written by Anne Cox Bailey
Dear Friends, How are you faring in this time of coronavirus?
Today’s text from Exodus describes an ancient plague — the last of nine before the Passover — that caused the Egyptians to be unable to see each other or move about. We, too, are plagued with a dense murkiness that is paralyzing us, keeping us from seeing one another truly. Humans struggle in this blinding atmosphere, our cohesion unraveling, as we give the things that separate us more importance than the things that make us one. It is clogging the very souls of those who refuse to see the Other’s face. It is obstructing the very hearts of those who have heard yet do not heed the words of good news. Too many of us are telling each other, “Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again” (Ex 10:28).
But is that a complete assessment of all that is happening? I wonder…
I wonder if the frightful things we are experiencing are trying to redirect our attention away from old habits and conventions to more expansive topics that we usually don’t take time to contemplate. I wonder if being unable to move about is giving us the opportunity to edit, not just belongings, but attitudes and opinions, assumptions and relationships that have remained unexamined for far too long. I wonder also if being forced out of our church buildings is just what we needed to get us to be Christ’s actual presence in the world, and not just in the sense of “we’ve always done these” ministries to which we’ve become accustomed.
Blessed Paul quotes Psalm 19: “their voice has gone out to all the earth” (Romans 10:18b) to remind his readers that God is still calling out to them. Across the ages we hear it; do we who hear those words understand their meaning? Oh, it’s been painful all right, but what I hear is the news that there is healthy new growth emerging. A humble plant is teaching me.
I’ve had this cymbidium orchid plant in a little pot for ages. It had flowers when I got it, but never bloomed again. Three years ago I moved, and put it on a shelf a few feet from a window. Slowly, the plant turned 90 degrees and began to grow horizontally, toward the light. In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, lo! A flower stem began to emerge! It stretched and stretched, until it began to bud, then bloom. Eight beautiful blossoms! Now, 24 weeks later, the last two papery shells cling tenuously to the shriveling stem, too insubstantial to succumb to gravity. The Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones writes, “Only orchids smile when they fall and sing as they fall and love as they fall. And do they take forever. I think they linger so long and take so long to fall, because I am so slow learning about blooming about being vulnerable and beautiful and falling and saying goodbye and trusting the right amount of water and light.”
What good news do I hear? That new life emerges and blossoms, even as disaster looms. That we all are growing, no matter the circumstances; that we long for Christ’s message as my orchid longed for sunlight. That beginnings and endings come and go; this time of virus and violence and blindness and paralysis will end. You yourself are meant to be here now; you who have heard and believed the message, you are called and sent forth to sing a new song in a waning age, in the dawn of an emerging reality.
In the waning of the blooms, I heard again the Voice that called me over 20 years ago, the One that says those who are in the last days of earthly existence, the slow, the papery, nearly insubstantial ones who appear too tenuous to remain (yet linger just the right amount of time); that these have something momentous and priceless to teach us all. Will you hear them, too, smiling and singing and loving as they fall? Will you receive their stories of “the way things are: bud, bloom, let go, fall to the ground” (Bozzuti-Jones)?
That particular part of the Good News that is meant for you: hear it! Hear it with your whole heart, and give it your full presence. “Ponder Anew” at the depth and breadth and glory and marvel of Life, that overcomes neglect and deprivation and hardship to reach the Light (The Hymnal 1982: 390, v.3).
Then sing out what you have heard! Sing to the Lord a new song, sing praise in the congregation, no matter how we are gathered! (Psalm 149)
What do you hear today?
The Rev. Anne Cox Bailey is a former ballet and concert modern dancer, teacher and director, ordained an Episcopal priest in 2001. Seeking help for her mother led her to Teepa Snow, world-renowned expert in Dementia. Anne is a certified Coach and Consultant in Teepa’s “Positive Approach to Care.” Find more on her Facebook page: Ponder Anew.