Are you afraid? Maybe not for yourself, but with so much uncertainty in the world today — even about what is real and not real — how can we keep our families safe without terrifying them? With the specter of Covid-19 — the dreaded Coronavirus — said to be all around us, as much harm, potentially, could come from panic in the face of fear than from the ravishes of the disease itself.

The best medical advice I have been able to muster at this point is to do what you do with the flu. Eat and sleep well, wash your hands, avoid crowds and stay closer to home. Whatever anxieties we might face, we will be much better off getting through them if we actually stick together. Maybe we will be eating fewer fast foods and cooking more meals at home. Instead of heading out to the malls or other spots for entertainment and socializing, home might just be the place to be.

We all live complicated lives, so forgive me if I may seem to be generalizing, but now may be a good time to get back to basics like a meal around one table, more evenings at home with a board game or conversation, and some family prayer. Instead of programmed network TV, use the screen for your own content-controlled videos. And thank God for the blessings we have that some communities may not experience, especially those who suffer from great material and spiritual poverty.

A young friend of mine, who has done mission work in some of the poorer areas of our country, just texted me this:

“Good morning Bishop. I hope that you are doing well. I just got back from the Native American mission in Nebraska. It was extremely impactful. The poverty there is unlike I have ever seen in the United States. The community on the reservation was in great despair after numerous suicides happened a couple weeks before and attempts were made during our visit. But we were able to bring light love and the hope of Christ to the people and communities. I look forward to discussing things further with you with regard to establishing a missions program across the Diocese of Albany. It’s something that continues to remain deeply in my heart. I prayed about this and feel God calling me to it as ministry and I feel we could collectively work to really establish a way for people in our Diocese to live out their faith and discipleship by embracing their own poverty and encountering Jesus in the poor through missions that are community-wide, in state, in the U.S., and abroad. I have the connections and the experience as well as the drive to make this happen. I have recently stepped down from teaching and want to commit my life to this and serving the poor I’ll bring others closer to Christ.”

This is not just a sidebar. Receiving this text this morning certainly put things in perspective for me. In fact, it inspired this writing. No matter how difficult our own circumstances may seem, there are always others who are so much more challenged. When God allows us to experience trials, it may be that he wants us to open our hearts a little to embrace the poverty of those who have much less. It could also be — and this may be tough to admit — that we ourselves are so much the poorer than we realize, for all the false securities we think we have. What we perceive as our wealth and security might actually be our own poverty. For they are so easily eaten away, even by a microscopic speck of protein.

All of the things we depend on and expect every day are not where so much of the world lives. Clean water. Wi-Fi. The Internet. Not to mention cars and other transportation. Insurance. Heat and AC. Peace and quiet. A safe environment without bullets flying.

Even in our own Diocese, there are families with children who live without many of these certainties. Then there are others who, even with some degree of material security, suffer in the painful, repressed silence of domestic violence, human trafficking, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and the ravages of addiction in its many guises.

This certainly puts things into perspective when we consider that these are our neighbors, closer to us than we may realize. Those who live in the margins of our lives, like a leaf in a window, or something you thought you saw. But they are here with us. They are real. And they may be among our families, even in our own homes. We may not know their suffering until the day they act out from their pain, only to be found limp in a closet or lying on a street corner one late night. Every day we read of some such incident in the morning papers. At once we will recognize the name — but, alas, not a person we really knew, or pretended we knew.

Please forgive me, but we have all seen this — or feared it, or worried over it. We have all had that uneasy, sixth sense about some marginal person in our circle, like a lonely bird on a roof, who maybe seems a little off, a shade removed, there but not quite there. Now, in this time of uncertainty, when all of us may be feeling a little unhinged, would be a good time to extend that hand of comforting assurance that there is a companion here to walk the walk together with.

The kindest thing we can do for our friends, neighbors and families now is to love them through the pain and the uncertainty.

“Corona,” however ironically, means “crown.” By all means, we should wash our hands and keep a distance when we cough or sneeze, and maybe bump elbows until spring instead of shaking hands. But now, more than ever, we need to stay close to one another, crowning one another with care and affection, and not allowing the predicted “new social distancing” to separate us from our families, friends and neighbors. They need us, more than ever, just to love them through.

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