Covid's Metamorphoses

Peter McMullin

The Bible is full of examples of metamorphosis, whether it be of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana, the dramatic change of outlook for St. Paul as reported in the Book of Acts, or ultimately the complete state of universal renewal as reported in Revelation chapter 21 where John’s vision tells us: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away: and there was no more sea.” Later in his vision he states very clearly the situation in which we today find ourselves: “for the former things are passed away.”

The former things, if not completely passed away perhaps, have certainly been given the largest shake-up they have received in my lifetime. It is like living in the plot of a J.G. Ballard novel in which a natural disaster works its way through the fabric of society, unweaving people’s lives as it goes. Alongside the ravages of the virus have been the sweeping changes occasioned by the murder of George Floyd in America; the repercussions of this will rewrite the way society sees itself and how it relates the present to the legacy of past actions. In a world where the past is being unravelled it is hardly surprising that the future seems to be unknowable and impossible to plan for. Yet amidst this change and uncertainty, this living dystopia, voices sometimes sound out clearly and unambiguously.

The video of a homeless man declaring in distinctly matter of fact terms how we should learn to live together and mend our planet moved me deeply. The Palestinian/American poet Naomi Shihab Nye in a radio interview said “despair is easier than hope”, specifically when writing creatively. Yet straight afterwards, clearly and precisely, she said, “hope is the breath of life…we’re here, we’re given this brief time to do something positive and it’s just a lot easier to function if you maintain hope.”

Hope can be elusive, especially when so many certainties have been destroyed and we have no authoritative leadership, yet it is what we must grasp to maintain our sanity and have a meaningful future. We can find hope either in our faith or in the world around us.

Next week the church remembers the Transfiguration – ‘metamorphosis’ in Greek. Just when the disciples do not know what to hope for, this incident points forward in the story to the hope of Easter. Perhaps this hope gives us the courage to forge ourselves anew, not forgetting the “former things” but attending to the new responsibilities, both human and environmental, these crises have brought about.

Peter McMullin