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Dispatches from Inside COVID

                            By Rev. Dr. Jeffrey A. Schooley

On an average month, I’m not sure what to write in these newsletter articles. It’s hard to pick a single topic that will be of interest to such a diverse group of people, each of whom is going through different moments or seasons of life. But this month is particularly bad because right around the same time I was supposed to send Tammy a newsletter article, Brianne and I also tested positive for COVID. Laid out as we were by this virus (the fatigue with it is no joke!), I had even less clarity on what to write. So, I’m leaning into that old writer’s mantra: “Write what you know.” And this month, I know COVID… in an almost biblical sense of that word.

To begin, it is worth noting that the connection between sickness and the soul has a loooong history in the Church. Indeed, the Church has often (quite rightly to my mind) been described as “a hospital for the sick, not a hotel for the saved.” And then, of course, we remember the disciples’ question to Jesus in John 9, when talking about the man born blind: “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” That’s right, in Jesus’ time and far before then, there was an assumed connection between sickness and sinfulness. And lest you think we’ve evolved past all this because we’re scientifically informed, rational moderns, go read any early coverage of the AIDS epidemic in America. You’ll find we’re not much better than our ancient forebears. 

So, let’s lean into the seeming fact that sickness and the soul do have some sort of relationship and probe this connection for the little streaks of Good News and divine love that might still run through it all. What follows, then, are some of the themes that emerged over the last week for me.


There is a lot of guilt when it comes to being sick. Guilt that I didn’t try harder to prevent myself from getting sick. (“Why didn’t I just suck it up and wear a mask during my 14 hours of commuting back from California? Should I be taking more vitamins?”). When we get sick, we look for a cause within our control (since we can’t control most viruses) and thus we tee ourselves up for self-blame.

There’s also the guilt of having potentially spread the disease to others. On the Saturday before my diagnosis, I was with a group of strangers at the Wood County History Museum as we rehearsed for the “Living History” event we had all volunteered for. At the time, I thought I had a head cold and told folks as much – tried to sit away from them as best as possible – but none of that mattered when the leader of the group (quite rightly) sent an email out to everyone sharing that I had tested positive and encouraging everyone to monitor themselves for symptoms. The email was kind – it even wanted to know how I was doing – but my heart still sank when I saw it because I felt guilt.

It is easy to see why sin and sickness got linked together in the past. Both can leave us with feelings of guilt; both can create impacts on others beyond our control. This doesn’t mean that there is an actual connection between the two (correlation is not causation, after all), but feeling this way seems valid, even inevitable.


             Guilt has a partner in crime that goes by the name shame. They seem synonymous, but they are not. Guilt is associated with our behavior. Shame is strictly a form of negative self-evaluation. It is the difference between the sentences “I did something bad” and “I am bad.” Guilt describes our relationship with our community; shame names our relationship with ourselves.

Given how run-down illness can make us, it makes sense that feelings of shame can easily creep into our souls. We already physically feel bad, so it is easy to lay into ourselves emotionally and spiritually.


Obviously, being sick means we’ll be unproductive. But we live in a society that largely values people based upon what they can produce. There’s probably some of the Guilt/Shame Matrix built into these feelings, but it goes beyond this to a place that reveals just how much we all build our identity around our ability to do things. “Productive” might just be the name of our most favorite idol.


There does come a moment, in the midst of all these more negative/darker emotions, when mercy breaks in and grace breaks through and we start to just care for ourselves. It happened for me when I just didn’t even try to check my work email. It wasn’t that I didn’t care – my need to be productive and thus valuable was still itching away within me – but rather that I just had to accept that in this moment all I could do was try to get better.

I think we all know that seasons of illness create all those dark feelings in folks, which is why we say things like “Well, you just take care of you” or “You just get better and back on your feet” when we’re talking to someone who is sick. Deep down, we know that they’re primed to over-function – and never to the benefit of their health – so we caution the sick with such words. Indeed, more than a few of you did just this for me and Bri!

This acceptance stage is the holiest stage. It’s where, down and out, we just have to trust God to make it all work out. We give up control. We accept our limitations – both our natural ones and those thrust upon us by the illness – and believe that we are loved within our limits by the limitless love of God. This is also the moment where all the words of our community stop feeling like hollow platitudes and can be received as the messages of mercy and care they really are.  

If we are to attend, spiritually, to sickness at all, it is for this moment – that is, the moment when the love of God gives grace to our guilt, rebukes our shame, overwhelms our need to be productive by being more productive than we ever could, and reminds us that each of us is valuable in who we are because of whose we are.

Sin and sickness are not the same, but our confusion of this fact can be understood when we realize that the love and grace of God that confronts both sin and sickness is the same. Thanks be to God for such love and grace and thanks be to each of you for your love and grace too.

Tammy Schnitker

Tammy Schnitker

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We are a loving and caring community of faith, located in the heart of Bowling Green, Ohio where Christ Welcomes All. As thoughtful followers of Christ committed to empathy, reflection and outreach, we gather together for worship, fellowship and service. We include all ages in our ministries. We have a deep love for music, mission and social justice, with a highly devoted congregation welcoming and caring deeply for all people within and beyond its walls. 


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