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We Yearn for Loved Faces

In the middle of a pandemic of their own, the characters in Albert Camus’ The Plague are weary. The quarantine, disease, and death are enough to exhaust anyone. But -- of course -- the painful things that existed before illness struck are also still present: broken relationships, aching memories, questions of meaning and suffering, and deep injustice. 

As the main character, Dr. Rieux, reflects on this, he comes upon the city clerk, Joseph Grand, in the street. Grand is a “drooping man,” but one whom the book’s narrator has seen grow into the “the true embodiment of … quiet courage” as the plague has devasted his city.  Yet when Dr. Rieux encounters him, Grand’s exhaustion is palpable:

All one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.

“Tears were steadily flowing down the old fellow's cheeks, and they wrung the doctor's heart, for he could understand them, and he felt his own tears welling up in sympathy… And he knew, also, what the old man was thinking as his tears flowed, and he, Rieux, thought it too: that a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one's work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.”

Many have noted that we have a lot to learn from this pandemic, but here, Camus highlights that much of it is what we already knew: that we were created for relationship.  That we all crave “loved faces” and “loving hearts” and our weariness grows when we are separated from them.

And what Christians might add to Dr. Rieux’s observations is that one of the reasons we yearn for these loved faces is that they are made in the Image of God, and the “warmth and wonder” of these loving hearts reflects God’s own love for us.

This is true for those who have found themselves refugees as much as for anyone. 

The Imago Dei is what I come back to whenever I feel my own exhaustion begin to grow.

In my own work, walking with newcomers to Canada who were once refugees and working with the churches who support them, the Imago Dei is what I come back to whenever I feel my own exhaustion begin to grow.  It didn’t take plague literature to teach me this, but it certainly reminded me.

Because when I cite the statistics, I am overwhelmed:  over 70 million forcibly displaced people around the world; over 25 million of them officially refugees. These are incomprehensible numbers to me.

But when I think about each of those 70 million as a human being, with a name and a face and a story, beloved by God, I feel the overwhelm begin to recede.

The man who volunteers each week to teach English at a program I run, and his students, exemplifies this for me:

I am certain that it is because of his loved face that his students keep returning

The program is organized like a drop-in (or at least it was when we were still able to gather), and we encounter people in various stages of resettling in Canada.  Some have precarious immigration status, others are waiting for their official (daily) language classes to start, and all arrive with vastly differing English and education levels.  We have only one teacher, no set curriculum (because the student body composition is always in flux), and the class is only offered once a week. So, through no fault of the teacher’s or the students’ own, the conditions for teaching and learning English are not necessarily ideal. 

Yet in the midst of this, the teacher is faithful and consistent, and patient and kind, and I am certain that it is because of his loved -- and loving – face that his students keep returning as they are able.  I suspect it is the same for him:  that their loved – and loving -- faces are the reason he keeps sticking with us too.

If we see refugees as a crisis to be solved or a flood to be prevented, we will be overwhelmed.  But if instead we seek to love and walk with fellow Image-bearers and work together towards justice – all the while knowing that God holds us in the warmth and wonder of his loving heart -- then though we will inevitably grow tired, I am convinced that the weariness will not overcome, no matter what new plague comes our way. 

Don't miss the other blogs in this series 'Growing Weary of Doing Good.'  

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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