Face to face with fragility
This guest blog post is by Mike Hood. This is part 1 of a 2 part blog.
I once heard someone describe the experience of surfing and getting sucked under a massive wave. He said you’re curled up in a ball, being tumbled over and over and over, with no idea of which way is up; and there’s nothing you can do except hold your breath and hope that it spits you out before you run out of air. He said it was the definition of fear.
As I’ve spoken to friends about these strange weeks and months, a theme that’s cropped up many times is the way COVID-19 has forced us to realise that we are not in control. We’ve all had plans uprooted and wrecked by this. But we’ve also had to admit that it’s not only our plans that are fragile, we are fragile too. One friend in his late thirties said to me, “It makes you realise: my wife might die this week. I might die this week.” We know we might die – in fact we know we will die – but we don’t know when. Of course that’s actually nothing new; I was struck recently by how one of the ancient songs in the Bible, the Psalms, articulates this very contemporary and utterly universal experience:
“The life of mortals is like grass,
They flourish like a flower of the field;
The wind blows over it and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.” (Psalm 103:14-15)
We have always been fragile flowers, it’s just that the daily death count on the news has woken some of us up for the first time to feel ourselves trembling in the wind.
So how do we deal with our fragility? Well we have two major default tactics in the 21st Century Western world. Ignore it, and insulate ourselves against it. Instagram, YouTube, Netflix and co. make a vast amount of money from us because they offer to numb us and distract us from ourselves, so we never need face even a few minutes of quiet self-awareness or reflection. We don’t want to sit quietly in a room alone, in case we’re forced to wonder who we are or where we’re going, so if we’re ever threatened by that possibility we instinctively get our phones out.
And we insulate ourselves by finding ways to feel like actually everything is under control. We are fragile little flowers, but we surround ourselves with calendars and to-do lists and five year plans to help us feel like we’ve got a grip on our future. Or we place blind, unquestioning faith in whatever promises to protect us from uncertainty.
I read a brilliant article a while back by Yuval Noah Harari, who was warning against exactly that kind of blind faith in medics and scientists to solve the current crisis. He said,
“The question on the lips of everybody from the White House, through Wall Street all the way to the balconies of Italy is: ‘When will the vaccine be ready?’ When. Not if.”
We are fragile flowers, desperately trying to convince ourselves that we are castles. Exhausting ourselves trying to feel impregnable. And it is exhausting; because it’s ultimately impossible. It’s running around with sandbags trying to stop the tide from coming in.
But what’s the alternative? What can we do with our fragility that’s less exhausting and delusional than insulating ourselves against it and ignoring it? Well the obvious alternative to trying to feel in control ourselves, is to admit our smallness, and place ourselves in the hands of something or someone who actually is in control. We can embrace our fragility only if we can trust.
So we’re left with a question: is there a God who can be trusted? Is there a God who could give us a peace that’s deeper than distraction or delusion? And the short answer is: Jesus has convinced me that there is.Tweet
Mike Hood works with student Christian Unions at Cambridge and Bedfordshire universities, helping people explore the big questions of life and consider Jesus. You can find some of his talks here . He also loves writing and performing spoken word poetry, which you can find here, he blogs (not as often as he’d hoped) at Daily something different.