On Living in a Pandemic- Borrowed Thoughts from CS Lewis

This is a guest post by my good friend Adam King. Adam King is a husband, father, student at Liberty University Divinity School, Army officer, ordained by Grace Bible Church, and is directing his life toward pastoral ministry. He likes spending time with family, coffee, good discussion with friends, books, and cooking.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.” In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.

We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

~C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

C.S. Lewis is often called a prophet. It is clear just from this passage alone that what gives Lewis the quality of a prophet is his understanding that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He recommends that we all read old books so that we do not make the same mistakes that our ancestors have made, and that two heads are better than one because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. Here the clear sea breeze of the past sweeps through and gives us a strong reminder for today.

Our situation in the coronavirus pandemic is not new, and in fact we all have an appointment with death, and since we all have that appointment, we should all be doing “sensible human things.” However, there is something to be reminded of in moments like these. Let this pandemic be a reminder that we are on a sinking ship, and if our hope is only in this life then we of all species are to be pitied most. I mean, that if there is nothing eternal outside this life, and we, having accidently become aware of our situation, are tempted to assign meaning to our truly meaningless life, then “eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

I am a believer in a more hopeful answer.

Life has never been normal

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life”. Life has never been normal. 

~CS Lewis, Learning in Wartime

 

Pandemic Intensity

I re-injured my right hamstring on a glacial Tuesday evening while running almost two months ago. My recovery plan was regrettably clear: I had to shut everything down. Rest, no running, no stretching. I blush to remember how discouraged I was. That weekend, after a few feeble attempts at light jogging I accepted my fate. I brought my 22 mile per week regimen to a complete stop. Running had become key for me, so I warned my wife that my life would soon be falling apart. One reputable source suggested that I should avoid running for 8 weeks.

During an episode on dealing with injuries, Running Rogue host Chris McClung recommended looking to the broken training cycles as an opportunity to challenge myself. Every injury is a chance to anchor myself and gain new skills. He gave examples of famous athletes who made breakthroughs during injury cycles. He was urgent- don’t mope, don’t get complacent, don’t waste your injury.

I took this to heart. I started getting up at 4:30 am to make time to swim laps at my local YMCA. Realizing that I had no idea what I was doing did nothing to diminish my intensity. I spent my lunch breaks watching Youtube tutorials and learned how to breathe and to freestyle. I was baptized. My three lap near-death experiences became regular ½ mile workouts. That’s thirty-two laps, in case you were wondering. After a month, swimming laps restored the familiar rhythms of prayer and reflection. I also began walking two to three miles a day.

I began to observe that life is full of similar opportunities to pivot and I often waste them. Consider the current COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is facing their own private stash of anxieties. We can’t waste our God-given chance to see into the life of things.

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

Instead of manically scanning the news for hourly (!) updates, we will say: “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”

James K.A. Smith reminds us: “Your deepest desire is the one manifested by your daily life and habits.” What is your current crisis revealing about your deepest desires? Don’t go with the flow, don’t keep pace with social media. Don’t mope, don’t get complacent. Rather, with God-earnest intensity and prayer-saturated effort learn something new, read that book, get down on your knees and pray. Don’t waste your pandemic.

BL