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A Pleasant Land for Unpleasant Times

A Pleasant Land for Unpleasant Times

 

Daily Office Readings for April 24, 2020:

 

AM Psalm 16, 17; PM Psalm 134, 135

Exod. 16:23-36; 1 Pet. 3:13-4:6; John 16:1-15

 

For some reason, this portion of Psalm 16 (one of our assigned Psalms) jumped out with neon flashing lights for me today:

 

O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *

it is you who uphold my lot.

 

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

 

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *

my heart teaches me, night after night.

 

I have set the Lord always before me; *

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

 

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *

my body also shall rest in hope.

 

I was thinking about how so many of us are living within quite reduced boundaries with the very real threat of COVID-19 out there in the world.  As a hospital laboratory director who comes into the office two days a week, and a volunteer at my local food pantry every Tuesday, I never really ever escape the threat of exposure or infection, although I’m still a ways from the front lines of it.  Almost half my week is still spent being an “essential worker.”  Yet at the same time, between our diocese temporarily closing our churches, and the very sobering realization that I’m the one most likely to infect our food ministry workers on Sundays, I’ve been in many ways “cut off from my congregation.”  

 

For so many of us, the world sure got a lot smaller in the last few weeks, with more barbed wire fences, hasn’t it?  Our Psalmist wasn’t living in a happy world, either–yet he is describing joy for God’s gifts and God’s love.  The world was NOT okay for so many times in the lives of the ancient Hebrew people, but the understanding of a relationship with God made it “okay enough.”

 

So here we are, fast forwarding into 2020.  These words matter in a world where things are not okay.  Sure, we worship remotely, I trade a lot of phone calls, emails, texts, and instant messages, but the fact that it is not yet safe to gather and share the Eucharist speaks wordless volumes.  As an interim, I generally get to walk through all the high points of the liturgical year one time only.  I treasure that “one Holy Week”, that “one Easter,” that “One Christmas.”  I won’t lie–this recent Holy Week, even working with dedicated folks who helped shape and create as much of a “Holy Week experience” as we could–doesn’t feel quite like a treasured memory.  Later?  Maybe.  But not yet.  It’s a reminder that so many of my parishioners are also having to set aside treasured memories we have come to expect as a given–graduations, weddings, funerals–and make room to grieve their losses while not quite setting aside our own sense of loss.  So much around us is simply not okay.

 

Yet…

 

I’d be the first to tell you that mostly, I’m doing “okay enough”, despite the fact I’m pretty much sheltering in place except to show up at my roles designated “essential work” and the rare trip to the grocery store or hardware store once every week or two.  Some of what we’re all navigating, is simply adjusting to things like shortages of items, abbreviated shopping hours, and giving up meeting friends for meals.  I’m grateful I have employment, and the anxiety I do feel in these days, is for those who don’t–not for myself. I worry far more about others being infected than myself, even though I’m in healthcare and stare that one down every day.  (After living with the AIDS epidemic dominating my formative years in medical school/residency, and my own brush with cancer in 2014, somewhere down the line I made peace with that one a long time ago.)   I miss Sundays with my parish terribly, yet we are still managing to find ways to keep tabs on one another’s lives and share love and hope.  It is not the same as “real live worship” at all–but it feels like enough to carry us (and me) through.  It is NOT “okay.”  Yet it’s “okay enough.”  God’s love still shines through the cracks in unexpected places in those emails. texts, and phone calls.

 

So the big question in my mind was, “What does being ‘okay enough’ look like?  What creates that safe pasture of a pleasant land?” and I realized part of the answer was in today’s Psalm.  There is something about doing the routine of the Daily Office–whether we only do one office, all the offices, some of the offices, listening to the podcast at “A Morning at the Office” or simply reading the captions on the pictures and some of the text at DailyOffice.org–that changes us.  This simple repetitive practice creates the boundaries of that “pleasant land” that seems to help so many of us weather storms–even storms we’ve never seen in our lifetimes, like a pandemic.  Even if we are doing it alone, we realize we are sharing that goodly heritage over space and time.  Somewhere, every hour of the day, someone, somewhere, is saying a portion of the Daily Office.  Anything we might be thinking, feeling, or fearing in these days is neither new nor a solo thought.  Someone was out there praying the Office in 1918, or in any pandemic that happened after 1549.  As long as we can pray, we have a means to dwell in the love of God–and when we feel we are loved enough, we can be “okay enough” to spread a love that is more infectious than any infectious agent.

 

What encloses the boundaries of your “pleasant land” and what are you learning from your “goodly heritage” of faith?

 

Image: A closed playground in Brooklyn, NY during the Coronavirus pandemic, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO. 

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