In my last post I shared a quote from CS Lewis about the nuclear weapon era that feels appropriate for today’s world, first brought to my attention by The Gospel Coalition.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Yes, these are troubled times that require precautions. For those of us who don’t remember 9/11 very well (myself included), this looks to be the first nation-wide catastrophe of our lifetimes. But I wanted to share the Lewis quote to remind us that we are not in completely unfamiliar territory, as a human species or as a church. The coronavirus is new, terrible, and a great threat to human health and flourishing. But we have no reason to believe that it will kill half of the population, like the Black Death did in Europe in the middle ages, or even ~5% of the world’s population, like the 1918 Spanish Flu did (The 3-4% mortality rate you’re seeing is for people who get the disease, not the entire population, and sanitary practices are much better than they were a hundred years ago). We ultimately remember events like these by the way people reacted to them, and the same will be true about today’s pandemic. I hope we can all act in ways that, years from now, we’ll be proud of as being level-headed, generous, selfless, and examples of Christ’s love and peace.

When Christ was asked about the greatest commandment, he responded “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22, ~Deut 6 and Lev 19). Loving God and loving our neighbor are the bedrocks of Christian life, and they ought to be the foundation of our life in the time of the coronavirus as well. What follows are suggestions for how to do both in today’s world, drawing from – but not exclusive to – the Christian tradition.


Love your neighbor as yourself

Concerning neighborly love, let me say up front that social distancing is a profoundly Christian thing to do. Making sacrifices for the most vulnerable members of society is at the heart of the gospel (Gal 6.2, John 15.12, Romans 12.13, Phil 2.4, Matt 25.44-45, Luke 3.10-11, James 2, etc.). That’s exactly what we (either healthy or sick) are doing when we stay home to slow the spread of the virus. Failing to “socially distance” is essentially saying, “I care more about my events and comfort than other peoples’ lives.” If you had a party, or a conference, or especially a graduation or wedding coming up, this is difficult. You’re allowed to be disappointed and frustrated at the circumstance. It’s perfectly normal and understandable to be bummed about missing out on the things of life we were looking forward to, big or small (March Madness was a tough one for me). You’re allowed to wallow in self-pity for a bit. But placing others’ lives before our own convenience is at the heart of the Christian message. We are called to be disciples of Christ and follow in his footsteps. Christ laid down his life for us; we can at least lay down our plans on behalf of others.

 Regardless of your denominational views, Martin Luther has wisdom to share here. A flare-up of the Black Death afflicted his region of Germany, leading Luther to argue to local pastors that the church’s duty to help the sick only increases in a time of plague:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”

Luther was quite ahead of the curve on endorsing social distancing, but he was eager to help the sick in any way he could. He walked the walk and opened his home to the sick during the height of a plague, pursuing “the welfare of the city” (Jer 29.7). No one is asking you to bring coronavirus-positive people into your home, but there are other ways you can help. If someone struggled with access to food, medicine, or shelter before the outbreak, they are certainly struggling more now. Older people or immune-compromised folks might be nervous to leave their houses to get groceries or other supplies. And families with young children may especially be struggling, since school closures have effectively cancelled their child care, leaving them babysitting while also trying to figure out how to work from home. (Families whose kids are out of school might also be desperate for tutoring support, which you could provide by video call. Ask them.) If you’re young and healthy, you could still be a carrier and need to be careful. But you’re less at risk than others, and it may be safer for you to fetch supplies for them than for them to go personally. Pastors can consider making a Google form for people to discreetly request these needs. Blood banks are also running low, but you can still give blood if you make an appointment. As a Catholic writer I like, Fr. James Martin, said, “Many things have been cancelled because of the coronavirus. Love is not one of them.”

This is an important moment in the history of the church. People will remember how others respond, both individually and as organizations. Will your church be known in the community for decades to come as the group that refused to heed health advice and contributed to the problem? Or as a group that creatively worked to find solutions and calmness? For people who don’t know much about Christianity, consider that how you or your church react might be all they really know about the Gospel. As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5.15). We will be an example, one way or the other, to our community. To put on my seminary hat for a moment, the Greek root for “apocalypse” means “uncovering/revealing” (that’s why the New Testament book is called “Revelation.”) So yes, we’re in apocalyptic times where it feels like everything’s falling apart. But people’s characters are also being revealed, for better or worse. Some have been opportunists or lax in their public duty, while others are stepping up as heroes. This is a crisis, but it’s also a glimpse at our true colors. Let us lean into the chance to show the world who we really are as Christians.

 Love God

As Rachel Held Evans – whose one-year death anniversary is coming up soon – said once, “Some people need to be told to love their neighbor as they love themselves. Other people need to be told to love themselves as they love their neighbor.” Don’t forget to take care of yourself. For mental health, try not to get sucked into the social media vortex every day. Remember: “You will run out of mental health long before the world runs out of traumatizing stories.” Things like a healthy diet, exercise, and enough rest are always recommended. But especially now, when our health system really can’t afford to deal with you getting sick. So we should be following the guidelines of public health officials for the sake of neighborly love and our own physical health, but that might not do much to meet our own spiritual needs of the moment.

I think about how odd it is that this quarantine is happening during Lent, the period when Christians are supposed to slow down their lives, fast, pray, read scripture, support those less fortunate than ourselves, and ponder our baptisms. Do I believe God sent the coronavirus so that we would have to observe Lent? No, of course not. But I also believe that we ought to make the most of any circumstance, and in our busy lives it’s a rare thing to find ourselves in a period of stillness.

Whether or not your church tradition usually practices Lent, I recommend everyone take the opportunity to engage with Lent more deeply than we perhaps would in other years. Although I didn’t grow up in a tradition that put a lot of emphasis on structure, I’ve come to really appreciate how centuries-old spiritual practices make me feel united with Christians from throughout history and around the world. In this time of isolation, this connection feels even more valuable.

There are a few ways to go about this when reading scripture, but one of my favorites is the lectionary, which is a collection of bible passages assigned to every day of the year, grouped by a common theme (usually including passages from each of the following:  Old Testament, a Psalm, a New Testament letter, and a Gospel). Wherever you are in the world, you can read these scriptures and know that millions of other Christians across the world are reading the exact same passages.

  • The Revised Common Lectionary is used widely across the Protestant world, including by Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and some Baptists. They have shorter daily readings, or longer excerpts for Sundays.  

  • The Catholic Lectionary is a quite similar collection of daily readings grouped by theme. The RCL is based off of it.

  • I’m also quite fond of a book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. In addition to scripture, each day includes some prayers, a short reflection about a figure in church history, and a song. It’s relatively cheap to buy, but also lives on a free website. It’s given me comfort in recent days, and I was surprised to learn that I really like the pre-written prayers. I feel like sometimes it’s hard to come up with my own words, so I appreciate being able to use someone else’s.

On the topic of prayer, now is a good time to explore new spiritual practices you may be less familiar with. Two that I’ve become fond of in recent years are called the Examen and Lectio Divina. The Examen is a type of reflective prayer that follows a five-step pattern:[1]

  1. Gratitude: Recall anything from the day for which you are especially grateful, and give thanks.

  2. Review: Recall the events of the day, from start to finish, noticing where you felt God’s presence, and where you accepted or turned away from invitations to grow in love.

  3. Sorrow: Recall any actions for which you are sorry.

  4. Forgiveness: Ask for God’s forgiveness. Decide whether you want to reconcile with anyone you have hurt.

  5. Grace: Ask God for the grace you need for the next day and an ability to see God’s presence more clearly.

 The purpose of the Examen is not to beat yourself up, but to look more deliberately at your day, perhaps seeing it as God would. In today’s distractible world, we so rarely reflect on moments once they pass. I’ve found that the Examen reminds me to take notice of plenty of moments I otherwise would have forgotten. Lots of priests pray the Examen twice a day, at lunch and before bed. Even if you just do it before bed, I think having another daily ritual can help us all keep some structure in our lives.

I also like Lectio Divina (Latin: sacred reading), which is a way of meeting God in a passage of scripture.[2]

  1. Reading: What does the text say? What’s going on in the story? If it’s not obvious, perhaps footnotes or a commentary can help you.

  2. Meditation: What is God saying to me through the text? Ponder the text more deeply, and consider connections to your own life.

  3. Prayer: What do you want to say to God about the text? How does the text make you feel? What questions arise in your mind? What is your reaction? Pour it all out to God.

  4. Action: What do you want to do based on your prayer? Prayer should move us to action, even if it simply makes us want to be more compassionate and faithful.

Now is also a great time for some spiritual reading outside of scripture if you’ve been meaning to read some books about faith. That’s certainly where I find myself this Lent, working through Mere Christianity by CS Lewis for the first time. A few of my favorite books from seminary are listed here under the title “seminary on a shelf,” and there’s something for all levels of interest and motivation.

Lent is a time in which the church undergoes 40 days of solemnity, in a sort of voluntary wilderness. We “take on disciplines that disrupt our lives, and show us things about ourselves that ultimately are helpful, but initially are uncomfortable.” Whether or not we like it, the disruptions are here. We can only take advantage of them as best we can. I don’t have all the answers. Just know that you’re not alone. No matter how you’re feeling – angry, bored, lonely, anxious – lots of us are as well. And so was the Psalmist, for that matter:

  • “I am worn out, O Lord; have pity on me! My soul is in deep anguish.” – Psalm 6.2

  • “During the day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer; I call at night, but get no rest.” Psalm 22.11


Remember, you’re allowed to be upset. If you’re not upset about this, you might not be taking it seriously enough. But we know what to do. Keep best public health practices. Be emotionally present, calm, and non-anxious. Anxiety spreads, but so does calmness. When you do run errands, remember that everyone else is a person just like you are. Act out of love, not fear. Call the people you care about. And take it one day at a time, like Christ recommended: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).


Much love to you all.




Recommendations to help remember that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.


Recommended resources for running a church in this crisis (Several from here):


Recommended resources on personal spiritual needs:

  • A coronavirus prayer I like from America magazine, a Jesuit group.

  • Some more advice on prayer methods you can do at home from a group of churches in England, including the Examen and Lectio Divina.

  • The Bible Project has done two excellent videos on the Book of Job and what wisdom it may offer us in a time of suffering.

  • My favorite book on the problem of evil is the slim but very wordy Doors of the Sea: Where was God during the Tsunami? by David Bently Hart.

[1] James Martin, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, p97.

[2] The Jesuit Guide, 155-160. Near word-for-word summary.

[March 20, 2020]