I got a house plant for my birthday back in May. Keeping plants alive is not one of my gifts, so I was concerned for its survival. Nonetheless, I re-potted the plant, put in good soil, and watered it. After a few weeks, the leaves started falling off and branches turned brown, hard and hallow. This did not seem good. I was resigned that a trip to the compost pile was looming. I trimmed back all the stuff that seemed dead, which left two partially green stalks with three leaves. It stayed in this state of partially dead and not quite living for weeks. Then from nowhere, this little plant started sprouting more leaves with three little orange buds finally appearing. From the doorstep of death, not only was it alive, but it dared to thrive. This little plant has inspired me over this past year, reminding me to live and thrive during this dark and shadowy time.
Daily headlines, social media posts and topics for TV pundits tell the story of our times. How did we get here? We stand divided, broken, hurting, and dying. There is plenty of hate, blame and anger for multiple lifetimes. Democracy teeters on a precipice and “justice for all” is still an allusive dream. Our hard and hollow world seems almost unrecognizable.
My life in the world seems unrecognizable. For almost a year, I have worked from home, gathered for church virtually and seen less than a dozen people in-person with any regularity. Haircuts and tanks of gas, both numbered three. An exciting trip out of my home is to the grocery store or for a walk. I have not seen my family or hugged another human in a year. As hard as this is, I know others around me suffer greater strains with joblessness, food insecurity, home-schooling children, worrying about aging parents, etc. I know I am not alone when I say, “how did I get here?”. And yet here I am in this exiled life.
“Exiled” might not be the first word that comes to mind, but Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary provides a strong enough context for its use, defining it as: “
- the state or a period of forced absence from one’s country or home.
- the state or a period of voluntary absence from one’s country or home.
I would say “exile” applies in that the separation from my pre-COVID life is “a period of both forced and voluntary absence” from life as I knew it. Some life choices have been made for me via ordered mandates. I have also made decisions so that all can stay healthy and safe. I suspect that I will be in this state of “exile” for some time to come. While the vaccine provides hope, the timeline for my return out of “exile” is still unknown.
In today’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah shares God’s word with the exiled:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
I am strengthened and encouraged by the word of God to not only live my “exiled” life but dare to thrive. I am not sure that I thrive every single day. Sometimes, it is simply good enough to make it through the day. Just like my little plant, it started by just doing the basics, growing new green leaves.
I feel my life energized in my various communities. I work every day with caring people, striving to safely serve those at the margins. The need is great, and we continue to grow to help meet that need. I go to church and the vitality of our faith has not waned. It has become deeper and richer in the different types of connections forged. I have made new friends from around the country. I delight in long-term and local friends with great joy. All made possible by Zoom. We are lifting each other up, blossoming together.
We thrive together with God in our midst, seeking and praying for healing, even during this difficult and divisive time. We live and thrive together as the body of Christ, leaving no one behind, rejecting injustice and oppression, and caring for those on the margins. We thrive with the light of Christ in our life. That light brightens the world with colorful blooms of joy, love, and compassion.
When this “exile” is over, there is no “country or home” to return to in the classic sense. An exact return to our pre-COVID is also unlikely. Much like my plant that has tripled in size with lush green leaves, our lives will be reshaped, full and transformed, as we dare to thrive anew.
Karla Koon is a Worship Leader and Eucharistic Minister at St, Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle. When not serving at church or working as the Director of HR Operations and Administration for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (Catholic Charities), you can find Karla, reading, quilting, golfing, hiking, kayaking, and gathering with friends and family.