On New Year’s eve Andrew and Starbeth were dreaming of a beautiful outdoor May wedding overlooking the Hudson River. They asked me to officiate at their ceremony at sundown so they and their guests would see the sun gradually descending toward the water at the beginning of the procession. “I hope it doesn't rain,” I replied with a grin, and Andrew laughed nervously.
In hindsight, it is ironic to think that a little spring rain was the worst we feared when a global pandemic was looming. Little did we know that New York City would soon become the epicenter of the novel Covid-19 outbreak; that hospital tents would be pitched across Central Park; and that a naval fleet would tie up in New York Harbor to replenish the city’s dwindling resources a month before the wedding.
Starbeth’s dream wedding quickly turned from a cute, quirky musical in La Land to a dystopian apocalypse in Zombieland.
Simone Weil, the late French philosopher, once wrote, “There are only two things that can pierce the human heart. The one is beauty. The other is affliction.” In the modern age most of us seek to avoid the latter at all costs and hope only for the former.
Yet perhaps there is a certain poignant beauty found in affliction also, something we are missing, and that only an event as radical as a pandemic can teach us. As a minister serving in New York City in these unprecedented times, this is precisely what I am witnessing.
As the city shuttered and social distancing protocols were put into place, we knew a wedding cancellation was inevitable. We discussed alternatives, but rescheduling proved difficult because Starbeth was an essential healthcare worker serving on the frontline at the height of the outbreak.
We decided moving the ceremony forward was the best option, and that it would be best to hold the reception at a later date, when doing the Macarena wouldn’t be such a criminal act (although our dance moves might be).
After finding some solace in finalizing a date, Starbeth was reminded of a dream that her friend Hailey had last spring. In the dream, Starbeth was downcast after Andrew proposed to her with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ring pop, when what she was expecting was the opening scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Nevertheless, with hindsight she now found it consoling. She felt God had sent her the dream not as a foreshadowing of the pandemic per se, but rather as a silver lining in the thick of it.
In the Christian tradition, although we believe God speaks primarily through his word, God can also speak prophetically in a variety of ways including through film, art, music, and dreams. Brent Curtis and John Eldredge frame it this way in TheSacred Romance:
If we will listen, a sacred romance calls to us through our heart every moment of our lives. It whispers to us on the wind, invites us through the laughter of good friends, reaches out to us through the touch of someone we love.
We’ve heard it in our favorite music, sensed it at the birth of our first child, been drawn to it while watching the shimmer of a sunset on the ocean. Romance is even present in times of great personal suffering: the illness of a child, the loss of a marriage, the death of a friend. Something calls to us through experiences like these and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, and the voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God.
When people in our culture today hear the word “prophecy,” they immediately think of someone like Nostradamus foretelling future events, whereas the New Testament in fact frames prophecy primarily as forthtellingin and for the present moment.
This is not to discount foretelling in any way, for the Old Testament does foreshadow the advent of Christ in numerous accounts. Yet, the Pauline understanding of the main function of prophecy is not at all mystical, but rather deeply practical.
The aim of prophecy is primarily to lift others up and encourage them in their struggles, to free those who are prisoners of the moment here and now from doubting in the darkness what God said in the light.
Earlier this month, my spirits lifted greatly as Andrew and Starbeth joined together in holy matrimony and exchanged their vows and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ring pops. I began to better understand what Simone Weil meant by the exquisite confluence of beauty and affliction.
Granted this wasn’t the hallmark wedding they had dreamt of, but somehow, through divine serendipity, they found their reality even better than the fantasy. You couldn’t ask for any more from a wedding day. God had given them a day they will always remember and an epic tale to tell their grandchildren one day.
Ironically, it did rain on the day of the ceremony, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. If anything, it felt like an ionic scene straight out of a Nicholas Sparks’ romance novel; a sacred romance, the levity of Ninja Turtle ring pops and the jollity of holy laughter in the epoch of the coronavirus, all foreshadowed by a dream.
In hindsight, if I’ve learned anything this past month it is that God is always speaking to us every moment of our lives. It is not that he isn’t speaking; we just may not be listening. Perhaps this period of quarantine is as good a time as any to start.
Brent Curtis and John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God ( Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997) 6-7.
George Panichas A. (ed.) Simone Weil Reader: Moyer Bell Limited(Mt Kisco, New York, 1977) 421-422.
Rev. Dr. Sam D. Kim is Co-Founder of 180 Church NYC, a community joining God to restore the beauty in all things. He is Postdoctoral Fellow-Scholar at Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics. He is a recipient of the Lifelong Learning Fellowship at Yale Divinity School and Yale School of Medicine, which aims to to close the gap between faith and science, and is awarded by the John Templeton Foundation and American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.