I received two forwarded messages from friends first thing this morning. You will have to wait for one at the end of this blog post. The other was an article just for my (and the staff's) information. The title of the article got my immediate attention: "A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead." You can read the entire article here.
The status and statistics of this pandemic are changing constantly. Granted, this story did not take place in Northern Virginia. However, it did give me pause. That same week, after finally--finally!--resuming choir rehearsals for two weeks, I felt under the weather. On March 11 and 12, recommendations were much looser and more relaxed than they are now. I kept thinking about powering through, and doing the rehearsal. I felt utterly defeated by my poor health. What on earth else, after a four month hiatus, could possibly prevent choir from moving forward? But with the rumblings of Coronavirus and the stubborn symptoms, I just felt the need to cancel.
There must be something about the way singers breathe and project that made rehearsing so dangerous and deadly for this group in Seattle. I felt a shiver of gratitude at what turned out to be my serendipitous illness. It reminded me of a passage from The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom; certainly not in scale, but in perspective. Here is the excerpt:
The move to permanent quarters came the second week in October 1944. Betsie and I stared at the long gray front of Barracks 28. Half its windows had been broken and replaced with rags. A door in the center let us into a large room where two hundred or more women bent over knitting needles. On tables between them were piles of gray woolen socks.
Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy. Somewhere plumbing had backed up, and the bedding was soiled and rancid. Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, wedged side by side and end to end with an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.
We followed our guide single file to the center of a large block. She pointed to the second tier. To reach it we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with—how many? The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw. We could hear other women finding their places.
Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.
“Fleas!” I cried. “The place is swarming with them!
We scrambled across the platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle, and edged our way to a patch of light.
"Betsie, how can we live in such a place?” I wailed.
"Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. The distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. . . .’”
“Go on,” said Betsie.
“Oh, yes. ‘To one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances—’”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can thank God for everything about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh, yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible. “Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly.
“Oh, all right,” I said. “Thank You for the jammed, crammed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You,” Betsie went on, “for the fleas and for--"
This was too much. "Betsie, there's no way even God can make me grateful for a flea."
"'Give thanks in all circumstances,'" she quoted. "Fleas are part of this place where God has put us."
So we gave thanks for fleas.
At day’s end back at the barracks, we received our ladle of turnip soup. Then, as quickly as we could, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room, where we held our worship “service.” Back here a small lightbulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, allowing us to read the Bible. An ever larger group of women gathered.
They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. A meeting might include a recital in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a soft-voiced chant by Eastern Orthodox women. The women around us packed the platforms, hanging over the edges. Then either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. We would hear the words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, back into Dutch. They were previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the lightbulb. I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.
No guard ever came near us. So many women now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. On the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.
. . .
One evening when I got back to the barracks, Betsie was waiting for me, eyes twinkling. “You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “I’ve found out.”
That afternoon, she said, there had been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes, so they asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas!”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.
The hymn Amazing Grace comes to mind. Not only does God's grace save our eternal souls, but He provides for our daily lives in ways that we may never understand.
I have just returned from Convergence, having recorded organ accompaniments for Holy Week. (I like to work ahead, but as this is either the fourth or fifth plan, and the decision was made midday today, I worked about as quickly as I could). Just now, as I write, a loud buzzer on my silenced phone startled me with the emergency message that Alexandria residents are to stay at home, with the single exception of what is absolutely essential.
From our solitude, we will gather virtually in the next weeks to remember Christ's sacrifice, and His victory over sin and death. In the mean time, we will wait for His second coming in this imperfect world. I want to encourage us all to look for and find the blessings where they are.
The second forwarded message was a much shorter excerpt based on The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis:
Satan: "I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil."
Jesus: "I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not on the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources."
Enjoy the listening link below, and my prayers for health and abundant life go with each of you.
Amazing Grace. Charles Calotta, soloist. P.D.
The Hiding Place
Corrie ten Boom