When You Can’t See God’s Face

Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but I still have trouble recognizing acquaintances when they’re wearing a mask.

One of the unusual things this pandemic has taught us is just how much we rely on a person’s whole face to clue us in to who they are.

When someone wears a mask, we’re missing half the visual information we normally get from their features. It takes us longer to cotton on to who it is.

We waltz past someone, glance at the top half of their face above their mask, and think they look vaguely familiar.

“That’s not so-and-so, is it?” we wonder, as we keep walking.

Too late, we realize it was so-and-so. We can only hope they weren’t offended that we sped past them without a hello.

This pandemic has been unnerving in many ways. Mask-wearing has robbed us of some of the crucial information we need to identify people quickly. Not only that, masks also deprive us of the ability to see people smile.

Do you ever feel like you’re only seeing half of God’s “face,” as it were?

Has hardship obscured His features from your sight? Do you long to see Him smile upon you again?

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Rumour Has It

Same tree in winter and summer. Photo by Coanri/Rita on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

It can be hard to believe we’ll ever be back to normal life, can’t it?

We’ve lived so long in this pandemic-induced limbo that sometimes it doesn’t seem plausible that our regular lives will ever resume. It can seem like this state of suspended animation will drag on and on and leave our usual way of life just out of reach.

We might hear of other countries where day-to-day life is approaching normalcy, but this almost seems like a rumour intended to taunt us.

It can feel the same way in the bitter depths of winter, too. We get so accustomed to the frigid temperatures, bare trees and snow-covered landscapes that it’s hard to believe there’s such a thing as summer.

This feeling of incredulity reminds me of a quotation from John Crowley’s fantasy novel, “Little, Big”:

“Love is a myth,” Grandfather Trout said. “Like summer.”

“What?”

“In winter,” Grandfather Trout said, “summer is a myth. A report, a rumour. Not to be believed in. Get it? Love is a myth. So is summer.”

This passage speaks of romantic love, but I think this quotation applies equally well to the way God sometimes works in our lives.

In “winter” seasons of our lives, when things aren’t going well for us, it seems like the status quo will drag on and on. We’re skeptical that anything could ever change. The idea that things will someday turn around for us seems like a cruel rumour, something it’s not safe to believe in.

But as we know, love, like summer, is not a myth or a rumour.

Neither is God’s goodness.

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Sounds Like Paradise

Image of New Zealand by Lars_Nissen from Pixabay

Right now, living in countries like New Zealand sounds like a sort of paradise to the rest of the world.

Some island nations have been able to beat back the novel coronavirus to the point where life is almost back to normal.

People in those countries can once again attend concerts, go out to restaurants or to church, return to their workplaces, and hug their friends and family.

They can pretty much go about their pre-pandemic lives.

For those of us living in countries still battling second or third waves of COVID-19, life in places like New Zealand seems like a dream.

We hope that one day maybe life will be like that for us, too: we long for a world where there are no more restrictions, suffering or death due to COVID-19.

In essence, we all yearn for a release from “bondage,” don’t we?

But even when we’ve been able to put the novel coronavirus in the rear-view mirror, this ache for freedom won’t quite go away.

Why?

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Doomscrolling? Try Hopescrolling!

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

Have you been prone to “doomscrolling” recently?

Doomscrolling is a new word that’s been coined to describe the habit of obsessively consuming a large quantity of negative online news.

The committee of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary even named “doomscrolling” their Word of the Year for 2020.

Humans have a natural tendency to pay more attention to bad news, but the doomscrolling trend has accelerated during the pandemic.

We compulsively check our news apps and social media feeds, endlessly scanning the latest ominous headlines. We feed ourselves a steady diet shocking or disheartening news about rising COVID-19 case numbers, hospital intensive care units filling up, businesses shutting down, political instability or even weather woes.

We can’t seem to help ourselves, even when we sense that doomscrolling is probably detrimental to our mental health. All this bad news saturating our minds can leave us depressed, anxious, angry or hopeless.

We need an antidote to the feeling of despair that doomscrolling can produce.

I’d like to propose that we adopt a new habit:

Hopescrolling!

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Preparing a Place Just For You

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

If this were a normal Christmas, I imagine that many of us would be preparing to have guests over for the holidays.

We’d be spiffing up the house, decorating the Christmas tree, and getting the guest bedroom ready for overnight visitors.

We might also be planning the decorations for the dining table: choosing which candles and flowers to use, bringing out the best china, or making whimsical place cards.

It’s fun to prepare for guests, isn’t it? Selecting special touches that you know they’ll like, ensuring that they’ll be comfortable, even customizing things so that each guest feels cherished.

This year, however, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into our Christmas plans. For many of us, preparing for guests is something that’s off the menu.

But did you know that there’s someone who’s still preparing a place for you, pandemic or not?

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Good Fear Vs. Bad Fear

A tarantula, one of the most feared spiders
Photo by WikiImages on Pixabay

Has this pandemic made you fearful? Are you afraid that you or your loved ones might catch the COVID-19 virus? Are you nervous about even going out in public? Afraid that life will never be quite the same again?

For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has only added to our list of things to fear. As if we didn’t already have enough things to be afraid of!

There are fears common to many of us, such as fear of spiders or snakes, fear of public speaking or fear of falling.

Then there are the more unusual phobias, such as fear of clocks or clowns, balloons or buttons, and even beards. (Full marks to you if you know that triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)

There’s no end of things to be afraid of in this world. But is fear always bad?

No. God gave us the emotion of fear: it’s there to save us from danger.

But we need to differentiate between good fear and bad fear.

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Beauty Out Of Brokenness

Sea glass on a rock
Photo by treenabelle on Pixabay

Once the worst of this pandemic is over, psychologists warn that many of us may suffer from post-traumatic stress for some time to come. Some of us will have lost a job, seen our business close down for good, suffered isolation and loneliness, or may have even lost a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis.

But is PTSD a given in these circumstances? Is there different outcome that can occur, an unexpected benefit that may arise out of these difficult times?

Psychologists say yes: there’s such a thing as post-traumatic growth. It’s been found in survivors of war, cancer, and natural disasters. Some people emerge from a crisis with increased spirituality, a greater sense of personal strength, new priorities and closer relationships with others. What could have broken them actually made them better.

This phenomenon reminds me a bit of “sea glass.” Sea glass, or beach glass, found washed up on shores, starts out as merely cast-aside pieces of broken glass. Perhaps they’ve been tossed overboard from a ship, or thrown into the sea from land along with other garbage.

These shards of glass endure years of being buffeted against the stones of the sea bottom. It seems like they’re being dashed about mercilessly by the relentless action of the waves. Surely no good could come of this?

But then, something almost magical emerges.

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An Invisible Crisis

Empty streets of Milan, Italy during the pandemic
Photo by Alberto Trentanni on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There’s something strange about the crisis the world is undergoing right now: from the outside, things look surprisingly normal.

If you view the streets of your town during this pandemic, most things look the same as they did before. The buildings are intact, the streetlights come on at night like clockwork, and the spring flowers are blooming. This isn’t a crisis like a flood or earthquake, where the devastation is plain to see.

The COVID-19 crisis seems almost invisible, until you realize that something isn’t quite right when you look around: missing from the scene is the normal hum of human activity. The workplaces are shut, people aren’t in restaurants, and children aren’t in playgrounds. An eerie quiet pervades most areas.

It’s only when you look behind closed doors that you see the devastating impact of the pandemic. The high death toll in some nursing homes, the stressed out health care workers, and the loneliness of self-isolation.

When we have a crisis of our own, like depression or despair, we can look a bit like those intact buildings. Things look normal from the outside. When people look at us, there’s no evidence of the turmoil raging within.

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Season of Stillness

Empty cafe in Italy
Photo by Peter H. on Pixabay

The lockdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic have produced some unexpected results in the natural world.

With fewer vehicles and industrial machines operating, noise pollution has been reduced so dramatically that seismologists can hear sounds from inside the planet that they couldn’t detect previously.

In cities, reduced traffic noise is allowing people to hear birdsong, the chatter of squirrels, and the chirping of crickets like never before. People have been surprised to discover that they can now hear the flapping of birds’ wings as they pass overhead.

A quieter environment is probably also allowing animals to hear each other better. City birds usually have to sing more loudly than their country cousins to make themselves heard above the urban cacophony: perhaps their mates and rivals can hear them more easily now. With a reduction in ship traffic, marine mammals might also be finding that they can contact each other with greater ease now that there is less “acoustic smog” in the oceans.

If we can hear the creation better during the lockdowns, and creation can hear itself better, can we hear our Creator better?

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Comfort Food for the Soul

Are you reaching for comfort food during the pandemic?
Photo of Supreme Pizza by Wikipedia, Public Domain

As hundreds of millions of us are shut in our homes, nervously monitoring the news for the latest updates on the coronavirus, we’re also dealing with an unexpected side effect of this pandemic:

Many of us are gaining weight as we turn to comfort foods to calm us.

This is perfectly understandable. We’re in a global crisis right now, with the news getting worse day by day in some countries. Who would blame us for reaching for cookies, ice cream, fried foods or nostalgic casseroles to console us, even if they can only do so temporarily?

But is there a more lasting source of comfort, preferably one that’s low in fat and calories?

Yes, there is…

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