My daughter Katie has a stack of books waiting to be read. They’ve been waiting for quite a while, not because she doesn’t like to read, but because she doesn’t have time.
Well, now she has time. She’s had nothing but time for a week and a half. But when she came upstairs the other day with a book tucked under her arm, it wasn’t one of those unread books she had with her, it was a book she’s read before. Book one of a series of books. Book one of a pile of comfort books.
Katie, like many of us, doesn’t want new and unknown right now. She wants to know the ending. To not be surprised. To have a wee bit of control in a world that has spun far out of anyone’s ability to predict or manage.
It’s hard to lose control of our lives. To not have the power to choose where we go or what we’ll do. It’s discouraging. Frustrating. Maddening.
I’ve experienced a bit of that loss of control this week as the trip my husband and I had planned for this summer, to attend the once-every-10-year-Passion Play in Oberamergau, Germany, will have to be postponed by two years. That wasn’t surprising, given the current circumstances in the world, but it was terribly disappointing. It was also rather ironic.
The Passion Play in Oberamergau began almost 400 years ago when Europe found itself in the throws of .... the Bubonic Plague. Feel familiar? As I understand the story, the tiny town of Oberamergau closed its doors to incoming people in an effort to keep the plague away. They had heard what the plague was doing in other towns and didn’t want it to ruin theirs.
One young man, however, decided that he simply couldn’t stay away from his girlfriend, over in a neighboring village. So he snuck out, visited her, then snuck back home, unwittingly bringing the plague with him. When the villagers realized that the plague had struck their town, they got together and they prayed. They told God that they would put on a production of the Passion of Christ regularly, for the rest of eternity, if he would just save them from the Black Death.
Well, God listened to them and he answered their prayers. The village was spared from utter destruction and they began, a year later in 1634, to commemorate the death of Christ through the Passion Play performances. As a rule, the play is performed every 10 years, always in a year ending in zero, hence 2020 being a scheduled play year. In the history of the play there have been a tiny handful of times when it has been cancelled or delayed, but always it has begun again as soon as possible, with the largest gap being from 1934 (when it was performed in honor of the 300th anniversary) to 1950, having skipped 1940 due to World War II.
In the irony of all ironies, it was announced this past week that this year’s performance will be pushed back to 2022. The play which began because of The Plague has been postponed because of … well, a plague.
By the time it was announced, I knew it was coming. How could it not? There is no way they can gather to rehearse in this coronavirus environment. And, with a cast of 2,000 — made up entirely of people of Oberamergau — rehearsals are huge undertakings.
And so, we will wait. We will wait out this current plague. We will wait out our disappointment, we will wait out our excitement to see something we’ve wanted to see for approximately 40 years. What’s another two years?
Yes, life is in a bit of an uproar right now, for all of us. Things are cancelled. Things are changed. Things are weird. We want that comfort of a well-loved book, a well-loved meal, a well-loved voice on the phone. We are sheltering in our homes. We are looking for security in this crazy upheaval of our lives.
One of my favorite scripture passages these days is Psalm 91. I have heard a lot of people quoting this recently. The whole Psalm is beautiful (and it even talks about safety from a plague!) but my favorite bit, since I’m forced to choose for the sake of space, is verses one and four. May you, too, find comfort in the poetry and truth of these words.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91:1,4 NIV
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.