Resilient praying and caring communities are essential, writes Bruce Clemenger after Covid nearly took his life. Article to appear in the Mar/Apr Faith Today, reprinted here with permission.
Dedicated to my father-in-law, the late Ken Clark
For many people Covid is an existential threat only affecting others. I spent 2020 working on pandemic responses – alongside churches and ministries including calls to prayer, and with government and in inter-faith dialogues. These over and above what the EFC is typically doing.
And then Covid struck. First Ken, my father-in-law, tested positive after being in and out of the hospital for a routine visit. Then Shirley, my mother-in-law, and I tested positive. Covid impacted us differently.
Covid put Ken in the ICU for a few days, and then back to the general ward with a planned discharge date of December 29. But weakened by Covid, and without family present, Ken died on Boxing Day.
Over two weeks Shirley was in and out of the ER several times, monitored on-site for two days and eventually able to manage the symptoms from home.
In my case Covid pounced. Within a few days I had severe Covid pneumonia, and for three days my life hung in the balance.
My doctor, the chief medical officer for critical care, regularly contacted Tracy. How would Tracy prepare our two daughters for what could be a permanent life-altering trajectory for the three of them? Tracy was also receiving calls from the morgue and funeral home about her father, from emergency staff concerning her mother, and about me.
For two weeks the home phone rang every 15 minutes during the day and often into the night. Not what any of us had on the calendar for the New Year.
A critical factor in Covid treatment is good blood oxygen saturation levels. The maximum amount of oxygen was poured into my lungs. But oxygen needs to be absorbed.
As it turns out, oxygen absorption positions also have deep theological symbolism. Proning is lying face down, and then rotating from side to side (Ezekiel 4). This spreads out the lungs and best enables oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.
Tracy and my doctor co-ordinated my medical and spiritual care, agreeing not to tell me how serious my condition was. I was offered the image of a deep valley (Psalm 23), but not heading toward a cliff (coma, coffin). My task was to focus on breathing – in through the nose, out through the mouth, concentrating on each breath, hour by hour and day after day. Sometimes there was no one in the room, but I knew I was not alone (Deuteronomy 31:6).
"You will not fear the terror of the night … nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness." – Psalm 91:5–6
The prayers, scriptures and songs given by others affirmed I was part of a spiritual community. Lying prone I prayed for those praying for me while I listened to inspirational music. Both kept me focused on God, amplifying a deep sense of God’s presence – a laying under God’s wings (Psalm 63:6–7). United in purpose, we rest in the sovereignty of God.
The experience of 16 days in hospital – including 11 in critical care – manifest the true nature of spiritual resilience among praying communities.
Resilience is the ability to maintain a sense of purpose while facing adversity. It sustains the one vulnerable but also those who care – staying focused on God in hardship, leaving the outcome to Him and facilitating a hopeful recovery horizon.
Resilience is a manifestation of discipleship – what the Church exhibits in the lives of its members and in its teaching. I am deeply grateful for those who persisted in their prayers literally day and night, searching the Scriptures and sharing texts that spoke to my soul.
Resilience is also imperative for hospital staff. They need to know they are not alone. Being prayed for provides a decisive daily encouragement among those battling Covid.
I am deeply grateful for those who persisted in their prayers literally day and night, searching the Scriptures and sharing texts that spoke to my soul.
A disciplined commitment to a higher purpose causes people to stand firm on matters of conscience and not make compromises, not only to protect themselves but in practical and sacrificial expressions of their love for others.
Generously and seamlessly, praying communities reach out to those dying, grieving or facing uncertain outcomes. Without knowing his Covid condition, Ken died quickly, naturally and peacefully. Comfort, healing and restoration offer experiences of what God’s Kingdom is like (Luke 10:9). We become empowered by God’s love, compassion and mercy to tangibly care for others while we await that glorious day when the groaning of creation will be no more (Romans 8) – when His Kingdom is fully come.
Resilience in praying and caring is strong weaponry in confronting a deadly pestilence, and ushers in experiences of the presence of God in profound ways. When Covid took my father-in-law, attacked my mother-in-law and threatened my life, praying and caring communities persisted. We are forever grateful.
Author: is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.Bruce J. Clemenger