May 1, 2020
As the deer longs for the water-brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God;
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
...I pour out my soul when I think on these things;
how I went with the multitude and led them into the house of God,
With the voice of praise and thanksgiving,
among those who keep the holy-day.
...Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?
--Psalm 42:1-2, 4-6, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 643
As I have heard several people say in the past week, I have hit the wall also. A wall not made with bricks or concrete, but constructed by isolation and separation from others due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that is what walls do: they isolate and separate people, no matter on which side of a wall one stands. Walls serve stasis rather than joy, creativity and possibility.
I have hit the wall fraught with weariness from the pale blue glow of my computer in the endless Zoom meetings I must attend. A wall of anxiety. A wall of uncertainty about what normal is and what it will be in the future.
I have been sheltering at home with this wall since March 10. On this side of the wall, I can’t see what awaits on the other side. It is dry here on this side, because it is devoid of the presence and nourishment of the flow of human companionship. Living with this wall, I exist in a season of dryness. Of thirst. A season of being disquieted.
Most of all, I thirst for community in sharing the Holy Eucharist. I am disquieted within because I have not received the sacrament since March 8. The words of Psalm 42 voice my inner turmoil. The Eucharist, like God’s gift of life itself, calls me to participate, to engage, to be a part of it if it is to be a part of me. Neither life, nor Christian faith, nor the sacraments are spectator events.
But it is within that longing, as I fast from the Eucharist, that I discover God and God’s grace reaching out and touching me through that wall. For the Eucharist is not, and cannot be, the only way to experience God’s presence, love and grace. It is not a holy guarantee, and it is not only a balm for our discomfort. The Eucharist is sacred and profound, and it is one of several ways that the divine manifestation of God comes to embrace us.
We have been created with a mind and a heart, and God bestows grace and love to both. While in my heart I feel disjointed and long for the sacrament, I must also engage my mind, knowing this is only a season, a season that we must traverse, just Jesus did. In the words of the old spiritual:
Jesus walked this lonesome valley
He had to walk it by himself
Nobody else could walk it for him
He had to walk it by himself
As Jesus did, we need to engage mind with heart, each engaging the other. When we remain solely with our feelings of loss, pain, self-denial or hopelessness, we cannot build endurance, albeit how powerful those feelings can be. With the assurance of knowing God is with us and will accompany us, we can move forward with strength and through our feelings. Employing only our intellect can draw us away from the embrace of God’s love and away from each other in this and any season. In these difficult times I know I must allow my heart to be in conversation with my mind, and let my mind inform my heart.
Engaging both with each other, I know that I have much for which to be thankful in this difficult time: my ministry, housing, food, access to clean water, my doctor, needed medications, changes of clothes--and even the availability of technology; though I must admit, I would like to unplug and be offline sometimes!
I am thankful for family, friends and communities of faith, although most are distant in location, yet spiritually and emotionally connected to me and others. I am thankful for prayers, scripture books, poems, music and the beauty of creation around me, and in them I can find the presence of God.
And I am exceedingly grateful for those on the COVID-19 pandemic’s front lines: first responders, medical and research professionals and those providing essential services that are helping us through this season and scaling the walls around us. Bringing thankfulness to my isolation and sadness keeps me from wallowing in self-pity and impatience behind my wall.
I still have moments of loneliness, longing and anxiety. I also have anger with the racism, homophobia, political spin and misinformation that continue to polarize us and affect the COVID-19 response and access to health care for all. And because I do have so much and am thankful, I must speak for those who have less, those who cannot be heard, those suffering and their loved ones in the midst of the cacophony of fear, selfishness, obfuscation and discrimination sounding loudly around and between us.
To find a way through and around the wall that some of us have hit, I believe we must rely on faith and each other. We must engage heart and mind with each other. We must look beyond our own suffering, inconvenience and anxiety and know there are others in this world who need us, and who need us to be responsible when outside our homes.
As Jesus walked with and helped others, we must do the same: with phone calls, FaceTime, texts, letters and cards to those alone or ill; with donations of food, clothing and household items; and when able financially, contributions to our churches, homeless shelters, feeding and other programs, such as MANNA at our cathedral or Ecclesia Ministries. Also please watch the diocesan website after next week for information on service opportunities designed for youth. We may not be physically able to be present to help, but we can give something, somehow, to help someone. To get beyond the wall, we have to get beyond ourselves and get with the love of God.
In defiance of the strict condo rules where I live, two young sisters, have made three signs, hand-painted in large and boldly colored capital letters and displayed outside for all to see:
YOU CAN DO THIS!
DON'T GIVE UP HOPE
WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
God’s grace and those signs have helped to weaken the wall around me, dispelling my frustration and loneliness, in these Great 50 Days of Easter. This year especially, we need the whole 50 days of Easter, and more.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris