Daily Connector | Blessed | Ryan Schellenberg

My apocalypse has been strangely tranquil. At first I thought it was the calm before the storm. And maybe it will be. But for now, at least, life at our home feels like a sort of extra-long  weekend, each day at least part Saturday, unhurried. Shedding the kids’ activities, our social engagements, half of Susan’s work—it’s made family life more spacious even if  geographically our range has shrunk. When I look back on this month, I’ll recall family game nights, baseball with the kids in the backyard, walks around the neighborhood, teaching the  kids to knead bread dough. (Don’t get the wrong idea. Life with a five- and a six-year-old involves plenty of exasperation too—but I do suspect it’s the sweet moments I’ll remember.) I  don’t get as much work done from home. But I do get to look up and watch the kids on the swings or splashing in the puddles, and pause to marvel in the timeless pleasures of childhood.

I’m very aware that my experience is one of privilege. Susan works with people who live outside, and I was at Marion Correctional Institution in March, the day before it was closed to visitors. We’ve reflected quite a bit on the fact it’s a luxury to be able peacefully to shelter in place. A blessing, my grandparents would have said, though I find I keep tripping on that word. What is the difference, I find myself wondering, between being privileged and being blessed? What does gratitude look like when what I’m enjoying is, in part, the fruit of structural violence and inequality? For my grandparents, their consciousness shaped by the collective trauma of fleeing famine and war in Russia, being blessed meant living in peace and relative prosperity—plenty to eat, their farms unpillaged, their families unharmed by war. A blessing indeed. But of course not everyone made it safely out of Russia, and I keep recollecting a line from Rudy Wiebe’s The Blue Mountains of China: “I think Mrs. Friesen was praying too.”

I had a friend tell me recently that she had been sick with The Thing. Myself, I’ve taken to calling it the pestilence. It may be archaic, but I find the word refreshingly non-clinical, a usefully jarring contrast to the sanitized jargon of the politicians and pundits, with their models and projections, the false confidence they exude even while predicting our demise. Plus, the term pestilence keeps sending me back to Psalm 91—a timely prayer, but an unsettling one too:

“You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Because you have made the LORD your refuge, no scourge will come near your tent.”

More than ever, I find myself troubled by the moral logic of the Psalm, it’s implication that God reliably exempts the righteous, or holds some lives more dearly than others. But more than ever too I feel its urgency, the psalmist’s plea that his own house be spared.