Conversions: Is Coronavirus An Opportunity?

Conversions: Is Coronavirus an opportunity?
Conversion on the way to Damascas Caravaggio

Conversions: Is Coronavirus an opportunity?

Huh?

This statement may evoke eye-rolls, grimaces or frowns and maybe whole-hearted agreement with a long ago friend, an infectious disease doc, appropriately enough, who wryly commented during a conversation about the problems in the TMC hospital where we both worked:

“Lin, you could be standing in a pile of horse s#%#t and find something good to say about it.”

Dr. Terry Satterwhite is a native of North Carolina and despite several decades of working in infectious disease at the medical school in Houston, maintained his distinctive North Carolina twang. When relaxed, as he was then, his syllables were long and drawn-out…”Liiiiiinnn,” You get the idea.

My smile is wistful at this long-ago memory because last summer when I spoke with him, his diction was slurred and words hard to come by. Terry has Parkinson’s.

Were I to call him today and explain my new observation about our current world-wide predicament, I suspect his reaction would be the same, even though he could not speak it. 

Just how is this an opportunity?

I am well aware that many readers live where I did for much of my life: if not an atheist, at least agnostic. (God either does not exist or if he is there, he sure does not seem to know or care what is happening down here.)

But…be honest here please.

Don’t you feel an odd closeness to family?

An almost irresistible urge to reach out across the phone or cyber space to at least virtually touch them?

And when talking online or in person to strangers at the grocery store, aren’t you aware of a new caring?

Sympathy?

Appreciation?

When early this week, the name of an Amazon chat employee blinked on my computer s screen to help me with a problem, his first question was, “Are you and your family well and safe?”

As I stared at the blinking cursor, I felt compelled to reply, “Yes, we are. And you and your family? Are you all well and safe?” Because I felt love for this person on the other side of the world.

From the name that appeared in the chat window, the person was in India, the other side of this once huge globe. But the person-to-person connection between us was real, albeit brief.

Last weekend during our visits to the chaos filled grocery stores, both John and I found ourselves praying for the harried clerks and cashiers. And if possible, saying thank you to one or three.

These are new feelings and behaviors for me. Maybe you are noticing similarly new emotions?

Conversions: Is Coronavirus an opportunity?

The verb convert is defined as “changing something into a different form, to transmute and to transform.” It’s second meaning reads to cause “a change in religion or political opinion.” Both meaning are stunningly portrayed above in the copy of Caravaggio’s painting of Saul on the way to Damascus.

It’s hard not be fascinated by this painting, even if the viewer knows little about Saul or his life before and after he was toppled from his horse by the voice of the Jesus he was persecuting.The almost total dominance of the horse whose gaze is directed at the helpless man on the ground impels us. Makes us want to know more.

That transformation and transmutation from the conversion of the atheist to a believer does not function like a one time fix. Straight from the mouth of one who believed devout Christians like me to be an alien species, rebirth as a new person in Christ requires effort, at times excruciating work.

That command to love our enemies is effortless until face to face with someone screaming at us.

Choosing to forgive in the face of extreme pain or injustice can cost everything we have.

But here’s the thing,

we humans have this interesting thing called free will. Each moment of every day we choose how we will react to a frown, insult, invitation to judge the hearts of another or the sudden appearance of a worldwide plague.

During these last few weeks of Lent when few of us can attend mass, synagogue or church perhaps this ‘conversions: is Coronavirus an opportunity’ question can be answered with

  • Small things like smiles to one another in crowded grocery stores.
  • Calls to a neighbor who lives alone asking if she needs anything.
  • Stomping on our impatience.
  • Resisting fear and anxiety.
  • Finding a minimum of three things for which to be grateful for each day.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

St. Teresa of Calcutta

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