At the beginning of Willa Cather’s wonderful novel My Antonia, the young Jim Burden is pulled away from the life he has always known. His parents have both died and we join him on a train from Virginia to live with his grandparents in Nebraska.
As Jim watches out the window, he finds that the “only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.” The barren scenery is just one of the stark new realities in the boy’s life.
The train arrives at night. Jim has fallen asleep as the miles have passed by and he awakens to the darkness in a world he has never known. Once off the train, he settles into the straw of a wagon box for a long ride from the station to the farm. Cather sets the tone with a vivid picture of the bleak landscape through Jim’s eyes:
Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land – slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man’s jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it. I did not believe that my dead father and mother were watching me from up there; they would still be looking for me at the sheep-fold down by the creek, or along the white road that led to the mountain pastures. I had left even their spirits behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knew not whither. I don’t think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be.
An Unfamiliar Landscape
I think a lot of us can relate to that feeling right now. Covid-19 has changed the landscape into something unfamiliar and unpleasant. Many things that made our lives delightful are missing. Our social interactions are suspended and there are a lot of people who are finding life without a handshake or a hug pretty barren. Our daily routines are barely recognizable from what they were just a couple of weeks ago and the long slog takes a toll in ways that we cannot always account for. It can leave us feeling, like Jim, erased and blotted out.
Let me assure you that these changes have not erased you. This crisis cannot blot you out. Hear these familiar words:
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,’
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.Psalm 139:7-12, ESV
It lies upon you to believe that this is true. We are still closer to the beginning of this crisis than we are to the end. Your view is likely to get worse before it gets better and you may very well lose more through this than you expect. But no matter how bleak the landscape appears, you cannot find yourself beyond the grace and power of God.
Your God sees you.
He is with you.
He hears you when you pray.
His hands shall lead you hold you.
If you find yourself standing on a strange and scorched landscape, be assured that God still sees you there. Nothing about a corona virus can cut the chord of His presence and or dislodge the foundations which He upholds.
A Familiar Task
What we need in the midst of this is the same thing that we always need: to see God. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and that reverent awe comes from seeing Him as clearly and fully as we can.
Remember that it is Jesus who “has made him known” (John 1:18). The light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is revealed in the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 4:3-6). So, as much as we can, and with whatever means are available, let us see that the word of Christ dwells richly among us (Colossians 3:16).
What can I do today that would clarify my vision of God through the Gospel? How can I keep this view before me and those that I am connected to? If we walk through this well, it will be because we have maintained a clear vision of God throughout it.
Be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) and you will find it natural to keep on saying your prayers.
(For a limited time, you can listen to My Antonia free from Audible here.)