Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. — Matthew 5:8
At the start of the pandemic, there was a newspaper headline that has stuck with me: “The Parents Are Not OK.” As my children prepare for the first day of school in the second year of the pandemic, I waver about our decision to send them to in-person classes. I vacillate between feeling OK and not OK. Their school is following rigorous safety protocols, including mask requirements, physical distancing, increased ventilation indoors and more time outdoors. But the delta variant is highly contagious. My children yearn for socialization with peers as well as teachers who do not double as their parents. But more and more, kids are getting sick, being hospitalized and … a parent’s worst nightmare that I don’t even want to name.
I am also re-reading Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel “Jack.” She’s one of my favorite novelists and, when her new book came out last fall, I immediately ordered it. But I only made it through the first 50 pages. Weary from the pandemic, I lacked the emotional energy to deal with the title character’s personal angst — most often, he’s not OK but immersed in “threat or guilt or grief like an atmosphere.”
That felt too close to home.
But recently, I dove back into the novel and breathed something else — not quite fresh air, but a new perspective courtesy of another main character. Della, his romantic interest, makes this observation about Jack and the human condition: “I think most people feel a difference between their real lives and the lives they have in the world. But they ignore their souls, or hide them, so they can keep things together, keep an ordinary life together. You don’t do that. In your own way, you’re kind of — pure.”
This kind of purity is not having everything all together, all the time. As many of her characters endure struggles in their bodies and souls, Robinson’s fiction offers the real-life truth that we must acknowledge our pain and fear. In Jack’s words, life itself is actually a mysterious union of “guilt and grace … together.” Sounds like being pure — kind of. Maybe that’s the best we can hope to be.
So I’m OK. And I’m not OK. I don’t know what the next few days, weeks, and months will bring, either for my own children and others in this country or the dear ones in Haiti and Afghanistan, who face crises in addition to COVID-19. What I believe is that I must admit this uncertainty and find trusted conversation partners with whom to share my anxiety. Such honesty does not ignore the soul; it allows us to see ourselves and one another as we truly are — as fearful and hopeful creatures. Then we can more easily support others as well as care for ourselves, which might just be what Jesus intended by claiming that “purity” would reveal the divine.
ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the author of “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons in the Time of the Coronavirus.” He and his wife, who is also a pastor, are rattled and blessed by parenting three young children.