So it has finally happened. Singapore is in Dorscon (Disease Outbreak Response Condition) Orange, which means that there has been local untraceable transmission of the novel coronavirus. Working in the hospital I was just waiting for this; we already were prewarned that our vacation leave would be cancelled and we would have to work in alternating weeks in teams. So I did do the due diligence of sourcing surgical masks and hand sanitizers for the family as well as getting a bucket to disinfect hubs and my clothes when we get back from work.
The last time this level of concern happened was in 2003 SARS outbreak. I was doing my post-doc fellowship in NY at that time and missed most of the action; I remember I did come back to Singapore briefly 3/4 way through the period to Singapore but didn’t go to work or meet friends. All I remember were empty flights and a very quiet Changi airport with soldiers patrolling with guns.
Now we are in the thick of preparing for widespread community spread of the Wuhan virus, there is a sense of anticipation. Certainly there is a ripple of fear on the ground as shoppers have cleaned out the shelves in supermarkets. I confess several weeks ago I had already googled websites on doomsday prepping and did my own version of low-carb prepping as I needed enough of the right kind of food to manage my own health condition. I bought shelf-stable shirataki noodles, nuts, low carb pasta, tuna, spam and low carb peanut butter! And of course the freezer is full of meat. I stocked on medications and vitamin C as well because I figured when we get into the thick of things that I may no longer have the time to buy stuff or fill out my prescriptions.
But actually the preparedness was actually not just about food and masks and cleaning supplies. I was on a silent retreat at the Seven Fountains Retreat Center in Chiang Mai last week which was, I felt, a divine preparation of the heart. This timeout was actually long overdue because I usually take a personal retreat every year in October, but was not able to do so because of hub’s trips and kid#2’s exams last year. The retreat was one of the most soul-restoring times I’ve ever had. Keeping silence opened my ears to be able to hear bird song, the random thumping of bunnies hopping around my shelter; the slower pace allowed me to really taste the food in my mouth and to smell the scent of jasmine flowers in the dark. During the silence God spoke. During one of the prayer times the verses from Psalm 31:14-15a resonated in me: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand…”
Walking the labyrinth and meditating on Psalm 23, then finally inserting a little pebble in a cleft in the rock at the center was a precious symbol of sheltering with Christ the Rock.
During silence I felt the absolute compassion of God – that He would walk with me in life, in death and in need. There was a deep soul satisfaction as I lingered in His presence. And this sense of abiding peace was something that I am able to anchor on now as I think of the busy season of work ahead. I love this prayer by Thomas Merton:
One thing about being in the cusp of an epidemic, the concerns and unspoken fears will surface. Hence the wild rush for masks and supermarket supplies. But the situation really exposes the condition of the heart – are we truly rested and trusting that our lives are in God’s hands? That even if it is time to pass on from this world to the next, are we at peace about that? I believe this precious interlude allowed me to recenter my focus and trust in God.
Twice a year we have a women’s retreat in my church and we usually ask God for a theme and anchor verse for the season. Interestingly the theme was “Trusting God” and the anchor verse from Psalm 34:8 was “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”. As events have unfolded I am once again amazed at how God knew what we needed beforehand and gave us such a timely word for the season. It is certainly about trusting God, because there will be a time when energy runs out, masks run out, equipment fails…and whether we live or die or suffer, we are held securely in God’s hands.
So dear friends, I may not be cooking and creating new recipes for a while as work in hospital may have to take precedence. But I pray that you will stay well and more importantly, discover the Lord who is the lover of your soul. May you taste the goodness of God in this difficult season – our times are in His hands.
My little pebble nestled in the crevice of the rock. I hope it stays secure there through the wind and the rain!