Six months ago today, this article appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine:

“A mysterious respiratory virus that has infected hundreds in China has now officially made landfall in the United States, bringing the total number of countries afflicted by the newly described Wuhan coronavirus up to at least six. For now, the Center for Disease Control has declared the immediate health risk the virus poses to the American public to be low. The infected patient, a man from Washington state who recently returned home from a trip to Wuhan, China, began experiencing symptoms last week, and was quickly hospitalized. He remains in isolation at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington.” *

We were encouraged by the author of the article that “the risk the virus poses to the American public is low.” However, six months into this COVID pandemic, we have just passed a total of 4,000,000 cases in the USA, and over 145,000 Americans have died from the disease. Would you have believed in January that this COVID virus would be dominating our lives in July, that we would be living with such question marks, such clouds of uncertainty, such social and economic pressure? On the other hand, would you have believed that we’d still be hanging in there? That we’d be able to weather it all and still approach the future with optimism and confidence?

Psychologist William James wrote about how a newborn baby first experiences life, with all its senses sending incomprehensible messages to its brain at the same time: “The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails all at once, feels it as one great blooming, buzzing confusion.”** Slowly the baby sorts it out and organizes all the messages into meaningful understanding of its environment.

Sometimes I feel that we’re going through that process all over again; our COVID-dominated environment has changed so much that it all seems to be “one great blooming, buzzing confusion.”

And yet, I’m encouraged by the simple slogan “Life is so daily!” It’s not lofty philosophical ideals that will bring us through; it’s simple principles of living. That’s why I’m glad that God arranged for the Epistle of James to be among the books at the end of the Bible that were written during the time of the early Church’s persecution. The believers were able to live positive, meaningful lives in those chaotic days by sticking to some basic principles that work in any age or situation. James chose to see it all as a character-building process, writing:

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Do you know why a pressure cooker makes such delicious food? It’s because it’s a closed environment, so that as food cooks, liquids, spices, and tastes are circulated, and recirculated without evaporating. The flavor is baked in. Even though we feel exposed during a persecution or a pandemic, we’re really surrounded by God’s love and grace, and through the negative trials and testing, the character and endurance we need to get through them are actually “baked in” by the heat and the pressure.

Learn more about practical living during pressure-cooker times in Pastor Connie’s message this Sunday about the Epistle of James.

– Pastor George Van Alstine

* “Officials pinpoint first COVID-19 case in United States,” by Katherine I. Wu, Smithsonian Magazine, January 22, 2020.

** The Principles of Psychology (1890