Last week I was in a meeting in which one of the participants referring to COVID-19 and times of crisis said, "I know how to live with a V, and I have even lived through a U, but I don't know about living with an L." The V refers to a time when the end of a crisis can be immediately seen, such as a hurricane. The U indicates a crisis where the end is further off, but can still be planned for, such as a volcanic eruption. The L refers to a crisis in which the end cannot be seen, and no one has a sense of its end.
What my friend said made me think of the work of those who see the spiritual journey as moving from suffering to endurance. The conundrum for this journey is the tediousness of daily living. Whatever was troublesome yesterday will prove troublesome again today and the next day. In the face of these intractable powers, we feel we are sitting at the foot of a tsunami, existing on the edge of absurdity. The Jewish theologian Richard Rubenstein speaks from this spirituality when he says, "The promise of a radical novelty in the human condition is a pathetic illusion." The biblical book of Ecclesiastes also speaks from this tradition when it proclaims, "there is nothing new under the sun." (1:9)
In this spiritual point of view, life is not a problem to be solved. It is an experience to be endured, and by enduring we touch wisdom. There is no radical reversal of our fortune, but rather a "keep on keeping on" in such a way that enduring becomes the very act of protest and authenticity. Suffering can be reviewed as a refining fire for our inner attitude. While each day is the same, how we live through this day is our choice. As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl noted, "everything can be taken from a (person) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." May the attitude we choose in this pandemic be informed by the God who shows mercy to us.