Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
When I was in college in the late 1960s one of the recordings that received a lot of airtime on the radio was “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds. The song, based on the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes chapter three, tells us there’s a time for everything. It ends with “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late,” a line that was to those of my generation a direct reference to the Vietnam War.
No, it’s not too late for peace. We still need it in our country today, especially as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread. During these days of quarantine, soon to be measured in months, we have witnessed food rationing, hoarding and social distancing, the latter a practice totally contrary to the best instincts of human nature. Other public health restrictions on the size of gatherings have even resulted in the closing of churches. These situations have created a great deal of unrest and uncertainly and, among some, even panic. Yes, we need peace in our country today, but most of all we need it in our hearts.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9) If we want to take on that role, we must first be at rest in our innermost being. And true peace, the third of the Fruits of the Spirit, can only come to those who have a personal relationship with Jesus.
Everyone longs for tranquility in at least some aspect of life – in our country, at the workplace, in the home – and we all long for peace of mind. But more importantly, what we really desire is peace of soul, that inner calm in the face of all life’s storms. So, how is it possible to attain it? Certainly not by attempting to forge it through our own efforts. There’s only one way, by surrender. Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) If we believe what He said, St. Paul’s paradoxical statement, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10) actually makes sense.
People often say there’s no need to worry about things beyond our control. That’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, whatever burden I’m carrying, I need to give it up, and surrender it to Jesus. He’s in control, and He can handle things a lot better than I can.
What He offers is a supernatural form of peace, one that “surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) So, when life becomes overwhelming, we ought to rely on His promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) No, the world can’t fulfill our deepest longings. Only Christ can do that.
The current crisis will one day pass, and another will take its place. We all had to change the way we live after 9/11, and we’re going to have to make even more adjustments in the wake of the current pandemic.
Right now, the whole world is in exile. We’re all experiencing isolation and separation from friends, neighbors, even family. Yet, despite these impositions, we now find ourselves with a lot of free time for reflection on the things that really matter. These days when I read and ponder Old Testament passages concerning the Babylonian captivity, those readings now suddenly seem relevant to modern times. And I’m beginning to have a better understanding of the loneliness and despair that many nursing home residents deal with on a daily basis. I’ve also developed a greater empathy for Central American refugees who find themselves separated from their loved ones. Dire situations faced by others always take on greater urgency when we are forced to experience those things for ourselves.
But hard times also bring out the inventiveness and ingenuity of the human spirit. Think of all the humorous responses we have seen to this crisis. That doesn’t mean the internet wits who created all those funny videos, pictures, drawings and sayings are not taking this virus seriously; on the contrary, they are using their creative talents to bring us together and make us strong. This is not about politics; it’s about health – mental, physical, and spiritual – and it’s about being at peace.
Yet, in spite of all the trials we face at the present moment, hope remains. At the conclusion of his livestreamed Easter 2020 Music for Hope concert from the Duomo di Milano, Andrea Bocelli walked out the doors of the empty cathedral to the deserted piazza facing it, and there he sang “Amazing Grace.” Especially moving was his inclusion of this often-omitted verse:
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
Everlasting peace, that’s the prize. “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)