I never thought I would miss the crowded waiting room of my obstetrician’s office. And I certainly never imagined I would think of those long wait times and uncomfortable vinyl chairs and consider it a privilege to have spent so much time waiting there.
Yet, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, my prenatal appointments have been streamlined so as to avoid crossing paths with other patients, and eliminate the waiting room experience entirely. So I did as I was directed and headed straight from my car to the exam room for my 28-week appointment. And yet, as I walked past those familiar chairs, I felt a pang of sadness at the loss of the strange closeness that comes with sitting arm-to-arm with other women, so many of them waiting for the birth of their own children, so much life and hopeful anticipation in one room. I noted to myself, for the millionth time, those everyday things I took for granted or even resented before the pandemic began, before social distancing, before impossible grocery store lines, before the constant smell of hand sanitizer. I missed that time when all of my waiting was tinged with a kind of hopeful anticipation of the new life being formed within me.
Of course, even in calmer times, that hope was accompanied by a sense of uncertainty, which has been complicated and intensified during this pandemic. I do not yet know if it will be safe to ask my mother to watch our 4-year-old and 2-year-old when I head to the hospital to give birth. I do not yet know whether this pandemic will have subsided here in New Jersey by my daughter’s due date in early July. I can only hope for the best for my child, without fully knowing what that entails.
These days, the only thing I am certain about is that because of the pandemic everything has changed and will continue to change in ways I can’t yet know.
These days, the only thing I am certain about is that because of the pandemic everything has changed and will continue to change in ways I can’t yet know. I have no idea what that change means, though I believe it is happening and believe in its gravity. And I am not alone in this. We are all being asked to enter into a time of waiting for a world that is now and is not yet.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis spoke of our current moment saying, “I’m living this as a time of great uncertainty.” But he also spoke of the opportunities within it. “It’s a time for inventing, for creativity,” he said. Especially now, it is not easy to balance this tension. Fortunately, our Catholic tradition equips us to live in exactly this type of uncertainty. Our “both/and” approach to theology and life means that ours is a God who is both human and divine, who both died on the cross and rose from the dead. Ours is a church that is both divinely inspired and a flawed, human institution. We believe in the sacredness of the body and the soul, of faith and of reason. The core of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus, is built on a willingness to immerse ourselves in this tension.
The Gospel reading at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday captures this well. After finding an empty tomb and hearing from an angel that Jesus had risen from the dead, Mary Magdalene and another woman are described as departing from the tomb feeling “fearful yet overjoyed.” The Christian tradition begins by asking us to hold two seemingly opposed emotions at once. It asks the same of us today.
This Gospel reading reassures us that even certainty in the resurrection does not erase our feelings of uncertainty about what is to come. And this uncertainty can cause us to worry, to doubt, to lash out, to cry out, as Jesus did on the cross, “My God, why have you abandoned me?”
For now, I try to trust. I try to pay attention to my child kicking within me, as she prepares to enter a world unfathomably changed, though she will know no other.
This week we hear the stories of those close to Jesus who, despite living their daily lives beside him, could not fully grasp what was about to happen to their friend, to their world. So many of us embody that tension today, as we wait in uncertainty for test results, for healing, for medical equipment, for news, for comfort, for groceries, for work, for relief. We search for ways forward. “What we are living now is a place of metanoia (conversion), and we have the chance to begin,” Pope Francis said in that same interview. “So let’s not let it slip from us, and let’s move ahead.”
But where do we go? Medical personnel and grocery store workers are on the front lines right now, but even from home so many are doing their best to reach out to one another, to teach, to make masks, donations, meals, calls. We pray, but even this is not a surefire cure for disease or uncertainty. All of us live knowing that we must work toward our collective future, knowing that we may not yet understand where it will call us or what it might ask of us next. We press on.
“You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness,” writes Flannery O’Connor. “Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.”
And so, for now, I make my way in darkness and try to trust. I try to pay attention to my child kicking within me, as she prepares to enter a world unfathomably changed, though she will know no other. And I wait in joyful hope for the coming of a world in which, arm to arm, all of us are together once more, still uncertain of what the world might bring but hopeful that new life is being formed within it.