Please register to access this FREE content.
Or “a” coronavirus, as one health official told me. Part of the frustration of what I had was never quite knowing for sure.
Whatever it was, it lasted for days, and as bad as the physical symptoms were, the emotional and spiritual ones were worse. I couldn’t have handled it without the tireless love of my wife April — and the Psalms.
A typical day cycled through fatigue, chills, fever, and anxiety — crash, shiver, bake, panic; repeat.
To pass the time, I would read the news on my smartphone, then scroll social media for people’s takes on it. And what news there was! Violence, economic hardship, fire, political upheaval, destruction.
The virus wouldn’t let me get comfortable and wouldn’t let me quench my thirst, but its worst symptom is “hopelessness.”
Night was the worst. I would shake with cold as dark whispers of doom filled my room. Then I would sit and stare into the darkness for hours as wild thoughts seized me with panic and fear.
After a particularly bad night, I decided to try something new: I turned off my phone and put it far away.
I picked up the Psalms instead. What I read there echoed my bad thoughts but reshaped them into piercing cries to God. I opened in the middle of the book, and read one after another.
Psalm 79 put me side by side with victims of injustice. “Let the groans of the prisoners come before thee, according to thy great power preserve those doomed to die!” it says. “Then we thy people, the flock of thy pasture, will give thanks to thee forever; from generation to generation we will recount thy praise.”
It describes scenes reminiscent of the news in 2020. As churches burned and saint statues came toppling down, “Thy foes have roared in the midst of thy holy place,” said Psalm 74. “They hacked the wooden trellis with axes. And then all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. They set thy sanctuary on fire.”
Hopelessness indeed. But the Psalm saw God’s Lordship regardless. “Thine is the day, thine also the night; thou hast established the stars and the sun,” it prays.
“When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars,” Psalm 75 adds, for emphasis.
First, the Psalms reshaped my worries into prayers; then they painted a beautiful picture of what hope looks like.
“How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!” I read in Psalm 84, from my dark corner. “My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself.”
But Psalm 77 really seemed to be written specifically for a person up at night, sick with coronavirus and worry.
Maybe King David was a coronavirus sufferer. The Psalmist writes:
“I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Thou dost hold my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak. …
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love for ever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time? …
“I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
yea, I will remember thy wonders of old.
I will meditate on all thy work,
and muse on thy mighty deeds.”
And then it listed the mighty deeds, one after another, reminding me what God can do, and does.
The Psalms had much more to say.
The Psalms taught me that to look for peace of mind in health, entertainment, or politics is to have no peace of mind.
They taught me that all generations have accused God of hiding and sleeping, and all generations have discovered that he is very much awake and aware.
God in the Psalms has his own cycle. We offend, he retaliates. We beg for mercy, he grants it. We complain, he blesses. We pine away, he holds out a hand.
Before, I was always a headline away from crushing anxiety and sadness; now I am always a Psalm away from peace.
I have started to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every morning and evening. God is my news of the day now. Yes, I still follow the major events; but I try to follow the world’s real power even closer. He is our only hope.
A version of this appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Dark Room by Dean Hochman, Flickr.