“Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off—waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he’s not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Or it may be a much smaller sound close at hand—a chuckle of laughter. Either way, a good, good sound.” — C.S. Lewis
In his landmark memoir, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis describes turning one’s mind to God in times of bewildering loss and realizing how imperfect our human understanding often is, how truly limited we are. Lewis elucidates “the idea that I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.”
So it is, this summer of 2020. As we struggle to heal old griefs, while coping with mysterious new ones, it is helpful to contemplate not only what it is we already understand, but how much more we don’t, and can’t, yet perceive.
Our church has tackled Covid-19 with gusto, suspending in-person gatherings but launching a vibrant online community with worship services, volunteer opportunities, and an area for prayer requests.
Even the special topic weekly group meetings have gone online. Zoom has proven a fine conduit to hash out issues at the intersection of faith and life in these small gatherings. Nothing beats face-to-face, but we take what we can get these days.
I’m enrolled in a women’s group, just six weeks long. It delves deep into some of the things we’re grappling with during this strange, hot summer. About 15 women appear every week, each one a face on a screen, emotions registering clearly enough, voices strong. No hugs or warm hands to clasp. But again, we take what we can get.
It seems that so much of what we’re all praying for concerns loss: either averting it or, once it’s in motion, defending against its assault—and in some cases, its lies. We call on God, asking Him to prevent what we don’t want to happen, and if it happens anyway, to deliver us from grief.
So much of what we’re all praying for concerns loss: either averting it or, once it’s in motion, defending against its assault—and in some cases, its lies.
The burdens the women in my group carry stagger and humble me. One recently said good-bye to her hospitalized husband over the phone, as he lay dying of Covid-19. Another is awaiting the results of a breast biopsy; she’s dodged a couple of close calls, but she’s got a bad feeling this time.
A couple have family members who’ve entered hospice. Another is running the gamut of emotions as the man who murdered her husband years ago is about to receive early parole from prison. Several are praying that they don’t lose their jobs as the pandemic-fueled downsizing continues, leaving us all at risk.
Over Zoom, we listen to and honor each other’s struggles. We remind each other that we are not alone, that we are strong in Christ, that we are a community. We console or encourage or celebrate, whatever the situation calls for.
We remind each other that we are not alone, that we are strong in Christ, that we are a community.
We are like Lewis’ “good, good sound.” Together, we break into cellars and dungeons. We chuckle, close at hand. And when we do these things, we light the way—as best we can. That’s how God shows up on our screens every week.
Yet, while faith is communal, and there is amazing and holy power in that, I’ve come to see more clearly this summer how intensely personal, even idiosyncratic, faith also is. It’s a relationship. Relationships are never easy, but you just can’t beat the benefits.
I’ve come to see more clearly this summer how intensely personal, even idiosyncratic, faith also is.
In a recent sermon, our pastor advised us to channel our concerns, our complaints—whatever they may be—directly to God. Raw prayer, he called it, ungarnished, flat-out, straight from the heart. Spit it out, he urged. God is always at work, even in the times of waiting.
As the pandemic continues, it seems we are all in a time of waiting. Still. We sat physically distanced around the backyard fire pit with our neighbors last night. These are the people who introduced us to our church. We love them like family. The fire flickered bright and reassuring in the dark. We drank wine and talked. We covered it all: our concerns for our children, for the church, our country, and the world in this time of teetering uncertainty. We sat for hours, bound to each other, if only for a short time, in the warm glow.
Here’s one thing I have learned this year. In the end, your relationship with God is one on one. Everything, everyone will one day depart—some sooner, some later, in one way or another. We have little choice in the matter. But holding each other up along the way, acknowledging and easing pain where we find it, reminding each other we are not in a lonely dungeon, is the best good sound that any of us can make.