In "Hills and Valleys," Tauren Wells sings about high points (mountains) and low points (valleys) in the life of faith:
On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who sent me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes
To the one who sees me there
As institutions (including Christian Appalachian Project) try to do their part to "flatten the curve" of unnecessary illness caused by COVID-19 (coronavirus), many are entering a valley of uncertainty, fear, or apprehension on behalf of themselves and their loved ones. Sometimes, it can be hard to lift our eyes to God.
At times like this, we might even occasionally feel like Antonius Block, the medieval knight played by Max von Sydow in Ingmar Bergman's 1957 movie The Seventh Seal. Returning from war to find a world ravaged by the bubonic plague, Block tries to out-maneuver a personification of Death throughout the film, struggling to find some lasting meaning amidst all the suffering and chaos he continues to witness.
The knight does get some reprieve from his perpetual existential crisis upon sharing a meal with the traveling entertainers, Jof and Mia: "I shall remember this moment," Block says as he savors the wild strawberries they share with him on a sunny day. "The silence, the twilight, the bowls of strawberries and milk...And it will be an adequate sign—it will be enough for me." Nevertheless, Block is unsettled moments later by Death's menacing glances toward these newfound friends.
There are times when a momentary glance at the goodness of creation is all we can manage in the chaotic confusion of a fallen world. Nevertheless, even though church may be canceled, and even though this virus has laid bare the precarious condition of our country's working men and women, I do believe that there may yet be sacred moments to find somewhere in the coming months.
Maybe the commitment to lift one's eyes is not so unrealistic, after all. As we strive this season to minimize the risks of infection for ourselves, our loved ones, and CAP program participants, I hope that we as volunteers can see the Appalachian mountains and valleys as signs of grace in the everyday. As the tension between community life and social distancing becomes more noticeable, maybe a hunt for wild strawberries could be the social outing we've been waiting for...
Benny Mattis is a One-Year volunteer serving in CAP's Volunteer Program in Rockcastle County. If you want to learn more about serving with CAP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.