Brueggemann: Virus as a Summons to Faith (1)

Walter Brueggemann has written a book of theological meditations about our current state of affairs as humankind deals with the viral pandemic that has stopped the world in its tracks. Such an attention-demanding crisis has (appropriately) preoccupied us with discovering, defining, and putting into practice responsible actions that will protect people, alleviate suffering, and keep our institutions from falling into chaos. We live on the ground.

But our hearts, minds, and spirits tell us there is more. Crisis strips away the illusion of normalcy that numbs us to the vast realms of creation and divine governance in which we live and move and have our being. In our pain or even in the simple luxury of having regular life suspended, we are given space to wonder, to think, to pray, to imagine what all this may mean and what we may make of it. The ground alone does not define us.

As Walter Brueggemann says:

We linger because, in the midst of our immediate preoccupation with our felt jeopardy and our hope for relief, our imagination does indeed range beyond the immediate to larger, deeper wonderments. Our free-ranging imagination is not finally or fully contained in the immediacy of our stress, anxiety, and jeopardy. Beyond these demanding immediacies, we have a deep sense that our life is not fully contained in the cause-and-effect reasoning of the Enlightenment that seeks to explain and control. There is more than that and other than that to our life in God’s world!

• • •

Peeking into Mystery

Creator God, you have entrusted to us knowledge of
good and evil.
You have permitted us knowledge of the world in
which we live, and
that knowledge has yielded immense gains for us,
gains of control, of productivity, of explanation, of
connections of causes and effects.
Only rarely—like now!—do we collide with
your hiddenness that summons us and embar-
rasses us.
We peek into your awesome hidden presence;
we find our certitudes quite disrupted.
Thus we pause at the edge of your holiness,
finding that your unfathomable presence is an
odd mix
of mercy and judgment,
of generosity and accountability,
of forgiveness and starchy realism.
We dwell at the edge of your mystery for an
instant . . . not longer.
Then we return to our proper work of knowledge,
research, explanation, and management.
By that instant, however, we are changed . . .
sobered, summoned, emancipated, filled with
before your holiness.
It is for that holiness that outflanks us that we give
you thanks. Amen.

Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty
By Walter Brueggemann
Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. 2020.

9 thoughts on “Brueggemann: Virus as a Summons to Faith (1)

  1. I think more than a few of the communities in your first group are going to move into your second group, as a result of economic trauma and devastation alone. The middle-class is going to get much smaller, closer to a Brazilian socioeconomic situation that we’ve had in the US for the last few generations.


  2. There have been the jokes about all the babies that will conceived and divorces initiated by the virus lockdown but I wonder how many books will come out of the prolonged enforced isolation?


  3. well, a story

    days before my husband went to the ER, he called me to come and see a small rabbit standing by the deck, but when I came to see it, it had gone

    the morning after
    my husband was admitted and was barely conscious, I came home briefly to take my medications before returning to the hospital,
    and when I looked out the window of our bathroom, there was the little rabbit sitting and munching on grass, very still

    going back to the hospital, I said to my husband who was no longer conscious, ‘Your rabbit came back to see me’
    and I thought “God Comes Near” in ways we can handle that are meaningful to us, not to overwhelm or to intimidate, but to be a Presence to let us know that we are not alone in our trouble, so when I read these words, I understood exactly how the gift is given:

    “We dwell at the edge of Your mystery for an
    instant . . . not longer.
    Then we return to our proper work of knowledge,
    research, explanation, and management.
    By that instant, however, we are changed . . .
    sobered, summoned, emancipated, filled with
    before Your holiness.”

    a small rabbit, under a bathroom window opened in the early morning, munching grass . . . . a ‘sign’? to me it was a timely gentle grace I will never forget . . . am forever thankful


  4. I have serious doubts that Brueggemann has done this with the profit motive on his mind. He has been a modern-day prophet; not profiteer. I haven’t read it, but it seems to be a meditation on mystery and that which we cannot know.

    “We peek into your awesome hidden presence;
    we find our certitudes quite disrupted.”


  5. I do agree that our response to this pandemic ought to be wider imagination and questioning. But the first human reaction to this kind of upheaval is generally to go the other direction – looking for easy answers and certainty, or someone to blame, or a magic bullet to trust in, or even just a distraction or a way to hide from acknowledging how deeply things are broken.

    I’m afraid we’re going to see an even deeper cultural split come out of this. Communities that already had higher levels of stability and social capital and investment in the common welfare will recognize and seek to address the brokenness that the pandemic exposes, but places that were already socially and spiritually and economically impoverished are going to end up even worse off than before.


  6. LOL. Well, it is only 92 pages, so it wasn’t like he tried to write “War and Peace” in a week. But the lone review at Amazon — 1 star, at that — is one person’s answer to your question.


  7. Is it bad that the only thing I could think of the first time reading through that was, “How in the world did he manage to write and publish a book on the pandemic in just a couple of months?”


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