Fear, faith and the flu

I am not a germaphobe by nature, but this year’s flu season has me in a tizzy of microbial paranoia.

Daily news reports about the severity of this specific flu strain and the extent of the epidemic have fueled my anxiety, as did a recent email from my daughters’ school informing us of confirmed flu cases within the student population. Yesterday, a doctor on NPR waxed dystopic about the particular vulnerability of people who have underlying health conditions.

As the mother of a 6-year-old with asthma, I feel frightened and exposed.

Although our entire household got the flu vaccine back in early fall (as we do every year), I know there is no guarantee of immunity. With the flu season now in full force, I want to wrap my kids up in Purell-lined bubbles and safeguard them against all the insidious germs that assault their immune systems on a daily basis. I want to protect them from the physical misery and dangers of influenza.

Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge

As a matter of fact, I want to protect them from all suffering. Forever.

But of course, the world doesn’t work that way. Try as we might, we parents cannot prevent our children from suffering.

We can get them the flu vaccine, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get the flu. We can provide them with love and stability, but that doesn’t mean they won’t struggle with depression and addiction. We can raise them in a household of faith, but that doesn’t mean they won’t turn away from God.

In this world – as in the flu season – there are no guarantees. And so we vaccinate as early and as extensively as we can … and then we trust.

As Christians, our trust is based not on the presumption that we will avoid suffering, but rather on our faith that God is with us when we suffer and that Divine Providence (aka “God’s Plan”) will ultimately triumph. We trust that the Good News of Jesus prevails, even when our lives are filled with bad news. We trust that our suffering is not in vain.

Easier said than done (at least for me).

Sure, some suffering makes sense – either right there in the midst of it or decades later, with the hindsight of lessons learned and otherwise-missed life journeys. But some suffering will never make sense this side of eternity; some suffering is so dehumanizing and apparently pointless that it falls into the category of the “Big M” Mysteries of Christianity.

Image courtesy freeimages.com

This is the kind of suffering I fear most for my children and – by extension – myself. It is the suffering I find most baffling and scandalous … and the suffering for which I most need the baffling and scandalous grace of God.

Especially as a mother.

Elizabeth Stone famously wrote, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

It’s true. And it’s why, as I drop my children off at school – where H3N2 germs, Mean Girls and any number of other potential threats await them – I am thankful that they (and my heart right along with them) are ultimately in the hands of Someone I trust.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Nicole-Steele-Woodridge-with-daughtersNicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s and mom to 6- and 4-year-old daughters in the Seattle, Washington area. Her contributions to Messy Jesus Business tend to focus on the intersection of faith and parenting. For the record, she’s really not interested in a debate about vaccinations right now.

A stinky stable and the giving and receiving of Christmas

Salvation came to us from the “yes” uttered by a lowly maiden from a small town on the fringes of a great empire. The Saviour was born in a manger, in the midst of animals.”                                                                   – Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 197)

Manure, straw, dust, animal hair, insects: all was known by Baby Jesus. Yes, God is in the mess of a stinky stable.

God is here, in the material world. All matter is amazingly made holy through this great event! Joy to the world for now we know: no mess is too much for God, for God is in the mess that intermingles with beauty and peace present in a barn, present in many corners of the world.

Today, God’s presence is known in the stink of human waste, in the villages living in garbage dumps and in the situations of people living in alleys. God is with refugee families fleeing from danger and now huddled together in make-shift tent homes seeking warmth and comfort. In our poverty, in our needs, God is with us.

Photo credit: http://fairforall.org/2011/01/21/aid-for-garbage-pickers-in-manila/

God’s love is certainly revealed in the mess, the chaos, and in the interdependence of relationships. The birth of the Savior speaks clearly about God’s poverty and humility. God is a poor, vulnerable Child who cries and relies on his parents for every human need to be met. God’s love is known in the arrival and the giving, but also in the receiving, the needing and the empowering.

“Mother and Child: Nativity in Greccio” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

We are each called to be part of this holy and true story. We each have a part to play in helping God’s love to be known in every chaotic, cluttered corner of God’s Kingdom. We are called to help others and allow others to help and care for us. Love is alive in the giving and receiving, in the charity and humility. The animals and the infant in the stable show us how to participate in the holy activity.

By imitating the poor baby Jesus and admitting our need for one another we too can manifest God’s love in this holy and hurting world, where inequality and poverty is too extreme. The God of Love took on a humble, human form and came to free us! Let us respond to that Love and acknowledge our need to cooperate, to relate, to be humble and poor and care for one another.

Through God’s incarnation we are freed to recognize that great Truth that salvation history and the signs of our time proclaim. Indeed, God needs our humility, our poverty and our great “yes” to working with Love. As we cooperate with God’s great plan we ALL shall come to know the great depths of God’s peace, justice, and love. Let us share the good news of Love. Let us give and receive and celebrate the birth of Christ who has come, who is Emmanuel. Amen!

Merry Christmas!! 


God has got this

Guest blogger: Ben Anderson

I was left dumbfounded and depressed sitting there at my desk. “Rape in War” was the topic for my feminist ethics course last week. As I finished my reading and was trying to think of how to write something philosophical about it I was overwhelmed by the stories and stats that show such an astounding capacity for evil in our world. Lost, I didn’t know what to say.

My heart hurt.

Outside of my time as a grad philosophy student I am equally hit with truth. As a community organizing intern I have been helping with listening sessions in schools on the west and south sides of Chicago. We have been talking to kids about problems in their neighborhood and helping them name and unravel the intricate systems and structures spinning good but mostly evil around us. Hearing the same things named over and over of problems out of control, again, my heart hurt.

"Sacred Hearts" By Fr. Jim Hasse, SJ

How to keep going and make sense of a world where people endure so much?

I was given a quote from a brother Jesuit, Yves de Montcheuil, who was a philosophy professor who decided to become a chaplain to the French resistance during Nazi control and later was killed for it. He wrote from jail:

How will we remain in this spiritual atmosphere? By recalling the fundamental truths that must enlighten this commitment. We must first of all not forget that it is only a response to a call. It was not we who thought of it first; it was our Lord who called us to it. He can say to us as he did to his disciples on the evening of the Last Supper: “It was not you who chose me; it is I who chose you.” Left to ourselves, we would never have turned this way. We would have taken different routes according to our character, our inclinations, circumstances; we would never have taken that one, we would never have loved the Kingdom of God for itself.

God calls, but it is always too much. My weak heart never feels confident enough to really listen to others, to love and be loved, to write an intelligent enough paper, to pick-up the phone and organize, to keep stirring the pot again and again to agitate for justice… yet, somehow, I keep on doing it.

And much more: we are only following an inclination, an impulse given to us by grace. Our Lord not only shows us the road; he gets us to walk it. Our progress is always only an acceptance and, as it were, an abandonment to the impulse that he communicates to us. All that we give to him comes in reality from him.

I never really understand nor always like how I got here and through that God continually reminds me my life is not my own to do with what I will. My own gifts and weaknesses, the people who show up in my life, and the doses of reality that have been granted have moved and have pulled me to respond beyond what I ever thought possible. God is too good and keeps inviting me, one day at a time. It is too much, but God has got this. God is moving and working harder than me and I am not alone. When I stop and look around, when I take time to be grateful for the crazy people in my life, I see God is at work in every heart.

God has got this and that gives me hope.