My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)
Thomas Merton can be any one of us in this prayer. He doesn’t know where he is going, what the end will be, he feels lost and in the shadow of death. We also don’t know from day to day how things will turn out in this Covid-19 crisis. We feel as if we also are in the shadow of death. The death toll from the coronavirus is climbing. This weekend we heard the prediction of 200,000 deaths in the United States from this virus! That is an extremely grim forecast, and I pray to God that it does not happen. Let our prayers rise to God every day and night, asking that the shadow of death not fall on such a large number of our brothers and sisters. We grieve for every loss of life near or far, and our prayers go out to the unnamed families that have suffered loss or are waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones in Intensive Care units.
This is indeed a time when prayers for the world take on new meaning and urgency. The prayers of the Liturgy for peace and salvation of the world are not abstractions, removed from our daily lives. Any one of us could be or become one of “the sick, the suffering” for whom we pray at the beginning of every Liturgy. And at the conclusion of the Anaphora of St Basil’s Liturgy that we celebrate on Sundays during Lent, we pray: “Deliver this community and city, O Lord, and every city and country, from famine, pestilence, earthquake, flood, fire, sword, invasion and civil war.” We are now in a time of pestilence. Ancient prayers become words for today’s painful realities.
Note that Merton does not ask God to keep him from perils; he only prays that God will not let him face his perils alone. Let that be our prayer too. Perils are all around us. Every time you walk out the door of your home you are placing yourself in peril. Like Merton we don’t ask for magic safety. We ask that God will be with us and will not let us face perils alone. In the Orthodox Church we speak of synergy, which is our cooperation with God’s grace. Synergy is the key here: Do your part to protect yourself, and in this manner cooperate with God who is with you every step of the way. He will not abandon you to face perils alone. All the more reason for you not to abandon yourself to carelessness. Take every precaution available to you. Respect the seriousness of what we are facing. And God will be with you, whatever you face in these days and weeks of anxiety and separation.