Putting one foot in front of another can be the hardest thing we can do in times following tragedy. And yet, often it is the simplest thing or the smallest thing we can do that carries us forward into a new understanding of the world.
I was in a workshop on Thursday for clergy learning to do pastoral care during a tragedy. Not too many of us studied responses to pandemics in our classes, and the ones who did focused on 9/11 and the 1998 airplane crash just outside Halifax and Peggy’s Cove. We didn’t have any training in mass social isolation or church lockdowns or internet zoom technology, it didn’t even exist back in 2014. But one thing I was struck by is that the simple things in life can help us to keep going. One person who was struggling with depression found that they couldn’t come up with anything they felt they could do until her counsellor asked her if she could brush her teeth. That was something she could do and would do, and did do, and that became the start of her recovery.
One tiny little thing we can do when we feel numb with fear, paralyzed with grief, shaking with anger, or frozen in depression. Our words of assurance from the 1 Peter reading today talked about living in reverent fear while we are in exile, and I suspect many of us are living in fear but now is the time to add some reverence. Some folks have been getting print copies of our worship as they don’t have internet, and I hope they have found some reverence with the little things we tuck in, a rock, a shell, a candle, a doily for them to decorate a space with, a little booklet of prayers to read. I have an angel and a silver communion chalice and a prayer card on my dresser table that I look at every morning and night before I go to bed. One little thing we can do might be just lighting the candle we have and praying the Serenity Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, or just saying, “God I’m scared” or even having a cry. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes there is silence.
N. T. Wright in a Time Magazine on March 30 wrote “In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.”
The disciples walking back home from Jerusalem knew what it was like to have all their hopes dashed. They could only take one step at a time back to a place where they knew they would be safe. They plodded, remembering their glorious hopes and dreams, their glimpse of great new possibilities that had all been ended, dashed to smithereens when Jesus had been crucified. They couldn’t stop rehashing their experience, and when Jesus asked them what they were talking about, I can imagine that their response, “"Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" was tinged with a little anger, a little disbelief and even a touch of sarcasm. They didn’t know what to think at the story of the empty tomb even though they too saw it.
When we face the unimaginable, it’s easy for us to get caught up in what Jungian psychologists call the shadow side of our personalities. We might be more irritable, more weepy, more apathetic. We may try to control more in response to being in a situation where we have no control. We may find our minds full of many words and thoughts that whirl around in our heads especially late at night when we are trying to sleep. We may say things or do things that we regret, or forget to be kind and gentle. The hardest person we struggle to be gentle with is ourselves. But in the first sermon Peter ever preached, he called to the people to repent of those shadow sides. To turn away from the self-destructive habits and mindsets, to save ourselves from a corrupt generation that thinks only of individual desires. That is not easy, and not something we can do on our own. It’s not something the walkers could do on their own either. They needed Jesus to hear their complaints, their fears, their angers, and then they were able to offer the hospitality that was such a hallmark of what he had taught them. And it was because of that hospitality that he was able to break bread and feed their souls. Such a little thing, offering what they had to a stranger, and yet it opened their eyes and their hearts.
So keep on doing the little things, the grace-filled things, the knitting and crocheting, the sewing of masks, and the phone calls. The delivering of worship services or sharing books, or shopping for a neighbor when you are doing your own errands. Be as kind to yourself as you know you should be to your neighbor. And don’t be afraid to lament, to cry, to complain to God, because that might just be what God is waiting to hear. Courage dear ones, and remember, in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are never alone, thanks be to God!