This weekend, we planted aloe, a plant that I had in my home growing up. I can remember one summer in elementary school helping my mom grill a sandwich in the super snacker panini press. As I was watching for the light to come on indicating my sandwich was ready, my thumb touched the small black strip that was hot. I immediately cried out in pain. After putting cold water on it, my mom took a small piece of our aloe plant squeezing the aloe on the burn. The relief was immediate.
I’ve thought about that a lot over these past three weeks. There are many times in my ministry I have wished there was a plant or a solution I could administer to those who were hurting. One of the hardest aspects of ministry for me has always been not being able to alleviate people’s suffering. To be sure I am always in awe to share those precious seasons and thoughts with them and to sit with them in their suffering, but the question always surfaces: “Is that enough? Could I do more?”
And maybe you are there too as you read and hear the stories of those who are suffering the physical impacts of COVID-19. Maybe you are there too as you read the stories of the medical professionals pulling double and triple shifts without the PPE they need. Maybe you are where I have been so often saying isn’t there a balm or solution that could alleviate this collective suffering we are all experiencing? Can’t we make this go away? Can’t this be healed?
In the midst of the uncertainty of who long this suffering will last and how close this suffering will come to each of us, I am comforted with the revelation that we are not alone. Although it may seem like we can’t do that much, we can sit here together in our grief, in our suffering, in our uncertainty, and in our vulnerability. This is enough. This is healing because we know that while we may be socially distant or even isolated from each other, we are not walking this journey alone.
That revelation is water nurturing and growing healing. Healing that comes in the tiniest plant, in text messages, in Facetimes, in notes, and in stories of good. Thanks be to God for the light that shines in the darkness.
As we began our Lenten journey, I cautioned that forty days is long and it gets longer the closer we get to the end of the journey. I never imagined that we would be dealing with a pandemic during the season of Lent. The president’s words were certainly daunting thinking that the two to three weeks we are haven’t even experienced will be worse than what we have been through. The lowest estimate on the number of lives that will be loss is overwhelming.
In the midst of all of this, conserve your energy. This is not a race. This will be a marathon.
Conserve your energy.
There is so much more to come, much we can’t imagine.
This weekend, we worked together on our garden watching over our seedlings, giving them water, and making sure they had enough sunlight. We also planted two small aloe runners that were taking over our neighbor’s yard.
As we were working together, I thought this was truly a picture of what this season of “shelter-in-place” is for us. We are trying to stay away from other people while also staying connected to other friends and family. We are planting healing for the many, many people who are going through disappointment, grief, and loss.
There’s so much about this pandemic that I don’t understand, so much of its impact that is invisible until it’s harmful, but what I am certain of is that people are hurting, physically, socially, and emotionally.
And so we planted healing, hoping it will grow and create runners that reach all of you who are hurting.
Whenever we began this Lenten journey, I joked that it would feel long, longer than forty days. When I said that I didn’t know what else we would be carrying this Lenten season. I didn’t know we would be carrying the collective grief of losing a way of life we had become so accustomed to. I didn’t know we would be carrying the collective trauma of a worldwide pandemic. I didn’t know we would all take on new roles.
All of this hit home for me yesterday afternoon. The sun had come out and we were outside playing. Our fourteen-month-old has started to toddle around and has a very strong opinion about doing things by herself. She learned to slide down the slide by herself. Our four-year-old is immersed in imaginative play become Batman and a pirate and taking his two stuffed dogs along on every adventure. I looked at them and realized their world will never be the same.
I spread my arms wide as I stepped out of the shade and into the sun and breathed as the Spring air moved across the yard. As I breathed deeply, I realized I was tired. My legs were tired from walking this unexpected Lenten journey. My back was sore from carrying the additional load of adapting so quickly to new routines and new normals.
It would be so easy to skip the rest of the Lenten journey, the suffering, the darkness and cling to the hope of resurrection and new life. I’ve seen memes going around about what a wonderful day it will be when we are all able to get back together. And it will be.
But it’s not time for that yet. Lent is not over. We are still being asked to sit in the darkness and in suffering. We are still be asked to be present for the way the world is changing around and the way so many people are suffering around us.
This is not easy work, but this is good and important work.
For when we sit in suffering, our hearts grow compassion. When we sit in suffering, we learn to be deeply, soulfully grateful. When we sit in suffering, we learn to be resilient, courageous, and strong because there just isn’t time to be anything else.
May God’s spirit sit with you in this suffering.
Each morning after we wake up and have breakfast, we change into clothes to get ready for our day and then take a walk around our neighborhood. It’s our time of transitioning from home to “school”. The same type of transitioning we used to find in our drive to school.
Yesterday, the governor of South Carolina announced that our schools would be closed throughout the month of April as well. Many states have announced that schools are closed for the remainder of the school year. All of these are indicators that we are transitioning.
We are transitioning to a new way of life. This is difficult and tiring work.
Just as we are transitioning into new routines, new work, and new ways to connect and be community together, so too are we transitioning into a new season around us.
May the Divine open your eyes, allowing you abundant grace for this season of transitioning.
Last week about this time, I began to understand that our lives were going to be drastically different. Although I had followed the news and the developments in China, it all still felt so far away. Last week about this time, things began to be canceled in large numbers. It wasn’t just the schools that were closing, but everything was beginning to shut down.
Last week about this time, I began to lament how I didn’t know it was the last time we would go to the park. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of parks all across the city being closed. Last week about this time, I began to lament how I didn’t know it was the last time we would go to storytime at the library or browse the shelves or play with the Duplo table. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of library branches across the city being closed. Last week about this time, I began to lament how I didn’t know it was the last time we would gather around the table at a restaurant with our family and friends or gathered outside in the fresh air and sunshine at one of the local breweries. I hadn’t considered the possibility of restaurant dining rooms being closed in order to limit the number of people who were gathered in one place.
Last week about this time, I began to lament again and again, “But I didn’t know it was going to be the last time. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”
My heart and mind needed closure and there simply wasn’t any. It all happened so quickly. There’s something about this lament that is in the heartbeat of the Lenten season. If there is ever a season in the church calendar, this is it. We lament that we leave things left undone that could help bring about the kingdom of God here on earth. We lament the ways we contribute to the oppression and injustice that exists in our world. We lament that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
And the lamenting brings us to our knees, prostrate before our Creator asking for help and guidance.
Last week about this time. I didn’t know.
This week, I find myself a bit more comfortable on my knees lamenting and asking God for help for those in our medical profession who are on the frontlines; for those awaiting test results; for those separated and isolated from family; for all of us not knowing if we are carrying a virus that is very powerful.
Lord in your mercies, hear our laments.
This morning, my dedication was renewed after a wonderful time of worship online. There was so much that happened last week so quickly that it really was very difficult to process through everything: schools closing, cancelling vacations, moving to working from home and homeschooling.
I don’t know about you but I ended every day exhausted from all the change and all the new.
If you are finding yourself in the same situation, take heart you are not alone. This new daily life and daily schedule on top of the news of the spread of COVID-19 is overwhelming. The grief over not being able to see friends and family and moving to purely digital communication is disheartening. These are things that don’t exhaust your physical body, but your very soul.
It’s more difficult to hear our souls. It’s harder to diagnosis when our souls are not well. Our souls are the very heart of us and also the very still, quiet center of us. Our souls aren’t easy to see and hear without lots and lots of practice. It is our very souls that will sustain us through these ever-changing times and so we must give some attention to them.
Yesterday as we were outside playing, I decided not to put my shoes on and instead feel the coolness of the grass next to the warmth of the ground. I wiggled my toes in the grass and it reminded me of exactly where I was connected to the earth and connected to my family. This is called grounding. In times of change and turmoil, if we can find some way to ground ourselves in the present moment, then we can find our center and find our souls again. Our minds quiet for just long enough for us to feel balance come back.
This is part of what Lent always calls us to do: difficult and challenging soul work. The work of confessing to being too busy to listen to our souls and connect to the Divine. This work is even more important during a time that is so different and became so different so quickly.
Our souls will provide us energy for the long days and hope for the dark nights. Listen to your souls even if for just a minute today. Allow them a chance to breathe and grieve. Allow yourself a chance for grounding and centering.
Tonight I was washing the dishes. As I washed our fourteen month old’s sippy cup, I realized that her nametag was coming off. My mind immediately went to trying to remember where I had put the cute, pink masking tap and the brand new black sharpie so that I could replace the label so that it would be ready to take her to school…
And then my brain stopped. Wait. I don’t have to replace that label because on Monday she’s not going to school.
I don’t know if you have had these moments over the past week, but it has been the little things. The things that we won’t need because we aren’t headed to work and school that have stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of the severity of where we are and what is going on.
This is not the Lent I planned. This is not the Lent you planned, but this is Lent. Washing sippy cups and being thankful for teachers who have invested so much in our children’s lives and who we miss dearly.
Sometimes it takes an upending for gratitude to come to the surface in the form of a label coming off in the wash.
Five Lenten seasons ago, I took on the task of trying to free a butterfly bush in our yard from the entanglement of a prickly weed that was strangling its growth and stealing all its nutrients. Turns out that I wasn’t actually freeing a butterfly bush but a Bradford Pear tree that had been struck by lightning years ago. It has taken five years, but here is a picture of white flowers on this resurrected tree!! Last year we got some greenery, but we have never seen white flowers before.
I think about the work and the cuts and the blood that was shed in trying to free what I thought was something else. For me, this is Lent. Looking closely at what is threatening and strangling our growth and a deeper relationship with the Divine. You might think that in this process you are freeing something and find that there is something completely different that blooms and grows from that clearing out.
I can’t think of a better analogy for our present circumstances. Everything has been cleared out. The going out and the moving from place to place, event to event has suspended. And now during this Lenten season is the time to ask ourselves whether these things and events that took up our time and attention were strangling us and stealing our nutrients.
Maybe, just maybe, in this midst of this slowly down we are able to breathe like this Bradford Pear and find new life.
For all of the Lenten season in which I have pastored, I have always challenged my congregants to resist the temptation to skip the darkness to find the light. I have asked them instead to sit in the darkness and to contemplate why it is so difficult for us to sit in darkness and why the darkness makes us so uncomfortable.
This Lenten season is different.
We are experiencing new things and change at such a rapid pace. I think this Lenten season the invitation for all of us is to see the darkness. See the changes that are rapidly surrounding us. See the way these changes and this upending of our “normal” is having an impact on our physical selves as well as soul selves.
And as we see the darkness, see also the light. See that around us there is still new life blooming. See the people who are creating content for children and families who are out of school and who are in a new normal. See the companies whose CEOs are giving up their salaries to try and support the workers they have had to lay off. See the companies that are shifting to provide things like hand sanitizer. See the way people are not going out and who are social distancing in order to give the most vulnerable in our population.
See the light in the midst of the darkness. The Spirit is still moving and God is still speaking.