Pandemics, Poetry and the Pace of Life

Mar 19, 2020 | Writer's Blog | 0 comments

Yesterday morning I walked into an eerily empty Wildroast Coffeeshop. Peak caffeine traffic hour and no one was there, except for a 20-something, hipster barista, wearing a fedora on his head and rubber gloves on his hands. Hand sanitizer was placed conspicuously at the front of the counter.

As he poured my coffee, I asked him how he was holding up in this new corona virus-infected world. He told me he was thankful. Thankful that he still has a job (many of his friends lost theirs). Thankful for the five customers who had come in that morning for their to-go coffee.

And thankful that this moment in time is teaching him to slow down. No meetings to hurry to. No parties to attend. No bars and restaurants to go to. No need to rush around.

He said all of this with an easy smile on his face. He talked slowly, exuding peace in his delivery.

“Do you read any poetry?” hipster barista guy asked.

“Ummmmm…I read the Psalms sometimes,” I said.

He then told me about a poem he had just read by Wendell Berry that he really enjoyed. I thanked him for the recommendation and left the shop.

As I drove to work, I began to run through all the work in front of me that day. Calls to make, (virtual) meetings to attend, emails to send off. But hipster barista guy’s question echoed in my mind.

“Do you read any poetry?”

The invitation stopped me in my tracks. I don’t have time for poetry. I work for a prison ministry literally trying to stay afloat during this pandemic and for a church trying to figure out what it means to be the church in an anxious cultural moment. I don’t have time for poetry.

You can’t rush through poetry. You have to read each word. Savor each word. I can’t do that right now.

And in that moment, I realized that even a pandemic wasn’t slowing me down.

So when I got home and after getting the kids to bed, I downloaded a book of poems from Wendell Berry and began reading. And it was hard. Hard to take my mind off work, church, family and friends who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and the latest coronavirus news. Hard not to rush through each stanza.

But as I continued, I settled into the rhythm of the words. My body relaxed, and I felt a peace wash over me. Things seemed to slow down.

I was reminded of Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama who wrote this in his book Three -Mile-an-Hour God:

“God walks ‘slowly’ because He is love. If He is not love, He would have gone much faster. Love has its own speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed…It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, whether we are currently hit by a storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.”

You can’t rush through poetry. And you can’t rush through love. Three miles an hour is the pace of love, the pace of walking, the pace of God.

I’ve been noticing a lot lately in reading the Gospels that Jesus is never in a hurry. He isn’t afraid of interruption. His response to interruption isn’t frustration or fear. It’s compassion, curiosity, mercy, healing.


It’s impossible to love at a 100-mile-per-hour pace. It’s impossible to be interrupted at a 100-mile-per-hour pace. But if we can slow our pace down to a walk, maybe we’ll notice our neighbor in need or our co-worker in a bind, and we’ll be going slow enough to stop. If we can slow our pace down to a stroll, maybe we can enjoy a poem or two, savor a beautiful turn of phrase and see God’s goodness in the midst of all the craziness of our world.

Our day-to-day lives are being interrupted during this pandemic; for some of us, they are being slowed down without our permission. And the temptation might be to find things to stuff our lives full with. But maybe God’s invitation to us as a church in this moment is to slow down, read some poetry, call a friend, serve our neighbors at the food pantry, pray with someone on FaceTime, wash our hands for the full 20 seconds and walk in step with the three-mile-an-hour God.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message Bible.)

~ Aaron Mueller

Note: Our guest writer today is my son, Aaron! He and his wife and two boys live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a pastoral assistant at Vineyard North in Grand Rapids and is also the Communications Director for Crossroads Prison Ministries. He wrote this devotional today for his fellow church members. Although it is longer than our usual devotionals, I wanted to share it with you all.

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