It’s my most common statement these days: ”Have a nice trip!” Saying it to my friends is the polite thing to do, given that I am landlocked in my house. And to my credit, I really mean it when I say it. I really do wish them a nice trip—fun and relaxing and safe and an experience of all things good.
At the same time, my heart is always just a little shattered when someone I know embarks on a summer adventure. It makes me long for times past when my family took amazing vacations to Disney World or Sea World, to the ocean or to the mountains, to Oregon, Seattle, or Vancouver, or Gatlinburg, or Nevada, or San Francisco, New Orleans, Reno, Nashville, Nairobi, Mombasa, Athens, Mexico . . . I can’t even remember all the places. “Those were the days,” I’ve heard it said. And so they were!
Today is a very different reality. Travel is harder, for so many reasons, and being confined to home has a host of repercussions. I have experienced many of those repercussions, physical ones, spiritual ones and emotional ones. Immediately after my kidney transplant in 2019, Covid-19 descended upon us. After that, I accepted my personal reality of taking immunosuppressant medications for the rest of my life to prevent organ rejection. That personal reality meant that, no matter the lifting of mask mandates and the full re-opening of everything, I had no immune system to fight Covid or any other infection. And that means forever!
When everyone around me seems free, and carefree, I feel imprisoned. I admit, it has taken an emotional toll on me. It still does affect my sense of freedom, safety, loneliness, boredom, isolation, creativity—the things that fill your soul. I have tried hard and long for three years to stay active and creative and never to feel bored. But I have reached a kind of stasis, worn out from ”keeping busy” and from pushing myself to be productive, creative and happy.
My husband asked me yesterday if I’m depressed. I almost said, “no” before the truth hit me. I haven’t seen my son and grandchildren for two years. I haven’t seen my Atlanta cousins since November. I haven’t seen most of my friends in months. So, yes, I suppose I am depressed, though I so want to push it away by denying it.
Depression has its own trajectory. Most of the time, I just have to ride it out and wait for better days. In the meantime, to all of you travelers out there: Have a nice trip!
Most of you, maybe all of you, are past Covid-19 mandated restrictions. You are going out to eat, going to theaters, going to church, going to school, to ballgames, reunions, pools, parties and most every place you want to go—unmasked!
“Finally,” you say to yourself, “it’s way past the time of staying locked up! We’re free!” And everyone celebrates, ”No more masking! No more isolating! Just the sun and the sky and a bright and shiny future!”
Congratulations! You have broken out of this terrible Covid isolation. In doing so, you have abandoned about 7 million of us who are so immunocompromised, we must wait here in isolation until it is safe for us to break free. Our Covid isolation time is indeterminable because it’s based on so many unknown factors—the Covid trajectory itself, the level of immunosuppression a person has, other health problems and the age of the person, the availability of antibody medications, vaccines and boosters. AND does this person have even one antibody?
As for me (a kidney transplant patient taking massive doses of immunosuppressive medications), after two Covid vaccines and two boosters, my antibody tests revealed that I have zero (0) antibodies! So the very minute all the people threw their masks in the trash, I was abandoned in this unpredictable world of the indomitable, evolving Covid-19 virus and all of its 772 variants, including double and triple mutant variants.
I could not help but feel abandoned. No sooner than I could safely go unmasked after my kidney transplant, the pandemic descended and the mask returned to my Covid wardrobe. I am now a three-year mask wearer.
But there’s more . . . for me and 7 million other immunosuppressed people in this country. I spend time on several Facebook transplant support groups. So while I certainly do not know the experience of 7 million people, I do know literally hundreds of transplant patients through dialogue on various online platforms.
Here’s what I mean: group conversations on Facebook and Zoom patient support groups, dozens of them every month! In those conversations, I have heard the voices of confusion, despair, isolation, anger, frustration, indecision, fear, uncertainty . . . The people are saying things like this:
They keep telling us that some masks are not effective. What kind should we use? Where do we get them? When do we wear them? How? Where should we wear them? What if others don’t wear them?
We can’t find out whether or not we should get the vaccine—how manydoses? How many boosters? When to get them? Where to get them?
Doctors don’t know, hospitals don’t know, pharmacies don’t know! Even my transplant center doesn’t know.
Wow, there’s this medication that has been authorized for emergency use for immunocompromised persons! It’s called Evusheld! It is not a vaccine, it’s antibodies, real antibodies because we don’t have any!
EVUSHELD? I can’t find it. What does it do?My doctor never heard of it! I found some three hours from here, but they don’t have the okay to give ityet.
I flew across the country and finally got some. No one knows what dose they’re supposed to give. My transplant center doesn’t have it and they don’t know if they will get some. I have searched the internet in every state and can’t find it. Now that the public is not wearing masks, we need it, and we need it now before we contract Covid! There’s a website that lists every facility in the US and how many doses they received. You could call and see if you might get an appointment. I found a place that didn’t even know they had any, but they called around and got permission to give it.
All these sentiments, and more, reveal to me that those of us who have no or low immunity are abandoned in isolation limbo, while the rest of the people have broken free to resume a normalcy of life that is unavailable to the rest of us.
Think about us, the 7 million who can’t go with you to a movie or a restaurant. Pray for our safety. Pray for the our well-being that’s harmed by the continuing angst of isolation we are in. Send us positive thoughts. We’ll do the same for you, and hope you never have to say, ”Oh, the places I’ve been! I should have worn a mask.”
And may all of us hope for better, brighter, safer days from Covid, from gun violence, from hate crimes and mass shootings, from abuse, from environmental toxicity and natural disasters, from war, from domestic terrorism and from the dismantling of the civil rights and human rights we hold inviolable.
And may it soon be said of all of us, ”Oh, the places you’ll go!”
Such a beautiful place to worship, isn’t it? To me, this image of my church is both beautiful and mournful. This image of my church sanctuary is a picture of what my church experience feels like these days. The image of an empty church brings several words to mind—empty, quiet, lonely, dark, worshipful, silent, desolate, disconsolate.
I cannot sit in these pews right now. My doctors say it is to risky for me because of my suppressed immune system following a kidney transplant. The social risks that others are able to take are not risks that I can take. Worship ideally happens in community and I am separated from my community. Isolated.
I feel sorrow about it. I miss my friends, my Sunday School class. I miss the sound of the organ and the voices of the choir. I feel very alone and isolated, a prisoner of Covid19. Even though I am an avid Zoomer watching our worship and even teaching my Sunday School class, it is not enough for my soul.
I admit that I dwell too much on the aloneness of it all, the feeling that I walk my journey without spiritual companions. I feel a deep need to worship in a sanctuary, a soul-need for me. I sometimes feel that I am simply watching the livestream of worship, not worshipping at all. I watch many churches and sermons just to make up for it.
I even fear that when it is safe enough to be back in public spaces, I will have decided that it’s just easier to stay home. Most of all, I find myself forgetting the highest and holiest remedy for aloneness—God’s promises to be with us always—recorded in so many passages of Scripture.
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
— Isaiah 41:10 ESV
Thanks be to God. If you have a few minutes, spend them quietly as you watch this comforting video.
There was a time when I believed that I was invincible, with all the time in the world. Lately, though, I have thought a lot about how quickly time passes and about how I tend to constantly say, “I don’t have time.” I have also been thinking about healing. The reason for my healing thoughts could well be because at least two parts of my body reallyneed physical healing, and soon. I don’t have time to be incapacitated, or so I believe. I don’t have time for pain and I wonder if my two places of physical pain were of my own making. For instance, my wrist sprain — now an orangey ochre color from my knuckles to halfway up my elbow — that the doctor says will heal in 6 to 10 weeks is taking way too long to mend. 6 to 10 weeks is entirely unacceptable! Was my ungraceful fall in the kitchen due to my carelessness or my lack of mindfulness?
And then there’s the terribly painful throat invasion, allegedly identified as a cricopharyngeal spasm, that feels like choking with a large object stuck in my throat while something is tightening around my neck. Direct from Healthline.com: “Anxiety about the condition can aggravate your symptoms.”
Aha! Anxiety! Therein may be the source of many ailments. That, and a lack of rest, relaxation, quietness, peacefulness or mindfulness, all of which are highly touted methods of natural healing. Healing of the body, yes, but also the critically important healing of my heart, my mind, my soul and my spirit — emotional and spiritual healing. That healing is often harder than physical healing.
So I turned my thoughts, while suffering incessant physical pain, on the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the question of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal there.
Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:
May your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:23).
Our physical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires as evidenced by our personal preferences, choices, and emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.
“Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way Theologian David Galston explains it:
The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul since both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.
I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They usually have an understanding of how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to more easily know my heart. I am more in touch with it. On the many times throughout my life when I was brokenhearted, I knew how my heart reacted and why. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised or feel many other emotions, I can place my hand over my heart and feel is as if I have literally touched it, that my heart has told me what emotion is there.
As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me always waiting for the brush of Spirit wings, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens and ennobles. There was a time when I would always find time for the healing my soul and spirit needed.
So in the dense forrest of all of the 700+ words I just wrote, what is the lesson? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us an uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.
From Joshua Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.
From Deuteronomy Keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.
From Proverbs Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.
From 1 Thessalonians And the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And that’s it. There was a time when I would write 700 more words to tell you specifically how to do that. But today, I am not going to tell you how to heal. The ways are individually unique and the paths are many. So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet filled with sounds of music.
In these many months of pandemic, experiencing loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort in the words of poet, William Wadsworth, here turned into beautiful music by Elaine Hagenberg.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
Complete text of anthem:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light, The glory of a dream.
The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
I find the “Alleluia “ in me to be a quiet one today. So unlike other Easters in my memory. So different. So quiet. There are no loud and boisterous proclamations of “He Is Risen!” I am singing no anthems that declare the Resurrection with great ardor and joy. There is no larger than life cross draped in white, no Easter lilies, no Easter Chrismon tree that often adorns my house on Easter.
On the secular side, there is not a bunny in sight at my house and no basket of brightly colored Easter Eggs. There is no Easter bread that is our tradition. No ham, no lamb, no standing rib roast with all the trimmings.
There is an Easter wreath on my door, adorned with a white cross and Easter lilies, a very understated design. The wreath is subdued, not colorful. Easter hymns are playing, though, courtesy of Pandora, but I chose a selection of quiet, reflective, traditional hymns. Somehow “Were You There?”, The Old, Rugged Cross” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” seem right this year.
My “Alleluia” today is quiet, almost a whisper. It arises from somewhere in me that cannot seem to create a louder word of praise, cannot count on my diaphragm to produce a brighter “Alleluia” in joyous song. This kind of Easter feels sad to me, although somehow it seems okay, fitting even, on this Easter. Family is far away. Family that is near might as well be a million miles away, because Covid and my weak immune system still holds me captive in my house.
So like the soft “Alleluia” in the image, I am soft and quiet on this Day of Christ’s Resurrection. I have lost friends in the past year, friends who died too soon. I have witnessed loneliness, sorrow, grieving and morning. I have mourned myself. I have feared the rejection of my kidney. I have worried about my health. I have missed my church and my friends. I have longed desperately to see my son and my grandchildren. When all is said and done and when reality is all one has to hold on to, the Gospel Good News remains! We are Resurrection People! Because Jesus lives, I really can face tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and all the tomorrows that come after that.
Today, I am where I am, in this quiet place. But just to remind me of the Resurrection Good News, my Pandora selection of quiet hymns is now playing “The Hallelujah Chorus” — right now as I write. I was not ready for it. I have sung it hundreds of times, but I cannot sing it now. I cannot lift up my voice and project it into a place of worship. But here is the Gospel Easter truth they are singing: “He shall reign forever, forever and ever, King of kings and Lord of lords. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal le lu jah!”
Today I can sing only a whisper of praise — a quiet “Alleluia” — only a weak breath. But the Resurrection Good News is that my whispered praise is heard throughout the vast expanse of heaven. Perhaps the heavenly host is singing “Alleluia” with me. I’m not too sure that is happening, but I do know this: God accepts my breathless whisper. It is heard clearly by God the Father, God the Mother, God the Son and by the Spirit that holds the breath of us all. Amen!
“A Quiet Alleluia” by B. J. Meyer
Although the song is performed on the piano, it does have lyrics: And I pray; I knew then there were reasons for everything I had to endure ‘Cause they opened the door To my mind.
I used to think that I was weak, Feelin’ the pressure of fighting the heartaches; Was wounded but I could not speak.
When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah
I have a certain fondness for sparrows and the spiritual stories we have ascribed to them. That my blog is named “God of the Sparrow” is no accident. I have aspired many times in my life to live like the sparrow lives. I wanted my human, adult, mature and seasoned self to know, beyond any doubt, that God is watching over me. I do not live the simple, sparrow-like life I always hoped to live. But my unshakable faith has always told me that the God who watches over my every moment is also the God of the sparrow. I remember well the words written in the Gospel of Matthew . . .
So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. — Matthew 10:41 NRSV
Such a comforting passage of Scripture! Yet, its message to us often pales in comparison to all the things that so frighten us. The state of the world that surrounds us in these days seems to have even more power over us than Matthew’s words about our value to God.
How is it that we are valuable to God when God does not act to protect us from all of life’s slings and arrows? Yesterday in my blog post I listed our world’s bad and scary things, so I won’t list them again today. But I will venture a prognosis that many, many people are suffering in many ways in this confusing season. I am one of those suffering people, feeling a bit of hopelessness in these days of racial unrest, coronavirus unsettledness and political divisions.
I heard a moving choral performance this morning. Its text lifted up my helplessness before me and turned it into a prayer so attuned to where I find myself.
God of the sparrow, sing through us Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. Helpless we seek You, God our joy, Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. — Jonathan Cook
I need the sparrow’s God to sing through me. Perhaps you do, too. I need that God-given song because my own music seems to have become quiet, my singing turned to mourning. (Amos 8:10) But this week, I took hold of that mourning. With strong intention, I spent most of one day this week singing my heart out.
You need to know that I had to choose a day when my husband would be away so that I could sing loud, with abandon. Why did he have to be away? That’s a long story, but in a nutshell, my singing is awful these days. Probably my vocal cords have lost some of their youthful elasticity and, on top of that, I did not sing at all for more than a year. Serious illness took my music.
When I (literally) came back from the dead in 2015, I realized that I had lost so many of my former abilities. Singing was one of them. It felt strange to me when I realized I could no longer sing. My former life was filled with song. Since childhood, there was never a choir I did not join, never a solo I did not sing.
Acknowledging my inability to sing was difficult, just as my life after kidney transplant and this coronavirus is difficult. My isolation has been lengthy, most of nine months, and it is taking its toll on my spirit. Prayer has become both a burden and a grace to me. My singing was my prayer for so many years, and I really need my singing in these hard days. I need to sing my praises to God. I need to sing my lamentations. I need to sing like the sparrow who doesn’t worry about her vocal chords. I need to be like the sparrow who sits on her branch — without fear, without worry — because she knows that if she happens to light on a flimsy branch that does not hold her, her wings will lift her.
The end of this story is that I need the God of the sparrow to sing through me once again — to sing through me in shadowy days, in times of trouble, in isolation, in fear, in hopelessness. That’s what God does, after all. In a troubled and despairing soul, God creates music, tucking it into every crevice, filling it with songs that can sing out both mourning and celebration. As an added bonus, I have it on good authority that God also turns mourning into dancing.
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30 11-12 NRSV
So as you sing, dance to the new rhythms of your soul! Because you can!
Thanks be to God.
Please spend your meditation time today listening to this beautiful song with text written by Jonathan Cook and music by Craig Courtney. The video follows the text.
God of the Sparrow
God of the sparrow, sing through us, Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. Helpless we seek You, God our joy, Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. Alleluia.
God of the sparrow, God of hope, Tenderly guide us, be our song, God of affliction, pain and hurt, Comfort Your children, make us strong. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
God of the sparrow, care for us. Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief. Sing us Your music, lift our hearts, Pour out Your mercy, send relief.
God, like the sparrow, we abide In Your protection, love and grace. Just as the sparrow in Your care,
There are large scale, widespread forces that can trap thousands of people, even millions. Dachau, Katrina, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, natural disasters all over the world and the Coronavirus of 2020. Enormous, catastrophic events can trap people. COVID19 has literally trapped me inside my home. I have to admit, the isolation has taken a toll on my spirit. No visitors! No visits with friends or family. No trips! No haircuts! I have been trapped at some level since my kidney transplant in November. Just at the March milestone that would have allowed me to break the isolation of the transplant, I was even more fully trapped by the infectiousness of this pervasive, unrelenting virus.
Being trapped for so many months has raised up in me feelings of loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, despair, anxiety, even abandonment. And yet, often there is something very good in the center of something very bad. It has been so for me. Yes, I feel trapped in the pervasive power of the coronavirus, but I also sense the arms of God and the embrace of Spirit hemming me in even further. Such a grace-gift it has been to me, as if God has said, “l am hemming you in, and in this space you will hear me clearer and sense me more fully.”
God’s words were truth. Hemmed in, my mind flourished, my heart leapt and my soul entered spaces of calm. I felt enhanced awareness! Even awakening. I saw nature in a different way and basked in the beauty of the rising sun. The sound of the hummingbirds’ trill and the rapid fluttering of their translucent wings were sounds meant just for me. I began to write and paint, to listen more carefully to God’s voice, to allow my spirit to overflow with Holy Spirit. To my hemmed-in call from God, I was compelled to answer, “Here I am, Lord!” When I finally answered God, my hemmed-in place became Holy Ground — a very good place to be that feels more like a holy mystery than a state of being.
Was this pandemic a good thing for me and for millions of people? Absolutely not! But trapped in its dark cloud, God hemmed me in further in ways I am just now beginning to understand. I can say with all honesty that being hemmed in by God has been grace to me.
If I could even begin to choose a favorite Psalm from among the many that inspire me, I would choose Psalm 139. In its weaving of words, there are many passages that are full of comfort. From childhood, I memorized a lot of Scripture and throughout Psalm 139 I memorized several snippets that I often call to mind. One verse that I did not memorize is verse 5: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
— Psalm 139:1-5 NIV
I deplore the coronavirus and what it has done to so many people. I deplore the ways it was able to trap me, physically and emotionally. But the virus, with all its ominous, far-reaching force could not trap me spiritually. That was God’s work — hemming me in so that my spirit could rise to fresh, new heights of spiritual consciousness. Being hemmed in by our Creator has been grace for me in these days of isolation. It has become a transforming sacred pause. For in my hemmed-in space, the Creator helped me create — from my mind, from my heart, from my soul. Thanks be to God.
Today of all days, with the entire world embroiled in a real live pandemic, I will not write out of political bias. Instead, I want to open our eyes to some very troubling present realities. My focus is on the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and how circumstances have transpired, both on a logistical level and a human one. I read a Huffington Post article this morning revealing that last year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a months-long exercise that showed that the nation was unprepared for a pandemic. The exercise, code named “Crimson Contagion,” had chilling similarities to the current real-life coronavirus pandemic. That fact got my attention!
This pandemic has taken a toll on so many Americans. Mothers are struggling with children being at home, some having to learn on the fly how to home school them. Families grieve the loss of loved ones who died from the virus. Older adults fear their increased vulnerability and their body’s inability to fight the virus. Immunosuppressed persons like I am are terrified to leave home and are incessantly washing their hands, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer. Many people have lost their jobs while businesses all over the country have shut their doors. Churches have suspended worship services and other gatherings indefinitely. That is merely a tiny snapshot of the human toll the coronavirus is taking.
On top of any list we could make describing loss, inconvenience or isolation, there is widespread, overwhelming fear that has made its way into our very souls. This is a pandemic that has descended upon all of us — real people with real fear.
I’ll get back to the human toll of this virus, but I want to say a bit more about the “Crimson Contagion” exercise, which involved officials from more than a dozen federal agencies. The Huffington Post described the “Crimson Contagion” scenario:
. . . several states and hospitals responding to a scenario in which a pandemic flu that began in China was spread by international tourists and was deemed a pandemic 47 days after the first outbreak. By then, in the scenario, 110 million Americans were expected to become ill.
The simulation that ran from January to August exposed problems that included funding shortfalls, muddled leadership roles, scarce resources, and a hodgepodge of responses from cities and states . . . It also became apparent that the U.S. was incapable of quickly manufacturing adequate equipment and medicines for such an emergency . . .
According to a New York Times report, White House officials said that an executive order following the exercise improved the availability of flu vaccines. The administration also said it moved this year to increase funding for a pandemic program in HHS.
But Trump’s administration eliminated a pandemic unit within the Department of Homeland Security in 2018. And weeks after the first real coronavirus case was diagnosed in the U.S., Trump submitted a 2021 budget proposal calling for a $693.3 million reduction in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There you have it! In the throes of our real time pandemic, we hear of a “play-like” pandemic — a simulation conducted in 2019 that might have prepared us all, including our nation’s leadership. That didn’t happen, and those of us who have been in the world for so many years know the saying well: “Don’t cry over spilt milk.”
So we wipe up the milk that’s all over the table in front of us, and then we go about making our way through the dark, murky waters of this pandemic. We wash our hands, distance ourselves from others, stay at home, figure out how to handle our children who are now at home, cancel our travel plans, mourn those who have died, pray for those who are ill from the virus, grieve the loss of the life we knew before and pick up the pieces of what’s left.
What’s left? Well, what’s left is our ability to find ways to help our neighbor, to feed the hungry, to comfort the sick, to reach out to the lonely, to love the children and to pray for one another without ceasing. We may have to learn to do those things by phone or online chatting, but we will find a way.
Those of us who are religious will pray without ceasing — imploring God to be merciful, asking various saints to intercede for us, lighting candles to express devotion and sitting for a moment in the flickering light that reminds us that God’s promise is about light overcoming the darkness.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
In the end, perhaps we will have discovered that, through this terrifying and expanding virus, that we have learned how to care more and to love deeper. Perhaps we will find that we have a more heartfelt capacity for compassion. For that, God will pour out grace upon our weariness and renew our eternal hope.
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
(Isaiah 58:10 ESV)
What a time in the story of our lives! In my lifetime, I have never been personally affected by a pandemic. I have lived a little over seventy years without having this troubling and potentially deadly experience. My prayer is that once the pandemic of year 2020 has run its course, we will not have to live through another one for at least seventy years.
In the past few days, I have heard from students lamenting the loss of their senior year. I have commiserated with friends who feared for their elderly parents, especially those in nursing homes. I listened recently to a discussion about how we could possibly keep incarcerated persons safe from this virus. I have listened to friends and family express deeply held fears about how the virus might affect them and their families. I have heard almost daily from my adult son (an unprecedented number of calls in such a short time) who is worried about his parents and about his wife and their new baby to be born in early April. I have heard from friends my age who are quarantined at home fearing for their health. I have communicated with post transplant patients like me expressing their most intense fear because of their suppressed immune systems. As a recent transplant recipient myself, I completely understand their angst of being on immunosuppressant medications. Like them, I know I have no immune system right now.
There is no doubt that all over the world people are frightened. People of faith, however, know that faith is stronger than fear, God is stronger than despair and love is stronger than death. Of course, even though we might have great faith, we must admit that we don’t know what God will do or how God can protect us. That is not unfaith; it is the reality of our humanity. Oh, we can take the easy way out and proclaim words like, “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason.” But doesn’t the past suffering and pain of your life convince you that those words are not your reality?
One of my former seminary professors taught and preached often about the experience of Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Dr. Frank Tupper’s answer to the question about how a loving God could allow Christ’s suffering went something like this: “because before the foundation of the world God had chosen the way of self-limitation.”
Dr. Tupper also said some things that some people might consider blasphemy:
Ido not believe that God is in control of everything that happens in our world. Indeed, I would argue that God controls very, very little of what happens in our world. God chose not to be a ‘do anything, anytime, anywhere’ kind of God. In every specific historical context with its possibilities and limitations, God always does the most God can do.
In my mind, and through the crucible of my life, I believe that God wanted authentic and honest relationships with humankind that affirm both divine love and human freedom. God built that kind of relationship with me when, through every life storm, every time of despair, every disappointment, every fear, every loss — and through my life-threatening illness — God did not change any circumstance of my suffering, but God promised me a love that would not let me go, ever.
In these days, God is not stopping the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic. God is not stilling our current storm. God is not taking away our very real fear. God is not telling us, “Go on out to that social gathering, I am in control.” Instead God has promised us peace through the words of Jesus recorded in John 16:33:
These things I have spoken to you, thatin Me you may have peace.In the world youwill have tribulation; but take courage,I have overcome the world.
I pray that you will find peace in these troubling days and that your faith will be even a little stronger than your fear. I pray that you will not experience economic hardship and that you will have all you need. I pray that illness will spare you and those you love. I pray that your children will thrive even though their schools are closed. I pray that you will find ways to worship God even if the doors of your church are shuttered. Most of all, I pray that you will feel God’s love as a love that will never let you go.
The words of one of my favorite hymns express these thoughts so well:
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.
O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thro’ the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.
— Author: George Matheson, 1842-1906
Perhaps you would like to spend a few moments of quiet meditation listening to this beautiful hymn arrangement.
Sometimes an old hymn — a hymn the contemporary church has discarded from its worship — can eloquently speak to the heart. There are many hymns I call hymns of the heart because they touch me so deeply. In these days of recovery when I find myself away from home and separated from friends and family, a particular old hymn comforts me. One line specifically inspires and moves me — “Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.”
The hymn, “Nearer, Still Nearer” was written by Lelia N. Morris and published in 1898. Here are two stanzas of the hymn text.
Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart,
Draw me, my Savior — so precious Thou art!
Fold me, oh, fold me close to Thy breast;
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest;
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.
Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last,
Till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
Through endless ages ever to be
Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee;
Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee!
Finding myself away from my communities of support, I feel the separation acutely. I feel the loneliness of “apart” time. I feel a breach of relationship and the loss of my covenant community. I know it is necessary to be near Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida for this month so that the transplant team can closely monitor my care. But I miss my home and my faith community and my friends and family, and even my stray cat. I feel isolated at a time when I most need their support and encouragement. And although I strongly feel their prayers from afar, the “afar” part is not so great. I feel vulnerable and I need to feel nearer to my people.
So this hymn that expresses nearness to God is for me a timely expression of my faith and a picture of my current reality. In your contemplative time today, may you be inspired by listening to this beautiful hymn.