Then What?

Published January 7, 2022

“Life . . . is a struggle . . . an experience in both gain and loss, joy and sorrow. No life consists of nothing but success and satisfaction, security and self-gratification. Failure and disappointment, loss and pain are natural parts of the human equation. Then what?” —Joan Chittister

Just as we rang in the New Year, the increase in new infections of COVID-19, including a new variant that appears to be easier to transmit, is forcing schools, churches, and theaters to cancel in-person gatherings or return to previous restrictions and protocols similar to the earliest days of the pandemic. It feels like we should be doing much better against COVID, given all of the effort and expense in addressing a global pandemic. It’s hard not to point the finger at the others whom we think aren’t doing enough or being careful enough for all of us to get back to normal. Confronted with potential exposures and infections in our community, we temporarily retreated from regular in-person gatherings.

It is unsettling to be thrown back into this place of uncertainty. I have been feeling some way about pulling back into quarantine. And just as I begin to give in to the exasperating question, “now what?” I remember Sister Joan Chittister’s meditation on the reality and acceptance that life is a struggle. Knowing that, “then what?” She invites us to search and experience the alleluia moments in life, “the awareness of another whole kind of reality—beyond the immediate, beyond the delusional, beyond the instant perception of things,” trusting in God’s presence during struggle. Just as this is a defining moment in how unsettling the times are, I have also experienced defining moments of love, joy, and gratitude that have inspired, fortified, and carried me through this time of increasingly bad news.

I pray we find our way to alleluia at this moment and resist the easy, elusive salve of normalcy or the immobilizing hopelessness that interferes with our imagination. I hope we take the long and lasting view that there are moments of revelation of love and good that helps us answer the question, “then what?” after we’ve confronted our loss and grief. There isn’t going to be normal anymore. We’ve lost too much; we remain at risk; more people will contract this disease. To overlook that reality to try to get back to some normalcy lends itself to missing out on the alleluia moments breaking through all the time. The inevitability of loss and pain should not lead us to assume that there won’t be alleluia moments in our future. There await us alleluia experiences that have the potential to endow us with a burst of new energy, a prophetic moral imagination, and a reservoir of new strength to seize the moment, drawing us closer to each other and to all that brings life. May it be so.

DeWayne L. Davis