After a long period of waiting, we learned in December that a COVID-19 vaccine had been approved and distribution was beginning. We were told that, by the beginning of September, we all should have received the vaccine, and life can begin to return to “normal.”
“Normal” might be once again gathering as a church community, sharing a meal with friends and family, going for coffee with a neighbour, or simply being able to hug someone in need of a hug.
There was so much put on hold and there are so many losses of things to grieve that we simply took for granted. As we reflect on these past months and the ones ahead, we can say along with the Psalmist that we have truly walked through the valley of the shadow of death.
But in our faith, death is never final; it only presages a rebirth to come. Anticipating the time when we can return to normal, perhaps we might think of the time between now and then as a gestational period as we wait for the birth of a new life together. If so, can we treat the time between now and then as an expectant mother would her developing child?
We know that a developing life is fragile, and that there are a few things we need to do to nurture it into being, things that nourish both mother and child. As a father, I recall many years ago how my wife and I gently ushered our developing child into the world.
First of all, a healthy pregnancy requires you to stay active. Even though we cannot physically gather, we have stayed active in our church communities using new ways like Zoom to maintain virtual community.
Second, it is also important during pregnancy to avoid toxins, like tobacco and alcohol, that can harm the child. So, too, the temptation to consume that which is toxic, like the anger and conspiracies that swirl around us, must be avoided in favour of that which nourishes the spirit.
Another thing we are told to do is to make a plan. We attend prenatal classes, have a birth plan, set up a nursery. So, too, we might think about making a plan for our new world on the other side of the valley. What do we need to do to prepare and get set up for that new world?
This requires us to also monitor the health of the new life growing within us, expectantly watching and waiting for each new stage of development. As we wait for this new life to emerge, we dream about who that might be and we begin to bond with her or him.
I recall my wife and I singing to our child before she was born, letting her get to know the sound of our voices as we tried to imagine what she would look like and who she would become. So, too, we can sing our new world into being.
As Mennonites, we have a deep tradition of singing, our canon rich with songs of peace, justice, grace, community and love. In verse 3 of “For the Healing of the Nations,” we sing: “All that kills abundant living, / let it from the earth be banned: / pride of status, race or schooling, / dogmas that obscure your plan. / In our common quest for justice / may we hallow life’s brief span.”
This is the new life we must sing into being now, the one we must imagine, nurture and prepare for.
Over the past months, the injustices of our old world have been brought into sharp relief: racism, poverty, inequality, violence.
Can we imagine that the valley of death we are passing through is the death of all that robbed us of life? And although we walk through that valley for just a little while longer, let’s sing as we walk and prepare to welcome a new life. Let’s do all that we can, and must do, to nurture and prepare for it. There will be pain in the labour, but so much potential in the birth.
Derek Cook is the Mennonite Church Canada representative to the Canadian Council of Churches’ Commission on Justice and Peace. He attends Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary. This reflection appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of the MC Alberta Communiqué.