has now come out with promises of vaccine probably in 2021 or in 2022!
For the first time since the onslaught of what the humans call pandemic, I felt a deep sense of helplessness and hopelessness leading to numbness. Was it a defence mechanism to deny the reality that surrounded me? Was my numbness a part of self-care and/ or an effort to shy away from my ministerial task of caring for the many who were alienated in the name of “social/physical distancing” and who yearned to be touched? How long could I remain numb to the plight of my neighbour?
In the silence of that very night I also felt being imprisoned, locked up on a deserted campus. My thoughts (not yet numbed!) flashed through the many women and men who felt vulnerable as they spent years in exile and behind bars in India and abroad, for just causes. The Israelites in exile as recorded in the Bible; Pastoral Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer imprisoned in Germany; India’s freedom fighters including Sarojini Naidu, and M. K. Gandhi in Yervada Prison in Pune, not far from where I live now!
It is hard to believe that the little unseen thing called Corona could shake up the whole world. But, as the German American Pastoral Theologian Paul Tillich wrote in chapter 21 of his collection of sermons titled “The Shaking of the Foundations”, “So far as I stand in fear, I stand not in freedom, and I am not free to act as the situation demands, but I am bound to act as the pictures and imaginations produced by my fear drive me to act.” (Page 170)
The experience of numbness, imprisonment, and vulnerability led me to a different and unique level of religious experience - something close to the vulnerability of the God of the Old Testament - to limit God-self to make room for the humans and other creatures; to the vulnerability of Jesus the Christ, a sojourner on this earth, and to move beyond it.
Hey, Corona - crown- as you are rightly labelled, through your onslaught on humans, you enlarged my horizon to make me more eco-conscious than before, and to see the whole creation as the image of God. You brought down many of the human constructed walls, stigmas, and boundaries – religion, caste, creed, race, gender, ethnicity, tribe, region, and nation, but we humans continue to create new ones. You helped me to rethink my personal, professional, and pastoral identities and enabled me to re-crystallize some of the main concepts of pastoral care such as pastoral presence, being with others, empathy, experiencing God amidst crisis etc. You brought together the multiplicity of human experiences to weave life into a fabric of complex and mysterious realities, and to seek God through these varied encounters! Namaste, Corona, for this learning!!
Returning to my study, I came to realize that, despite being emotionally numb and feeling vulnerable, I was on a pilgrimage with Jesus, along with Corona, not seeking answers and meaning for everything, but to let God hold my hands and my life trusting that God was and continue to be in control despite this crisis.
Fr Dr George Varughese is presently serving in the Department of Christian Ministry at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India
Photo by Simon Buchou on Unsplash