I Shall Not Want
I look at the weather report and see another 100 degree day in the forecast and I feel the dread rise up in me again.
I read about the drought. I feel how tinder dry the woods are.
I read about the fires. All the fires.
I see pictures of the flames.
I read about the spread of the Delta variant and the anxiety of public health officials, and I think of all the people in the country and in the world who are not vaccinated.
And I feel the dread flow into me again, and deepen. The fear. Into my bones.
I keep thinking of the 23rd Psalm—the Psalm for mass last week: the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
But this feels different to me. It feels bigger, much bigger. Entirely beyond my control. And structural, fundamental, in the nature of things, and in the case of the weather, not a series of single events or unusual events but omens, harbingers, the beginning of something permanent.
This isn’t something we can allegorize, make into a symbol of our own inner dryness or private desolation. This is outside. It’s external. Stubbornly physical.
I just feel helpless sometimes. It just hangs over me: this sense of not being in control all, of anything. Of something terrible about to happen.
What does it mean to say that the Lord is my shepherd in the summer of the virus and the fires and the heat dome? What does it mean to say that I shall not want when the weather itself is forever changing, the clouds and the rain and the seasons?
It means just what it’s always meant.
Yes, this feels different, and it is different. But God isn’t different. God isn’t engulfed in flames, God isn’t uncaring, God isn’t parched and empty and dry. God is God, and he loves us as he has always loved us, he is real as he has always been real, and the call now is to still deeper faith, to renewed commitment, if not as a matter of feeling as matter of choice, a matter of thought and of discipline: when we feel the dread spreading through us again, we remind ourselves: yes, this is true, it’s all true, but in God we are safe, in God all is well, though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust.
And since we can’t do this on our own, since our faith is so weak and so small, we pray for the grace of faith. We ask for the grace to see these moments of dread as moments to recognize our weakness and recognize our dryness and to call out to God for the hope only he can give us, the confidence and the courage only possible in him and through him and with him.
And we pray, too, for the grace of perspective: that this is not the only world, that this is not the only time, that this is not the only life. We are part of vast processes, we are a speck in the universe, and there is an afterlife, too. There is eternal life. Death is not the only thing and death is not the last thing.
And we pray, too, for the grace of the present moment. We pray to be here, now. To notice. To see. The roses even in the drought. The sky. The stars.