Perhaps it is simply human nature to look for otherworldly signs to verify that the Lord travels with us along our earthen pilgrimage. For example, we wonder if the coronavirus isolation ban will be lifted on or near the Feast of Saint Corona (May 14). We wonder how “quarantine,” deriving from Latin and meaning “forty” (quaranta) or “forty days” (quarantina), is tied to the continuous forty-day references in sacred scripture. We wonder how closely the isolation time we experience now mirrors the forty-day period of preparation or purification that is part of our Judeo-Christian faith history. We wonder if there is a connection between this year, 2020 (a double forty), and the plagues that hit in prior centuries (Spanish Influenza of 1920, the 1820 Cholera outbreak, 1720 Plague of Mersailles, 1620 Bubonic Plague…). As we wonder, we seek messages through signs.
Jesus told His followers, and others who wondered, that external signs are all around us in every age but that we should not get caught up in them; instead, we should look deep inside ourselves for God’s messages of guidance. He answered their queries by stating that no one knows the day nor the hour but that we should always be ready, always be prepared. We think that He wants us to be ready and prepared for the end and we wonder if the end refers to our own earthly death, or the second coming of Christ for all to witness, or something else equally sublime. For the most part, Jesus and the church indicate that the message, which the signs point to, is more about changing than ending, e.g., Christians believe that when we die, our life changes but it does not end. Throughout scripture, forty is a reference to change. To me, the real question as we approach the fortieth day of quarantine is “How are we being challenged to change during this peculiar experience of our lives?”
If we are looking for signs, we probably ought to gaze less upon the external world and more into interior realities. Some of you are sharing in-home retreat experiences of the past month in which you find signs from various and unexpected occurrences that may be divinely inspired. From dreams, memories, or communication with ole friends, to art, music, or prayer of imagination, to journaling, spiritual reading, or contemplation of God’s mercy, you have opened yourselves to encounters beyond normal routines. For one, it is a feeling of connectedness to a heavenly being; for another, it is a confident knowledge that something important and worrisome will be okay; for yet another, it is an overwhelming sense of joy or peace. I think that these are the signs we ought to heed.
You might remember the biblical story of the prophet, Elijah, who journeyed forty days in the desert to encounter God on Mount Horeb (aka Zion). First there is a powerful storm but God is not in the storm. Then there is a shattering earthquake but God is not in the earthquake. Then there is a blazing fire but God is not in the fire. Finally, there is a gentle whisper, like the sound of silence, and Elijah realizes that he has entered the presence of God (1 Kings 19). I think it is that way for us, also. Perhaps we need not look for God’s signs in phenomena that light the sky, shake the ground, or stifle the world economy because we are more likely to encounter the Lord in that which quiets us.
I hope that you will continue to open yourself to the divine presence—it will sometimes surprise you in unexpected ways.