Such and Such a City

That King James turn of phrase from my childhood, “such and such a city,” has often rung in my mind’s ear in the past few months.

Come now, ye that say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain”; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. 

The Apostle James is chiding his readers against improper certainty. Like those early readers, we too make plans for worthwhile and profitable ventures. Those plans depend on circumstances that are relatively predictable. And up until recently, all the societal cogs hummed along – with wobbles, to be sure, but yet with astonishing reliability. 

But now, in a COVID-19 world, “whereas ye know not” has become us. We realize with new clarity what we often forget: we’re not as in control as we tend to think.

That’s where we are as a choir. Our plans for “such and such a city” included Lancaster and Leamington and Walnut Creek. Tour is cancelled, and we are disappointed.

What now?

It seems the Apostle James would encourage us not to shout invectives, nor even to posit yet again how this all really should have been handled, but rather to recognize that uncertainty and lack of control are a normal human experience. Perhaps he would encourage us less to fix the external problems (of which there are many), and to acknowledge and work on the internal problems (of which there are many). Specifically, he calls us to deep humility and to recognizing that there are other players in this game besides the obvious ones. 

Instead ye ought to say, “If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that.”

“If the Lord will” is more than a pious phrase. It acknowledges a larger Presence in the world. We are not the only ones with plans. Random forces and chance might in some inexplicable way be the glove worn by a mighty hand. The unpredictability of our time may not be something merely to be solved, but something to be noted; not something merely to live through but to live in. If we let it, our discomfort with this present uncertainty can point us to where we can find a true and proper certainty that cannot finally be rattled by the events that make the headlines.

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