We're in unprecedented times. The coronavirus pandemic has brought crashing home the sorts of scenario we've viewed at arm's length or beyond, in science-fiction novels or disaster movies - a brief distraction, entertaining escapism from the daily round. Not now. Some people are calling it apocalypse now.
s often is the case, help comes from those more familiar with crises or extended suffering. In the first volume of her autobiographical reflections I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the African-American writer Maya Angelou describes the many hard circumstances she and others faced and overcame.
However, it's the book's metaphor I want to explore, a particularly apt one for the strange new season that's upon us. We've only just begun social distancing and self-isolation, but for many it's an alien experience, with much yet unknown about the future. Yet inspiration comes from those in Italy who, despite the devastating trauma their nation is going through, are literally singing from their separate balconies and showing community spirit in the face of terrible suffering.
When people are in the pits, it's more important than ever that some inner resources can be called upon, whether by neighbourly help, or forces beyond.
The people of Israel, who know a thing or two about responding to suffering, have given us many durable treasures, not least the Psalms.
Often written from the pits, or the memories thereof, the psalmists speak, or better sing, not with escapist idealism, vacuous optimism or the twin poles of panic or fatalism, but with the chutzpah of hopeful realism.
Psalm 42 affirms that "deep calls to deep", continuing: "By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life."
Singing by night goes far beyond whistling in the dark. Whether it arises from explicit faith or the Spirit working in anonymous ways that defy dogmatic labels, those who are caged, confined, desperate or simply being sensible transcend their circumstances in beautifully irrepressible ways.
This is apocalypse now, not because it's not alarming, scary or unnerving, but because it reveals to us the truth about ourselves: our co-humanity in the image of God, who is assuredly with us in Christ, come what may.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
Already have an account?