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Cave Dwellers: Good Friday 2020

rick-mural rick-painting

It saddens me to think of how unlikely it is that I will ever lay eyes on the original Lascaux cave paintings in southwestern France. The cavern, discovered in the 1940s, houses prehistoric drawings no longer accessible to the public. The murals are simply too fragile to be exposed to the throngs of people who wish to view the images created by the hand of paleolithic artists from 20,000 years ago.

The aesthetic quality of the images suggests that the artist (or artists) possessed remarkable skills at capturing the likeness of creatures and artifacts of daily life that would be lost to us if they had not used their talents to record the moment. One of the most moving images from the Lascaux gallery is that of handprints that appear to be those of the community who lived in or near the caves. It is as if they are reaching through time from behind prehistoric walls trying to warn us of something.

For the last 18 days, my home has become a bit like a cave. It is a home filled less with comforts and more with necessities as my family and I shelter in place to fight an invisible enemy that threatens to physically harm thousands and destroy the livelihood of millions. At times, the walls of my cave feel as though they are closing in on me. My home feels like a fortress. I wear masks when I walk my own streets, suspicious of neighbors who might carry the disease. Fear and isolation are teaming up to encourage the dark thoughts that interrupt my sleep. I pray them away most nights; but they do not always retreat.

When I lost my friend, Dr. Wayne Strom, last week to COVID-19 I realized that this pandemic would touch us all. His death came quickly, but it did not come easily. He died in isolation. Oh, God! How could you allow this? "Oh death where is your sting?" Give me a break, Paul. You don't know COVID-19.

In the movie Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins, portraying C.S. Lewis, described suffering as a teacher because it calls us to faithfulness during hardship as well as in blessing. It is only after his wife passes away that Lewis understands a painful truth and confesses, "I have come up against experience...Experience is a brutal teacher."

Like Hopkins' Lewis, I have reached a similar conclusion. This experience is a brutal teacher. It is unrelenting. There is no quip or slogan clever enough to soothe the wounds COVID-19 has already caused and the pain that is yet to come. I don't see an upside to this pandemic and I am afraid, even angry, that I have been called to be faithful in spite of it. I can't resolve it. I must live faithfully in the midst of it, and that is hard.

The disciples of Jesus must have felt this way on Good Friday as they watched the object of their hopes and dreams peeled off a bloody cross and wrapped in burial cloths. "He's dead?" they would say to one another. Are you kidding me? I don't see an upside, God? Experience is a brutal teacher.

What do you do this side of Easter? With two or more months of "safe at home", we are called, not to explain the virus. Not to solve it. But to live faithfully in its wake with the hope that God is bigger than this. For most of my friends who are healthy and relatively wealthy, this will pass and we know it. But there are many who live not far from Pepperdine who aren't so sure. Their confidence level in authorities, healthcare systems, pharmaceutical companies, and fellow citizens who gather selfishly and recklessly in large groups is low. We must place our confidence in someone else. Resurrection Sunday is coming.

In anticipation of Good Friday, I decided to express myself not with words but drawings—the kind of drawings I would have scratched on the ceiling of my cave dwelling if I had lived 20,000 years ago. Like the artists of Lascaux I am trying not to simply capture what I see, but what I feel. After all, we are fighting an invisible enemy—and not just the virus. We are fighting an invisible enemy that sows fear and doubt.

The charcoal drawings below represent my raw feelings about the moment on this side of a solution. Fear, outrage, hope, and courage are present in these drawings. Deep in my soul I know that this will be resolved. God has the power to handle this - and will. Because of God as revealed in Christ, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the dead shall rise again. God can be trusted to rule over this moment. But until then I must remain watchful, hopeful, and faithful in the presence of fear, loss, grief, and suffering. It is not mine to resolve. It is God's. Easter is coming. Until then, we wait.

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