We Will Find Refuge

Contagious disease has mystified and frightened humankind from the beginning. As I daily, almost hourly, hear myself counted as most vulnerable to Coronavirus, I find myself remembering how scripture lists “pestilence, deadly pestilence” as a threat to human life. Psalm 93 promises:
“He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and
from the deadly pestilence….
he will cover you with his pinions
and under his (her) wings you will find refuge.”

Unlike our forebears we know a lot about the virus: that it is a virus, that it spreads from person to person, that it lingers on flat surfaces, and that we have not yet come up with a chemical countermeasure that will stop the virus. So, in spite of our understanding, the experience is a hard lesson in human limitation. The best we can do, we are told over and over, is wash our hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid contact with other people, social distancing, it is called; no crowds, no hand shaking or hugging, no public worship, no restaurants and bars, no movies, no March Madness or Spring Training. I have been surprised by how it has affected me, how much I miss all the above, how much I rely on other people, activity with other people, daily social interaction with others. I am surprised at how alien it is not to have human contact.

The entire experience has forced me to go deep inside myself and so some random musings…

During World War II I was a child, 3-7 years old. In my family the war seemed close. There were five in combat, two uncles and three cousins. Two uncles and a cousin were killed in action, one cousin was missing in action, the B26 he piloted shot down over Italy, captured and a prisoner of war. One cousin survived unscathed. My parents listened carefully to the news on the radio on the kitchen table and talked about the war, followed each battle. I worried. One day I asked my father what would happen if we lost the war, if Germany and Japan won. I have never forgotten and often thought about his answer. “We will not lose the war. We will win. We must win and we will.” That small conversation has stayed with me over the years along with the confidence that Dad was right. We cannot lose. We will not lose, that there is no adversary that we cannot overcome. We will win.

Somehow I managed to retain remnants of that conviction through a recent history that slowly but surely chipped away at it. We did not win the Korean War. We not only did not win in Vietnam but were humiliated in spite of an enormous investment in resources and human lives. It was only recently that I finally confronted and accepted the reality that Dad’s confidence is not supported by reality. Since September 11, 2001, we have once again enormously invested our resources and thousands of lives of our servicemen and women, and clearly we have not won in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It has taken decades but I have finally confronted and understood limitations. It has taken a virus, a “deadly pestilence” to bring me face to face with limits, including my own. And it’s about time.

So I am socially distancing intentionally because we are among the most vulnerable. I am more honest about my nation’s limits and my own.

The good news in all of this, and it is very good, is that I am more aware than ever of the blessings of family, of daily phone calls and text messages inquiring about us, hopeful and reassuring and videos of 16-month-old twin great- granddaughters playing, walking and falling down and getting up and walking again.

I am more aware than ever of the gift of other people, of ordinary common life in community, the precious gift of friends and friendship whose absence is palpable.

I am more grateful than ever for the faith community, the church, my church, as we sat on the couch last Sunday and watched the liturgy and sang along with the hymns and prayed the prayers with our people, electronically.

I am grateful for the gift of time to read books I have intended to read but repeatedly put off, time to savor Wendell Berry’s Traveling at Home, and Mary Oliver and a collection of her essays, Upstream, published shortly before she died. She chose a Shelley quote to introduce the collection:

“in solitude, or in that deserted state when we are
surrounded by human beings and yet they
sympathize not with us, we love the flowers,
the grass and the waters and the sky. In the
motion of the very leaves of spring in the blue
air there is then found a secret correspondence
with our heart.”

Shelley On Love.

I’m also reading and pondering Parker Palmer’s On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old and finding it immediate and relevant for obvious reasons, and loving David Brooks’ recent The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, the search for meaning and purpose after one has climbed the first mountain of professional accomplishment. It is a very thoughtful book based apparently on Brooks’ own personal experience. Late afternoon and early evening I am finally getting to Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greeley Polar Expedition by Buddy Levy.

I have actually taken the time to sit at the window and identify the birds visiting the feeders: Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, an occasional Flicker and Blue Jay, Cardinals male and female, on the ground beneath the feeders enjoying the spill over.

We have been praying too, for our family, especially those great-granddaughters, that they will grow strong and healthy, for our friends also members of the most vulnerable generation, for the ill, for healthcare professionals working on the front lines, and for our government.

And we have prayed our gratitude for the promise that we are ultimately safe and secure, for the promise that we, all of us, will finally “be delivered from the snare of the fowler and the deadly pestilence,” that we will finally find our refuge under divine wings, the unconditional, eternal love of God.


  1. Ann Fromtain says:


  2. Bud & Monet Fennema says:

    Comment from Bud and Monet. “You know how to say it.”
    Thank you, as always.

  3. Thanks for your words and thoughts.

  4. Carol Carpenter says:

    Thank you so much John, reading this was a real comfort.


  5. Barbara Fountain says:

    Wonderful as always. Stay safe.

  6. Frances Coe says:

    John, we always enjoy and befit from your blogs. Thank you.

  7. Hello from Mary Dorflinger, an old friend of Diane’s. Thank you so much for posting this. Much of it is what I have been thinking, but didn’t know how to say. Most grateful.❤️

  8. Hunkering down at BRC — I could ”hear” you John with the streaming service.– and confessing yes I know vulnerable

    — bill bowen is wabash12

  9. Lynn DeJong says:

    Thank you for your comforting and calming voice, in the midst of the chaos. Thank you for the reminder, once again, that we belong to God, and God’s perfect love is our refuge.

    • Nancy Enderle says:

      Sending love and prayers to you and Sue. Thank you for your honest and insightful analysis of this unusual time. My mantra is “together.” We get through this together – under God’s wing, holding tightly to one another.
      Peace dear friend. Nancy E.

  10. Nancy Elizabeth Winters says:

    Dear John and Sue
    Thank God that you have each other. I lost Hank to cancer two years ago and the house these days is horribly empty. Except for Molly Dog.
    But you found the Shelley! Superb research. Keep the poetry coming. Even here in Canada the flowers are growing and the birds are singing. The planet rejoices in the reprieve.

  11. Pat Mitchell says:

    Thank you, very soothing.
    Praise be to God our Defender!

  12. Susan Erler says:

    As always, John, thank you for your wise, comforting words. I so appreciate hearing your thoughts about the health crisis. the Shelley poem, book recommendations, and most of all your reminder of the eternal love of God. I hope you and Sue stay well – keep reading and watching those birds. Best, Susan Erler


  13. On Fri, Mar 20, 2020 at 7:14 PM Hold to the Good wrote:

    > John M. Buchanan posted: “Contagious disease has mystified and frightened > humankind from the beginning. As I daily, almost hourly, hear myself > counted as most vulnerable to Coronavirus, I find myself remembering how > scripture lists “pestilence, deadly pestilence” as a threat to hu” >

  14. Thank you John. I was going to reach out to you from KC and here you are. We are all in this together.
    Your wisdom and guidance is extremely valuable.

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