In troubled times riddled with fear and loss, everyone could use a comforting word to two.
The Register therefore sat down with First Presbyterian pastor Dan Davis to see what wisdom he had to share for these dark days, delving into questions related to anxiety, isolation, grief and perhaps most important of all, the use of intelligence.
When it comes to questions of faith and reason, Davis said it’s important not to shirk responsibility for our actions. Believing God is in control or has a plan does not mean “surrender[ing] our common sense,” for instance, by disregarding advice from the “scientific and medical community.”
“Jesus demands your heart,” he said, “but leaves us our minds. … Think.” This capacity is a gift not to be squandered, he said.
Or put another way: have faith, but be smart. For as Davis explained, “it’s not [that] my faith is going to magically protect me … my faith gives me hope that God is in control.”
And using our intelligence allows us to think beyond ourselves. It gives us the ability to ask: “What is going to be the best thing for everyone?”
This point is especially important, Davis suggested, as life is “not about getting to heaven.” When this is our attitude, he said, we run the risk of looking to the sky while ignoring what’s right at our feet.
By contrast, Davis maintained life is about “serving others,” whether feeding them, comforting them and so forth. Such going beyond ourselves, “err[ing] on the side of love,” is likewise a remedy for anxiety.
Regarding anxiety, Davis highlighted its necessity, how it is something we need to survive and make informed decisions. He therefore implied that, rather than a weakness, anxiety is a source for keeping us safe and concerned for others (including those who are different from us in terms of “creed, color or faith”).
He further suggested anxiety does not mean one lacks faith. When faced with a challenging situation, “it takes wrestling with it” as part of the growth process.
Davis pointed to the apostles riding out a storm in a rickety boat, frightened of drowning, not as exposing an incapacity, but something that reveals their (and our) inescapable humanity.
In the end, it is “giv[ing] things over,” “abandonment,” finding trust in God and one another, that allows us to “keep [anxiety] to a manageable level.”
DUE TO the COVID-19 pandemic, people are faced with an unparalleled degree of isolation as they “shelter at home.”
Davis explained how this highlights that, when it comes to community with other people, “the church is not the building.” We can connect in love and fellowship even at a distance through digital and other means.
He also highlighted how, in the New Testament, after the death of Jesus by crucifixion, the apostles, too, were “hiding in isolation,” afraid of being captured and executed as well.
In a sense, the apostles were “afraid to catch what Jesus had caught,” Davis explained — an insight which encourages one not to stigmatize, judge or condemn those who contract COVID-19 today.
Yet despite their fear, the apostles were not alone. Not simply because they were with God, but because they had one another.
Again linking the story to present, Davis said: “There are others going through this [same situation] right now. … We’re all isolated right now, together.”
Paradoxically, we are bound by a solidarity produced through disconnection.
But our state of being disconnected is an opportunity for growth through quiet reflection, he said, as part of a “faithful response.”
“Read, pray, meditate,” Davis encouraged. “Take 15 minutes … turn it off,” step away from whatever screen you find yourself on and “wrestle with” being alone, separated from others.
In this state, even a “heavy sigh to God [becomes] a prayer,” where we let down our guard and admit we are exhausted and frayed.
Of course there are prayers articulated in words as well, but Davis contended these might be as simple as saying “Thank you” with each breath taken and quietly considered. Thereby, each breath becomes a gift.
And recognizing one’s gifts is especially important in the face of loss, Davis suggested.
Who is mourning in the midst of this pandemic? “Every one of us,” he said — whether it is the loss of a life, life’s normalcy or a life event.
Again, though, rather than see grief as a weakness, it’s important to “honor that process.”
The journey through mourning is a kind of work, he explained, where although it might not seem so, “ultimately you’re moving forward.”
And it is faith, Davis said, that keeps one focused within that forward motion.
“On the other side, there’s a better understanding of life.”
Finally, as we continue to live within the shadow of COVID-19, Davis said it’s important to remember the message of Easter: that there is only true joy after enduring blistering sorrow.
“There can be no resurrection without death,” he said.
“Things in our culture may truly die,” but in the end, “we’ll be stronger.”