This Pandemic Life
Heather Grennan Gary

How quickly life can change! When our staff started working on this issue, everything seemed to be business as usual. Within a few weeks, though, the voices talking about coronavirus in the US media intensified from a murmur into a roar. In the past week, the World Health Organization classified coronavirus as a pandemic. The number of confirmed cases in the United States multiplied many times over. Schools and workplaces have closed, grocery stores have been emptied, churches have suspended public worship, and events of all kinds have been postponed or canceled. Valparaiso University is one of hundreds of colleges and universities that have moved in-person classes online.

Life has changed quickly indeed. Daily existence has simultaneously become more boring and more alarming as we adapt to these changes. Although planning for this issue of the Cresset commenced long before most of us had uttered the now-familiar words “social distancing” or “self-isolating,” the contributors have given us essays, columns, and poems that seem remarkably relevant to this pandemic life.

First, in the essay “Post-Apocalyptic Hope in When the English Fall and The Road,” L. Lamar Nisly reflects on how the actions and outlook of an individual or small group can shape reality, even when reality is at its bleakest. “In helpful ways,” Nisly writes, the two novels “engage similar concerns of what happens when a society’s structures fall apart … how people should approach external threats, and the possibilities for hopeful outcomes.”

Second, Joel Kurz’s essay, “The Fluidity of Stone and the Ground of Our Being: Andy Goldsworthy’s Walking Wall, considers the recent exhibit of a traditionally constructed stone wall at Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. As public health professionals and government officials remind us of how interconnected we are—how much we rely on the vigilance of others for our own well-being—Kurz’s thoughts about the stones Goldsworthy uses seem like an apt metaphor: “Each stone exists in relation to the stones and spaces around it,” he writes. “Only by being joined together with other stones of various sizes and shapes can a cohesive entity emerge.” And, as we anticipate difficult times in the weeks and months to come, Kurz has another important insight: “Sorrow is inescapable, so what happens around it matters.”

Finally, Susan R. Holman’s essay, “A Tale of Two Tables,” explores the connections between religion, food, and the healing arts. Midway through the essay, she writes about what she needs to do to receive communion: “I must move my body, physically coordinating it with others in the communion line. This reminds me of my connections—and obligations—to others in consequence of this eucharistic community. I must attentively watch clerical hands to get the elements into my mouth and not on the floor. This reminds me that I must be open to my own needs, to others’ willingness to interact with me, and that I have choice and agency.” And finally, she writes, in taking communion she is reminded that “My life indeed depends on Jesus’s willingness to be torn apart, as it were, for my sake.”

Holman’s essay is a bittersweet read in this extraordinary time when participation in communion is limited by coronavirus response measures. Pastors and church leaders have been quick to remind the faithful, though, that a lack of physical communion does not inevitably equal a lack of spiritual communion. We might be waylaid by disease, but we remain the body of Christ. This temporary separation from each other is a sacrifice for the good of the community—one that seems somehow appropriate for the season of Lent. We may be alone a lot these days, but we are alone together.     —HGG

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