I’m leaving for my next journey this afternoon, but this morning I took another short drive through town while listening to Taylor Swift’s “The Last Great American Dynasty,” which is about as good a chronicle of class and power dynamics as has ever been written. I went to take a picture of my church on Pleasant Street:
As many who know me also know, I’m a devout Christian, a Sunday school teacher for several years and now an occasional preacher, for which opportunity I’m grateful to Rev. Diane. (Preaching over Zoom is an interesting experience!)
Part of what I’ve been eager to discover in my journeys is the ways in which faith has sustained Americans during the pandemic, as it has in so many other tough times. I won’t say that I’ve prayed more often during COVID than before (I tend to pray a lot anyway), but the prayers do acquire a certain fervency when matters of life and death and the future of our country are on the line pretty much daily.
I had an interesting conversation during Holy Week with my Lyft driver (who, as it turns out, is also a preacher). God had turned her life around, and, most relevant for present purposes, had also given her a strong faith in the vaccine. As she told me (I’m paraphrasing), “If He allowed me to survive all the other stuff I put in my veins, He’s sure not gonna take me with the vaccine.” Though I suspect we have certain differences on social issues (one does get a sense when one hears of certain things being “unBiblical,” even if those things aren’t specified), we were united in our belief that you can’t claim to love your neighbor and not wear a mask or take the vaccine (can I get an Amen?). She also loved a riff I came up with on Matthew 12:34 — Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth tweets — to describe Trump’s decidedly un-Christian behavior.
When I’m at home, I read the Bible daily and work my way through the New Testament in the course of every year (I did the whole Old Testament too, once — once.) It’s a little harder to read on the road, not least because hotels no longer seem to have Bibles in every room. But this morning it uncoincidentally happened that I was reading John 5: 1-9, which is the story of Jesus healing a man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. In Central Park there is a Fountain and famous statute which commemorates Bethesda, where “an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water” (what a wonderful phrase!), healing the first person who stepped into the pool afterwards. And I had described the Biblical story to my daughters as we walked past the Fountain.
There was, as you might imagine, a certain scramble at the original Bethesda to get in the pool and be healed, and Jesus went to a man who had been suffering of his infirmity for 38 years and because of it was never able to get to the pool fast enough to be first. Jesus heals him, though importantly, only after asking the man if he’s willing to be made whole (there I go, preaching again!).
And as I reminded my daughters of the Fountain while reading the Bible this morning, it occurred to my older daughter and me that there might be a metaphor for heath care lurking in the story, very applicable in these times of unequal vaccine availability and access (as well as the fact that COVID has disproportionately devastated communities of color, including Chelsea, where my dear friend Dr. Mallika Marshall works at an Urgent Care Clinic. She’s also the health reporter for our local CBS affiliate and has done amazing work during the pandemic. Check it out at https://boston.cbslocal.com/personality/dr-mallika-marshall/)
Anyway, Jesus, who always disrupted power dynamics, deliberately goes to the back of the line, to the one person Christ knew could never get the needed care, and chooses to heals him. There’s a powerful lesson in that, as well as in the fact that Central Park’s famous statue, Angel of the Waters, was sculpted by Emma Stebbins, the first woman to receive a major public work commission in New York City; and the angel is modeled after her lover, the actress Charlotte Cushman. I’ve been by the Bethesda Fountain more times than I can count over the years, and never knew any of the statue’s story until I researched it this morning. There’s a lesson in that too.