Worry, Concern and COVID-19


(Springtime in Minnesota: and a winter weather advisory.)

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected us much here in central Minnesota. Apart from the governor’s stay-at-home order, no Mass and new shopping rules.

A winter weather advisory starts tonight. That explains the mid-afternoon dusk outside.

My son is still sick. Not as sick as he was a few days back, but he’s not going back to work yet. Maybe he’s got a non-COVID-19 sort of bronchitis.

Or a mild case of the current pandemic disease. Likely enough, we’ll never know.

As I’ve said before, Minnesota medicos only have so many test kits. Reserving them for folks who need a diagnosis makes sense.

Which doesn’t keep me from worrying. Momentarily, when I’m paying attention.

Worry Happens, Concern is a Choice

As far as I know, merimnaphilia isn’t in the DSM. Or anywhere else.

DSM? That’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s frequently-updated catalog of ways our minds can go haywire.

I’d been looking for a word meaning ‘love of worrying.’ And not finding one. Which is why I decided to make one.

We have Greek-derived words for a mess of psychiatric disorders: philias for disordered fondness, phobias for unreasonable fears. But not merimnaphilia, excessive love of worrying. Not until now.

If my neologism was in the DSM, folks who enjoy worrying too much would be told they’ve got merimnaphilia. Then there’s the issue of deciding how much is “too much.”

I’m not sure that worrying, the emotional analog of concern — angst, general uneasiness — is ever something to encourage.

Worry, like any other emotion, happens. There’s no point in worrying about worrying.

Experiencing emotions is part of being human. There’s nothing wrong with emotions, by themselves. Not until I decide what I’ll do. (Catechism, 17621770)

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure there’s a line between too much and too little concern. Maybe more a borderland than a line, and I’m drifting off-topic.

Or maybe not so much. There’s no shortage of reasons for concern.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras, New Orleans, 2019.
(From Infrogmation of New Orleans, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Mardi Gras, New Orleans, 2019. Before COVID-19.)

Mardi Gras, “fat Tuesday” in French, started as a way to use up a household’s supply of lard and fat before Lent. Or maybe as ancient celebrations like Saturnalia.

It’s also a nationally-famous annual party in New Orleans.

Folks from around the country come to see the parades, visit the bars, and enjoy a temporary suspension of societal norms.

I’m not convinced, at all, that it’s a reasonable way to get ready for Lent, and that’s another topic for another day.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras is also a major money-maker for the city. Which may help explain why the parties and parades happened again in February.

Monday morning quarterbacking is easy. I can look back and see why Mardi Gras 2020 shouldn’t have happened. But I didn’t have to decide whether or not to cancel an economically significant event.

And I don’t know what the folks with that responsibility knew, or how they saw what we now call COVID-19.

Maybe the new coronavirus disease looked like something mostly limited to China.

WHO, the World Health Organization, didn’t call it a “public health emergency of international concern” until January 30.

It wasn’t declared a pandemic until March 11.

By then, the Mardi Gras parties were over and people were getting sick. Some have died.

Some of the dead are known only to their friends and families. Others are among New Orleans’ high-profile personalities.

It’s not all bad news. Apparently there’s discussion of whether other massive get-togethers should go ahead as planned.1


Los Angeles: A U.S. Navy Hospital Ship and an Earnest Engineer

USNS Mercy: Relief for Los Angeles Hospitals

USNS Mercy (T-AH 20), arriving in Los Angeles (March 27, 2020)
(From US Navy, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(March 27, 2020; Los Angeles, California: USNS Mercy arrives.)

USNS Mercy Begins Treating Patients in Los Angeles
NAVY PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS NATALIE BYERS
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Natalie Byers, Washington Headquarters Services News (March 30, 2020)

“…While in Los Angeles, the ship will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a full spectrum of medical care, including general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults. This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their intensive care units and ventilators for those patients….”

I figure most folks in Los Angeles were glad to see the hospital ship Mercy arrive.

At least one chap saw the big white ship as a threat. And tried to “wake people up” to some sinister scenario involving COVID-19. Like a government takeover. Or something.

Maybe he’s right. But I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.

A Desire to “Wake People Up”

USNS Mercy, photo by Mark J. Terrill/API’m also quite sure that the AP and NPR aren’t in cahoots with the U. S. Department of Justice in a conspiracy to oppress us.

Although it could make a good story. I’ll get back to that.

Man intentionally derailed LA train near hospital ship, feds say
AP via NPR (April 1, 2020)

“A train engineer intentionally drove a speeding locomotive off a track at the Port of Los Angeles because he was suspicious about the presence of a Navy hospital ship docked there….”

Train Operator at Port of Los Angeles Charged with Derailing Locomotive Near U.S. Navy’s Hospital Ship Mercy
Press release, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, Department of Justice (April 1, 2020)

“…Moreno ran the train off the end of tracks, and crashed through a series of barriers before coming to rest more than 250 yards from the Mercy. No one was injured in the incident….

“…In his first interview with the Los Angeles Port Police, Moreno acknowledged that he ‘did it,’ saying that he was suspicious of the Mercy and believing it had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover … he said he knew it would bring media attention and ‘people could see for themselves,’ referring to the Mercy…

“…In a second interview with FBI agents, Moreno stated that ‘he did it out of the desire to ‘wake people up,'” according to the affidavit. ‘Moreno stated that he thought that the U.S.N.S. Mercy was suspicious and did not believe “the ship is what they say it’s for.”‘….”

The good news here is that nobody got hurt. And that Los Angeles has staff and equipment  to clean up the mess left by a runaway locomotive.

The not-so-good news is that a train engineer thought that driving a train toward a hospital ship was a good idea.

I’d like to say that I’m surprised. But I’m not. Not entirely.

Assuming that the happily-rare strident statements I read in social media reflect sincerely held beliefs, a few folks are convinced that skullduggery is continually afoot. And burn with a fervent desire to “wake people up.”

How, and whether, to respond to hotheads is yet another topic.

‘Good Enough for a Story?’

In more tranquil times, a ‘malevolent mercy’ conspiracy might make a good story.

Maybe something along the lines of that 1956 classic, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Then again, maybe not.

In any case, I’ll keep trying to avoid excessive worrying, reserve concern for matters that require or permit it — and try to avoid catching whatever my son has. He’s not enjoying the illness, and I doubt that I would.

More of how I see these interesting times:


1 Events and news; good, bad and undecided:

Posted in discursive detours, journal | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pandemic Perspectives

COVID-19, a coronavirus disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is still spreading.

Thousands have died. Nearly 900,000 have been infected. A great many more are affected, directly or indirectly. Some are behaving badly.

We cannot cure this disease. We can only endure it, or die trying.

That’s the bad news.

The good news, part of it, is that this isn’t the 14th century. We’ve learned a bit since the Black Death was spreading across Eurasia. Quite a bit, actually.

And some of us are still apt to act oddly.


It Could be Worse

The Black Death

We don’t know how many folks died in the Black Death pandemic. Not exactly.

Probably between 75,000,000 and 200,000,000. That’s maybe a quarter of the world’s population and between a third and half of Europe’s between 1347 and 1351.

The European Black Death experience started when Genoese ships from Caff/Kaffa arrived in Sicily. Folks began dying, unpleasantly, a few days later.

Genoa was next, followed by Venice, Pisa and northern Italy.

Boccaccio said that the first sign of trouble was egg-size tumors growing on inconvenient body parts. Next came dark or pale spots, gangrene, fever and vomiting blood. Even without death as a likely result, the disease would have been scary.

Faced with a crisis, at least one of Europe’s leaders sought expert advice.

King Philip VI of France told the Paris Medical Faculty to find the plague’s cause. I gather that the 14th century Paris Medical Faculty was like today’s Johns Hopkins or Stanford research universities.

Paris Medical Faculty researchers found two causes: a “universal and distant” planetary alignment triggering a “particular and near” miasma.

Educated Europeans generally accepted the Paris Medical Faculty’s analysis:

“…As the Philosopher (Aristotle) makes plain, all things seek for the good and want to understand. To attain this end we have listened to the opinions of many modern experts on astrology and medicine about the causes of the epidemic which has prevailed since 1345….

“…In 1345, at one hour after noon on 20 March, there was a major conjunction of three planets in Aquarius. This conjunction, along with other earlier conjunctions and eclipses, by causing a deadly corruption of the air around us, signifies mortality and famine….”
(The Report of the Paris Medical Faculty (October 1348); from “The Black Death.” Translated by Rosemary Horrox, via Stanford University)

Don’t laugh. Astrology made sense, almost, until the 1700s. So did miasma theory and humorism, until around 1900.1 (November 24, 2019; June 23, 2017)

Strasbourg, 1349 – – –


(From Émile_Schweitzer, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Émile Schweitzer’s “Pogrom of Strasbourg.” (1894 painting dramatizing the 1349 event))

I’m not sure what story Émile Schweitzer was telling in that painting.

The horrors of a pogrom are clear enough. But what about the Catholic clergy? Are they trying to stop the atrocities? Denouncing them? Or encouraging mass murder and pillage?

Backing up a little.

The Hundred Years’ War was nine years into its 116 year run when the Black Death hit. The war was basically an inheritance dispute involving French and English royalty, and that’s another topic.

Folks living in Strasbourg, Alsace, were inside the Holy Roman Empire. The region had been prosperous in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Hundred Years’ War didn’t directly affect them, apart from interfering with French efforts to take their land.

Even so, having a war next door is arguably unnerving. So was having the Black Death knocking at their door. Metaphorically speaking.

It wasn’t good for business, either.

Out-of-town customers who are dead don’t buy anything. And those who are dying or scared silly aren’t nearly as reliable as they used to be.2

– – – As Death Stalks the Land

Stress doesn’t, I think, make folks behave badly. But it arguably can be a trigger.

Europeans on every rung of the 14th century social ladder knew that death stalked the land.

Blaming a planetary alignment and resultant miasma would appeal to some.

Others believed that Jews were poisoning their wells. The notion’s not as daft as it might seem. Towns often had more than one well.

A town’s Christians might use one well, its Jews another. Necessarily, since many towns restricted Jews to a ghetto. Or gated community, putting a positive spin on it.

Folks who blamed the Jews occasionally decided to solve their problem by killing Jews.

Concerned citizens in Toulon, Provence, did so in 1348. Mass murder in Erfurt, Basel, Aragon, and Flanders followed.

The 1349 Strasbourg Massacre was a particularly egregious anti-Semitic outburst. And one that’s still controversial. I’ll share what I’ve pieced together.

Pope Clement VI issued Bulls, official decrees, in 1348, saying that ‘Jews poisoning the wells’ rumors were false. And that blaming Jews for the Black Death was a bad idea.

The second, “Quamvis Perfidiam,” condemned the anti-Semitic violence. It also said that folks who blamed the Jews for the plague had been “seduced by that liar, the Devil.”

“Quamvis Perfidiam” was released in September of 1348.

On February 14, 1349, some Strasbourg activists incinerated several hundred Jews. Maybe more. The Black Death hadn’t reached Strasbourg yet. Maybe the activists saw themselves as being proactive.3

Those attacks were wrong on several levels. We’re told to love our neighbors and see everyone as our neighbor. No exceptions. We should never do evil, expecting good results.

And genocide is one of the comparatively few things that the Church says are wrong, no matter what. So is hating others. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789, 2262, 23022303, 2313)


And it Could be Better

Claims: Wacky, Harmless and Otherwise

Louise A. Bonnore registered Bonnore’s Electro Magnetic Bathing Fluid with the U.S. Patent Office in 1881.

More than a century later, the patent medicine’s claims sound silly.

So do today’s wacky beliefs. To me.

What I’ve seen runs from the ineffectual to the downright dangerous. Like this sample:

  • Corona Beer contains the coronavirus
  • The CDC says to be safe from this coronavirus, shave your beard
  • African Americans can’t get COVID-19
  • Gargling garlic wards off COVID-19
  • Cow dung kills the coronavirus, cow urine helps, too (I am not making this up)
  • A miracle mineral supplement will kill COVID-19
  • Drink silver: it’s good for you

Corona beer and coronavirus? If there’s an interesting story behind that, I haven’t found it.

I have, however, learned what folks who aren’t hawking miracle cures say about the alternatively-accurate side of COVID-19 lore.

Beards, Bleach and More


(From CDC, used w/o permission.)
(CDC’s “Facial Hairstyles and Filtering Facepiece Respirators” infographic. (2017))

CDC says “shave your beard?”

No, the CDC did not. But the infographic is real.

A 2017 CDC infographic shows a clean-shaven dude with a little green check-mark, and a whole lot of bearded guys marked with a red “x.”

The infographic is not about COVID-19 or coronaviruses.

It shows which “facial hairstyles” let “filtering facepiece respirators” get a good seal, and which don’t.

I suspect this rumor flies better in countries where English isn’t a cradle language.

The African American immunity rumor apparently started when a Cameroonian studying in China caught the disease and recovered.

Gargling or eating garlic won’t hurt you, but it won’t shield you from this disease.

Cow dung and urine, panchagavya, is part of traditional folk medicine in parts of India and Nigeria. Cow excreta’s medicinal uses have been studied by scientists. Who, so far, have learned that it’s useful as fertilizer.

That “miracle mineral supplement” really will obliterate the COVID-19 coronavirus. And you, if you ingest enough. It’s chlorine dioxide, a bleaching agent.

Drinking a little sliver — colloidal silver, silver particles suspended in liquid — probably won’t kill you. Not immediately.

Turn your skin a bluish-gray and adversely affect your kidneys, maybe. Cure this coronavirus disease? No.

Or maybe Sherrill Sellman and Jim Bakker are right: Silver Solution cures COVID-19.4 And perhaps, as a corollary, FDA and FTC warnings herald coming End Times.

I don’t think so.


Black Death Responses: Isolation, Evasion and Faith-Based Flogging

Quarantine


(From Hans Holbein, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Hans Holbein’s “The Rich Man,” “The Queen.”)

The word “quarantine” is new. Well, newish. It started as Venetian Italian “quaranta giorni,” “forty days.”

After the Black Death, several port cities wouldn’t let ships or people in until they’d spent a few weeks in an isolated spot. Experience taught that thirty days was edgy, forty days reasonably safe.

The word may be no more than a few centuries old, but folks have been protecting communities by isolating those with serious diseases for millennia.

And my guess is that folks were breaking quarantine, or trying to, long before Leviticus 13 was written.5 Some are following this ancient tradition today. Or trying to:

I figure that 14th century Europeans weren’t much different from 21st century Americans. Those with wealth traveled more than those without. And, most likely, some of those with wealth used their resources and connections to break quarantine.

The Decameron, Self-Quarantine and the News

Boccaccio’s frame story in “The Decameron” involves ten young adults, seven women and three men.

They were sidestepping the Black Death by moving into a deserted villa about two miles outside Florence. The villa was well-stocked with food, drink and the 14th century equivalent of video games.6

It sounds like a luxury resort. In their place, I’d be wondering why it was deserted.

Boccaccio’s fictional Florentinians were wealthy.

Taking that, and news about COVID-19, a professional basketball player and a mayor, I could decide that rich folks ignore rules that the rest of us must follow. All rich folks.

I don’t think it’s that simple. And I do not think that rich, poor or ‘getting by’ folks have a monopoly on vice or virtue.

Finding news about someone breaking quarantine was fairly easy. Maybe because it’s “news,” which folks acting reasonably isn’t.

On the other hand, It didn’t take me long to find mention of folks who self-quarantine.

Flagellants: Pain on Parade

Back in the 12th through 15th centuries, bands of pilgrims toured Europe, whipping themselves in public processions and singing Geisslerlieder: flagellant songs.7

Their idea apparently was that the plague was God’s wrath, and that self-inflicted pain would appease a dyspeptic deity.

Folks in any era can grab a good idea and run with it straight off the edge of reason.

Mortification, metaphorically ‘killing’ my sin, is a good idea. It’s part of Confession. The goal is interior conversion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1430, 2015, 2549)

Confession, the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, doesn’t stop with inner conversion. Or shouldn’t. Changing what’s inside generally leads to acting like I’ve changed. Penance could be anything from, say, an extra daily prayer to martyrdom. (Catechism, 14301439)

The latter is a fast track to Sainthood. And a route I’d rather avoid. (November 26, 2017)

Turning metaphorical mortification into literal self-injury strikes me as a bad idea. That may need explaining, given Gnosticism’s perennial popularity. (April 21, 2018)

Having a body isn’t my problem. Making free-willed spirits with material bodies wasn’t a botch job committed by a blundering deity.

Humans are supposed to be material-spiritual creatures with an immortal soul. My body is a gift from God. Deliberately damaging this gift is a bad idea. (Genesis 1:2631; Catechism, 362373, 22882290)

Lupercalia, St. Peter Damian and Pope Clement VI

Flagellation as a punishment predates Christianity. It was also part of religious festivals like the possibly pre-Roman Lupercalia.

It’s been one of Christianity’s dubiously-useful customs for at least a thousand years.

St. Peter Damian’s 11th century monastic reforms included flagellation for a particularly heinous offense.

Flagellation caught on — why, I don’t know — to the point where St. Damian told his monks to take it down a notch.

These days, Medieval Europe’s flagellation fads often get called mass hysteria.

I’m a bit leery of phrases like “mass hysteria.” Maybe because I think it is comfortably vague but sounds scientific, and plays well in sound bites.

That said, folks have occasionally acted crazy without the help of disease or toxins.

Like Strasbourg’s Dancing Plague of 1518, and I’m drifting off-topic.

Back to the Black Death flagellants.

I’ve read that Pope Clement VI encouraged them. There’s a grain of truth in it.

He permitted a flagellant procession in Avignon in 1348.

My guess is that the procession looked good on paper. It was billed as an entreaty against the Black Death.

Folks at the University of Paris asked Clement VI to take a closer look at what flagellants were doing and saying. Which he did.

Then Clement VI condemned the flagellant movement and prohibited their processions. Copies of the letter went to the bishops of France, Germany, Poland, Sweden and England. It put a damper on flagellant groups, but didn’t end the practice.8


Mindsets and Medicine

Petrarch: “…Divine Anger at Human Crimes….”

Hans Holbein's Danse Macabre: The DukeThe Black Death was scary.

Conventional wisdom has been that the disease had no respect for status.

Someone with a big house and fancy title might get buried in a high-end tomb. But he’d be just as dead as a beggar whose body was dumped in a river.

I suspect there’s some truth behind conventional wisdom.

But researchers who looked at records and hard evidence say that the Black Death wasn’t an equal-opportunity exterminator.

Senior citizens and folks with preexisting medical issues were more likely to die. Sounds like what we’re learning about COVID-19, doesn’t it?

Professor and doctor Gentile da Foligno was one of many 14th century experts who tried to fit the Black Death into humorist disease theory. He wrote a treatise on the Black Death, caught the disease and died.

Small wonder that folks like Petrarch suspected the world’s end was nigh.9

“Plagues had been read and heard of in books, but no universal plague that would empty the world had ever been seen or heard of; this one has been invading all lands now for 10 years: sometimes it stops in some places, or lessens, but it is never really gone. Just when it seems to be over it returns and attacks once more those who were briefly happy. And this pattern, if I am not mistaken, is a sign of the divine anger at human crimes. If those crimes were to end, the divine punishments would grow less or milder.”
(Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch); in a letter to Guido da Sette, bishop of Genoa (1367))

Hippocrates and Monastic Research

Medieval Europe’s monasteries were designed to be self-sufficient. They grew their own food and provided their own medical care.

Monasteries also served as hospitals for nearby communities.

And they were centers of learning.

Monks and nuns translated and expanded old medical texts.

They often reorganized the documents, adding tables of contents, removing useless information and adding results from their own research and practical experience.

That was in the High Middle Ages.

By the 14th century, medical research had shifted from monasteries to outfits like the Paris Medical Faculty.

I gather that 14th century doctors respected ancient medical texts. Maybe a little too much.

They’d copy large sections of treatises by Hippocrates, Galen and Aesculapius. Adding, changing, or removing nothing. And apply the ancient philosophers’ medical procedures exactly, unsullied by monastic research.10

“…Blood discharged upward, whatever be its character, is a bad symptom, but downward it is (more?) favorable, and so also black dejections….”
“…In melancholic affections, determinations of the humor which occasions them produce the following diseases; either apoplexy of the whole body, or convulsion, or madness, or blindness….”
(Hippocrates; Aphorisms, Section 4, Section 6 (ca. 400 BC) translated by Francis Adams)

Humorism and Varro’s Animalculae

All of them — monks nuns, professors and all — accepted humorism’s assumptions.

Humorist theory says that we have four humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. And that good health depends on keeping the four humors balanced.

Alcmaeon of Croton got humorism’s ball rolling about a century before Hippocrates. He listed a mess of humors, including the four Empedoclean elements: earth, air, fire and water.

Hippocrates, or maybe someone else, narrowed the roster to four humors. Or maybe two. Other philosophers figured there were three. Or five.

Galen of Pergamon, or someone else, linked Hippocratean humors to temperaments: phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic.

About four centuries after Hippocrates’ day, a farmer and scholar named Marcus Terentius Varro said swamps are unwholesome —

“‘…because there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases.’ … ‘…being exposed to the sun during the whole day, it is more wholesome, as any animalculae which are bred near by and brought in are either blown away or quickly die from the lack of humidity….'”
(“on Agriculture,” Book I, Marcus Terentius Varro (1st century BC) translated by W. D. Hooper, H. B. Ash; via Thayer, The University of Chicago)

Time passed.

Rome’s Republic became the Roman Empire.

The Empire crumbled.

European monasteries preserved what they could of ancient knowledge, adding what they were learning.

Professors displayed a profound respect for ancient texts.

Humorism and Galen’s miasma model remained the most plausible theories of disease. Until researchers using microscopes spotted Varro’s animalculae.

And until the powers that be finally took John Snow’s analysis seriously. I’ve talked about that before.11

Surviving and Learning

I don’t know what monastic researchers like the 11th century’s St. Hildegard of Bingen would have made of the Black Death.

Professional opinion in the 14th century seems to have been split.

Clerics and clerically-inclined laymen said it was the wrath of God.

University professors quoted Aristotle and said a planetary alignment triggered a deadly miasma which caused the plague.

Doctors used medical procedures that were a dozen centuries or more out of date. Some of which, happily, worked. Or at least did no harm.

This is an enormous oversimplification.

Bottom line, humanity survived. Europe was not entirely depopulated, and recovered. Correcting some social and economic ills in the process.

A little over a century back, we learned that microorganisms exist. And can make us sick.12

I’d be surprised if germ theory is the last word in medical science. But I would much rather live in an era where folks worry about how soon a vaccine is ready for use, than in the days of yore and flagellants.


Assorted Weirdness

Conspiracy Theories, the Usual Suspects and Bible Prophecies

I think the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causes COVID-19. And that it isn’t part of a plot.

From some viewpoints, that makes me an ignorant dupe. Or a collaborator in league with ‘them.’

I’m not sure what inspires beliefs that the Illuminati, Jesuits, Freemasons, Jews or some other (allegedly) nefarious subversives are secretly running — or trying to conquer — the world.

Or at least are responsible for unpleasant situations. And that’s yet another topic, for another day.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has sparked at least its share of conspiracy theories. Depending on who you listen to, COVID-19 is:

  • A biological weapon developed by
    • China
    • America
    • Zionist elements
    • Israel and America
  • A Pirbright Institute/Bill Gates population control plot

That’s not an exhaustive list.

Another story is that someone knew about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus all along, has a vaccine, and isn’t letting us have it.

Or that 5G mobile networks cause COVID-19.13

I suppose wild rumors and conspiracy theories are inevitable.

The COVID-19 pandemic is scary. We’re hearing phrases like “social distancing” and “self-isolating.” Familiar routines are disrupted. Nonessential businesses are closed. And, at least here in Minnesota, many churches are locking their doors.

Conspicuous by its absence is a coronavirus-themed End Times Bible Prophecy.

Wannabe Prophets

It’s surprised me a bit, how quiet the fire and brimstone brigade has been.

They even had February’s planetary alignment to play with.

Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — the same trio that Parisian professors said triggered the Black Death — were near Sagittarius. Accompanied by a crescent moon. Mix with current events, add free association and it might seem simply fraught with fearful portents.

Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention to my culture’s fervently faithful doomsayers. Or maybe it’s been the proverbial lull before the storm.

My social media feeds included a “Bible Prophecy Fulfilled” post last Sunday.

Considering how much material the COVID-19 pandemic has to offer, it was underwhelming. The infographic was visually striking, but didn’t mention any disease.

Just the usual bogeymen: global nuclear war, one world government, the antichrist and massive earthquakes.

Diadems and Coronaviruses: a Desultory and Daft Digression

I don’t take America’s perennial End Times Bible Prophecies seriously.

Apart from the effect they can have of those who believe them. (December 7, 2018)

As a youth I listened to “Christian” radio with its End Times Bible Prophecy infomercials. Then I learned to love rock and roll, and that’s yet again another topic.

Taking my inspiration from fizzled prognostications of yesteryear, here’s how Revelation 13:1 and today’s pandemic might make someone briefly famous.

“Then I saw a beast come out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads; on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads blasphemous name[s].”
(Revelation 13:1)

Please bear in mind that the following is a joke. I am not denouncing cruise ships or announcing the apocalypse.

First, about those ten diadems and newsworthy viruses.

A diadem is a fancy headband used by royalty and other VIPs. Sort of like a crown.

Coronaviruses get their name from their spikes, which look like a crown when seen through an electron microscope. “Corona” is a Latin word meaning crown, wreath or halo. (March 17, 2020)

Now, an alternatively-reasonable conclusion.

Diadems are crowns. Coronaviruses are “crown viruses.”14

A crown virus causes COVID-19. The beast has 10 crowns.

You see?! SARS-CoV-2 is the Beast.

It came out of the sea on the decks of cruise ships!

Seriously?

I do not believe that. I emphatically do not believe that.

Attempted Divination and Ezekiel’s Spaceships

I also don’t think there’s a point in sifting Scripture in hopes of finding a secret code.

Or a not-so-secret code.

Some End Times book promoters of my youth assigned numerical values to Hebrew letters.

Maybe they used gematria or one of the Kabbalah systems. Or maybe they made up their own system.

Sometimes they got lucky, finding 666 in names or descriptions of newsworthy personalities and events.

Allegedly finding.

I don’t know if they saw their Bible codes as attempted divination. Or, if they did, realized that divination is a bad idea. (Catechism, 2116)

Numbers in Sacred Scripture can have symbolic value. Like four standing for the world and seven meaning totality or perfection.

Getting distinctions between “symbolic” and “secret code” muddled might be easy.

Earnest Bible-thumpers aren’t the only folks who have published imaginative interpretations of Sacred Scripture.

Blumrich’s “The Spaceships of Ezekiel” (1973, 1974) extracted descriptions of an alien spaceship from Ezekiel’s vision. And that’s still more topics.15

And Now for Something Completely Different: Albrecht Dürer and Big Bird


(From Albrecht Dürer, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Detail of Albrecht Dürer’s “The Revelation of St John: 12. The Sea Monster and the Beast with the Lamb’s Horn” woodcut. (1497-1498))

Dürer’s seven-headed, 10-crowned critter is the red dragon in Revelation 12.

“Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems.”
(Revelation 12:3)

I take Revelation, and the rest of Sacred Scripture, very seriously. It’s part of being Catholic. (Catechism, 101133)

So is remembering that the Bible wasn’t written by Americans.

“…it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader….”
(Revelation, Introduction, NAB)

The beast’s lower-left head in Dürer’s woodcut caught my attention. I think it was that happy, yet disturbing, smile.

And its eldritch aura of familiarity.

I won’t insist on this, but he/she/it could be one of Big Bird’s disreputable ancestors. Big Bird of “Sesame Street.”

Which reminds me of the chap who found Satanic messages in the “Mr. Ed” theme song.16

It’s time to move along.


“…A Time to Choose….”

Priorities


(From the Catholic parishes of St. Alexius, Our Lady of the Angels and St. Paul’s; used w/o permission.)
(Monstrance and Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul’s church, Sauk Centre. (March 30, 2020))

I’ll be glad when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

The Minnesota governor’s stay-at-home order is helping me appreciate Mass and Eucharistic adoration. I’m looking forward to the real thing.

And I’m thankful that the local parishes could set up virtual/online Mass and adoration. It’s not the same, but for now it’ll do.

The current pandemic’s disruption of business as usual seems like a good time to think about priorities.17

“…It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not….”
(Extraordinary Moment of Prayer Presided over by Pope Francis (March 27, 2020))

“…For every person, believer or non-believer, this is a good time to understand the value of brotherhood, of being inseparably linked to each other….”
(Message of the Prefect of the Dicastery…. (March 11, 2020)

And to remember that we’re in this together. All of us. Helping each other, and accepting help when necessary, makes sense. (Catechism, 360, 19341942)

More ‘pandemic posts:’


1 Remembering the Black Death:

2 Strasbourg’s context:

3 Blame games, making sense and history:

4 Alleged cures:

5 New(ish) word, old idea:

6 Seven women, three men and a deserted villa:

7 Faith-based flogging:

8 A pope, a Saint and insanity as a group activity:

9 Witnesses, viewpoints and analyses:

10 Medicine and medical research of yesteryear:

11 (Slow) progress:

12 Milestones:

13 Dealing with odd ideas:

14 Viruses and crowns:

15 Numbers, symbols and viewpoints:

16 “A horse is a horse…:”

17 A pandemic, prayer and the common good:

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Dreary Outside, Self-Isolating Inside

I’m writing this partly as a followup on Thursday’s “Self-Isolation in the Family” post. And partly because I got frustrated with what I’d been trying to write today.

My son is still sick, and it’s a damply dismal Saturday afternoon. Outside temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, 4 Celsius.

With clear skies and sunshine, that’d be brisk.

It’s raining, so I don’t mind staying inside.

There’s a Winter Weather Advisory on from 10:00 tonight until 9:00 tomorrow morning.

This afternoon’s bone-chilling rain will merge into wet snow, accompanied by gusty winds. The National Weather Service described Sunday’s weather as “breezy.”

Roads and streets may not achieve an ultimate skating-rink lack of traction, but I’ll be content to stay inside tomorrow morning.

All of which is part of the ‘springtime in Minnesota’ experience.

Happily, my son is not as sick as he was a few days back. I’ve been hearing fewer unsettling coughs, at any rate. Good news.

He’s still self-isolating. I talked about that a couple days back.

He’s also, so far, the only one of the household who’s blatantly under the weather. Whether or how long that lasts, I don’t know.

Eucharistic Adoration Suspended

The family’s self-isolation went up a notch when Bishop Kettler said that churches should close their doors.

It’s our response to Executive Order 20-20 by Governor Walz.

The Sauk Centre parishes website confirmed that church doors were locked Friday night, and will stay that way.

Among other things, that means that I won’t be doing Eucharistic adoration until after April 10. At least.

I don’t like the situation. But I don’t have to like it. (March 21, 2020)

On the ‘up’ side, Information Age tech lets me read what Bishop Kettler had to say.

Bishop Kettler’s update to pastors
Bishop Kettler’s Statements, Coronavirus Updates and Spiritual Resources for Prayer and Engagement, Diocese of St. Cloud MN (March 27, 2020)

On Wednesday morning, March 25, I participated in a conference call with Gov. Walz and the other Minnesota bishops to talk about the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and the important role churches continue to play in meeting the spiritual needs of our people. As you know, later that day, Gov. Walz issued a ‘stay-at-home’ executive order, which is in effect from 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 27, through Friday, April 10, at 5 p.m.

It is very important to comply with the specific requirements and spirit of the order for the health and well-being of all Minnesotans. Many of you understandably have questions about how this might affect your priestly ministry and parish operations. While it would be impossible to address every question in this regard, I wanted to give you guidance on a few of the most-common questions likely to arise….

“…Q: Can our church buildings remain open to the public for adoration and other prayer?

A: No. I believe keeping churches open for adoration and other prayer would not be within the parameters of the governor’s executive order….”

Another perk from living in the early 21st century: My wife and number three daughter participated via Internet with Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Moment of Prayer and out-of-season Urbi et Orbi blessing.

That’s all I’ve got for now, apart from a reminder about “these few years:”

“Like a drop of water from the sea and a grain of sand,
so are these few years among the days of eternity.
“That is why the Lord is patient with them
and pours out his mercy on them.”
(Sirach 18:812)

More ‘healthy and otherwise’ posts:

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Self-Isolation in the Family

COVID-19, the pandemic coronavirus disease, has come to my house. Maybe.

My son has been sick. Yesterday he had a telephone checkup. I don’t know what the official term is for a medical interview conducted via telephone.

He’s been told to self-isolate,1 which will cut into his work hours. He’s calling in sick. He asked me if I’d pick up meds for him, which gave me an excuse to leave the house today.

The pharmacy had those retractable belt stanchions, showing where folks should line up, before COVID-19 started. They’re still there, plus a line of yellow tape marking the ‘wait here’ border. And three yellow “Xs” spaced at six foot intervals, give or take a bit.

I was the only one who was in line when I arrived at the pharmacy. Otherwise I’d talk about folks following the rules and floor markings. Or flouting them.

Minnesota, Me and the Big Picture


(Maps and data from Minnesota Department of Health, used w/o permission.)
(COVID-19 spreading in Minnesota: March 13 through 26, 2020.)

My son hasn’t had a lab test done to see if what’s ailing him is the COVID-19 coronavirus. Neither have I or anyone else in the house. Or the majority of Minnesotans.

I gather that there are only so many test kits to go around. And that folks at the Minnesota Department of Health and their counterparts elsewhere are selective about who they test. Fair enough.

I’m curious about exactly what is making my son ill. But it probably wouldn’t change how we’re handling the illness. I suspect that we’ll all get through the COVID-19 pandemic without being tested. And without knowing for sure what was making us sick.

And I’d prefer that COVID-19 follows a “one per household” policy for this family. Or that it skips us entirely. Not that my preferences carry much weight in this case.

One reason I’m concerned, but not worried, about our health is that I’ve been keeping up with what the Minnesota Department of Health and others are learning.

There have, so far, been two known deaths from COVID-19 disease in Minnesota.

That’s two too many, but only two of 346 who have tested positive.

And only 41 of the 346 who tested positive needed hospitalization. That’s about 11.8 percent, fewer than one out of every eight. COVID-19 is a scary disease, but survivable.

Another reason for my attitude is that I’m learning to keep the big picture in view.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,
“nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 8:3839)

Somewhat-related posts:


1 From the Minnesota Department of Health:

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