From the Essay “Winter Hours” in the book Upstream by Mary Oliver.
In the winter I was writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing. We speak of the light of reason. We would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of _____. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith. But not a shaped faith—only say a gesture, or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is, more active and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words. Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer. P. 147
I read these words of Mary Oliver in March 2020, while the world, and we, and each of us within our individual selves, are engulfed by the corona virus. I came to this paragraph and was struck by its currency.
The word I would use in Mary Oliver’s blank line is grace. She describes faith as tensile and cool, and hope as a fighter and a screamer. Up until recently, I would agree that we must fight against the dark. But words like fighting or the metaphors of war seem insufficient against something as invisible as a virus. Grace, too, is transparent – but that is not invisible.
We do what we know is helpful and careful – isolate, wash, wipe with disinfectant. We also understand that randomness is a part of this disease. We read that “I have no idea how I caught it.” Was the exposure a passing encounter in a check-out line? A credit card passed between hands? An obsessive recreation of a possible chain of events? Why are some people asymptomatic and others in critical condition – aside from “underlying health conditions” which seems fatalistic, instead of a condition, like mild asthma or high blood pressure, one hadn’t thought of as a comorbidity until now.
Grace is theologically defined as undeserved love. “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” Grace is not surviveability. It is not death. It is acceptance, but not resignation. It is the knowledge of your beloved’s flaws, your friend’s tics, your own downside-of-the-upside. You love and are loved any way.
It is abiding. Amazing. It comes with no guarantees. It is a gift. It is the universe’s kiss. “We would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of grace.”