Disease---dis-ease---is on my mind lately, as it is on everyone's mind. In my case it is a particularly nasty case of poison ivy, one that became infected. I realized this in my hotel room in Washington, D.C., and so I spent the evening in a local emergency room followed by a visit to an all-night pharmacy. "We don't think it's flesh-eating bacteria," said the E.R. doctor in words that were intended, I suppose, to be reassuring. When you hear your doctor say "flesh-eating bacteria," however, you are never reassured, even if there's a negative in front of that phrasing. The very fact that your doctor considered flesh-eating bacteria is itself disconcerting.
They gave me all sorts of drugs to treat my "probably not flesh-eating bacteria," and reminded me to be scrupulous about any contact with the places where I itch from poison ivy. The poison ivy has other ideas, of course, which is precisely why it itches you.
I'm filled up with life stress right now, and between the lack of sleep and the not eating and the itchy places and the "probably not flesh-eating bacteria," it's safe to say I've had happier times. This is only fitting for someone who likes to hold forth about the value of suffering.
Underlying all these immediate complaints is the fear, now, of the swine flu, this burgeoning illness that we are supposed to calmly panic over, the disease that has been assigned its own multi-level national awareness code, as if it is a terrorist cell. We are mostly safe, in this country, from war and predation and disease. We have our armies and our medicines and our televisions to keep us safe and blissful. Then along comes this ill wind, and we realize just how defenseless we are against physical corruption. It is unnerving. Dis-ease is aptly named.
I am reminding myself that while it is right to mourn death, everything of weight that I believe is predicated on the faith that Christ has trampled down death by death. I don't know about you, but I spend too much time fearing disease and death, as if this temporary life is all I have, and all my children have. In the end we are all claimed by flesh-eating bacteria, and yet our faith teaches that we will be given incorruptible bodies. Death will have no claim over us.
It's one thing to proclaim this in an Easter service, and another entirely to whisper it as we read of mounting sickness, the possibility of pandemic, and of worldwide death. This is the time when faith moves from dogma to practice, as it always must. Thank God that faith isn't dependent on my own courage, or yours. Thank God that the sting of death has been blunted. If you're like me, weak and striving, you'll pray that you can live the life of one who believes these truths. "I believe Lord," said the fearful father to the Christ. "Help my unbelief."