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View of St. Peters from the inside of Castel Sant’Angelo

by Old Testament Professor Carol Bechtel

When I arrived in Rome on New Year’s Day, I had no idea that the Coronavirus would arrive in Italy two weeks later. Although the first case was not diagnosed until late January, we now know that it was making itself at home in the north by the middle of the month.

It’s safe to say this is not the sabbatical I expected. But in view of the human and economic devastation world-wide, I’m not wasting too many tears over that. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in the final scene of the movie Casablanca: “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of one little person don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Part of what I am learning is how to adjust to God’s curriculum. I had an excellent plan for this sabbatical, but God, evidently, had a different one. So, rather than rail against my own dashed expectations, I am attempting to lean into some new learnings. As someone with Reformed roots, I remind myself daily to trust in the inscrutable providence of God.

One of the ways Providence seems to be at play is through my Bible study blog. I have been writing weekly installments on my personal website for over two years. But in mid-March I began a series called Roman Roads. I bill it as Bible study that offers “one person’s perspective on Italy—and the world—right now.” Part of what propelled me to write the series was the realization that Italy was about two weeks ahead of the USA in terms of the pandemic. This has given me a unique (and providential?) opportunity to anticipate the questions and feelings of my readers back home.

Although I had planned to work on a book about refugees, it has proven impossible to interview people because of the lockdown. So instead, I have been working on a Bible study curriculum on Sabbath. This seems like an appropriate topic for sabbatical, but it has left me longing for all the things that characterize a true Sabbath celebration: friends, family, worship, feasting, and communion with God in creation. While some have argued that the lockdown is a kind of enforced Sabbath, I do not find it either restful or rich in the ways I just described.

Courtyard view from Carol’s Rome apartment

I originally wrote this in what is literally a writer’s garret—a two-room apartment at the top of an ancient palazzo near the Pantheon. At the end of May I was fortunate to “flee like a bird to the mountains” west of Turin. It has landed me in another kind of writer’s garret, but since it’s on the side of a mountain, it has a room with a stunning view.  I hope to return to the U.S. in early July.

Know that I love and pray for you all. And I hold a special place in my heart for this year’s WTS graduates. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart again, “Here’s looking at you, kids!”

Photos were taken before the lockdown. Prior to mid-May, Carol was only allowed outside her apartment for short walks to the store and back.