Following Mother Mary into Pandemic

annunciation rembrandt
Rembrandt, “The Annunciation”

Has there ever been a week like this in modern U.S. history, with each “breaking news” announcement adding anxiety to a crisis touching and disrupting every single life?

For me, with the United Nations shut down in New York City I am working remotely from Vermont helping support and protect my vulnerable 87-year old father. My wife Donna is back at our apartment 300 miles away, at the epicenter of crisis in the city. She is traveling by subway to her nursing work in hospice care, with rising challenges each day. This week she told me, “Chris, the past five years, us living in South Korea? I have more anxiety living in New York than 20 miles from North Korea.”

The next morning I woke up restless. “God, what are you doing? We move to South Korea, and three years later we’re living amidst missile threats and rumors of war, making evacuation plans. Last fall we move to New York, and what a promising beginning! Tasting the culture and dynamism, just beginning to get our footing with a sense of joy and peace and fresh growth and service. Now this? Are you kidding me? Is this what I signed up for? Me separated from Donna, she at risk in the epicenter? I mean, of all times to move to New York! What exactly did you have in mind?”

A few minutes later, I opened the daily Divine Office I read for morning prayer. What met my anxious heart was a different headline of breaking news: “Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.” That day marking the story of a world in crisis, of an angel visiting Mary, announcing that she would bear the son of the Most High. “Do not be afraid,” says the angel to a troubled Mary. And Mary’s response to this task, and the great unknowns which come with it? “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38).

Hidden to world headlines, God is active. And we are called. The next day came another interruption, an expected phone call with a New York City colleague who is seeking to mobilize churches to respond to the rising crisis. Care for the homeless. Food for the hungry. Recruiting more health care workers.

Alongside the crisis is always the kairos. The promise that God is active. Is seeking to interrupt us. Is saying “Do not be afraid.” And is calling us to watch for an unexpected word for such a time as this. A word about tasks which will require sacrifice and courage, and come with great unknowns.

At the end of this crazy week, I somehow find myself changed. Waiting. More peaceful. Praying for courage to say “yes” to whatever tomorrow holds. Looking beyond headline news to watch for visitations. Expecting revelation. With Mary, may I say – may we say – “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Chris Rice is director of the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office in New York City. He is co-author of More Than Equals and Reconciling All Things and was founding co-director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation.

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