Fasting in the midst of a Pandemic

I’m getting lonely and restless. And this is not a sprint, it is a marathon. We are giving up so much so that we can help our community. We are fasting in action, in community, in gathering, in communal worship, in sharing touch outside our households.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about my call, you know that Eucharist is the primary source and focus of my call. The Lord’s Table is the way in and the end goal of my calling to ministry. And I don’t know when we will be Celebrating again. We are caught in an age of uncertainty, now even made more uncertain by the pandemic surrounding us. It would be comforting to share some Welch’s grape juice and King’s Hawaiian bread right not. And, we might get some to go with our green grapes on Easter. But it won’t be communion. We won’t have the body with us.

We may pray the prayer that the National Cathedral shared, for Spiritual Communion, a statement of yearning for the presence of Christ.

The Invitation to Holy Communion

A spiritual communion is a personal devotional that anyone can pray at any time to express their desire to receive Holy Communion at that moment, but in which circumstances impede them from actually receiving Holy Communion.

The presider invites the following prayer to be said by all:

My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. I love you above all things, and long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.

(St. Alphonsus de Liguori, 1696-1787)

We yearn. We yearn for the presence of Christ. We yearn for the gathering of our community again. We yearn for the table of our Lord to be shared. We yearn for the Kingdom of God to come.

But these things are not for now. For now, we fast. We shelter at home. We are apart, but we are not alone. And we pray.

Fasting – based on Matthew 6:16-18; written for St. Andrews UMC pastored by Rev. Sherri Barnes 

Holy God, we confess that we are unsure of what fasting looks like in the midst of great sacrifice. We are tempted to point to what we are giving up in the midst of social isolation and canceling everything, and say all of that is good enough. 

God, it is hard to not look dismal these days. 

Haven’t we given up enough?

Though we mourn what we are losing, turn our hearts toward what you offer us. 

You see us where we are. 

Guide us to find you in the midst of our empty spaces where we do not know what we are doing or where we are going. 

Remind us of your presence when we are frustrated, confused, and worried. 

Help us to be examples of hope in the midst of the unknown, in the name of Jesus Christ, and the strength of the Holy Spirit; Amen. 

COVID-19 and the X-Men

“My hand sanitizer bottle says it works on coronavirus that’s just the common cold… why is this any different?” “A ‘novel’ virus, but what does that mean?” 

These are the two best questions that a woman asked me the last time I was in public. 

I wish I’d had this thought when I was talking to her, but maybe it will help you, too. 

Ok. Do you know in X-Men where Jean Grey turns into Phoenix? (Apologies to all people who understand canon better than I do: I’ve only seen the movies and I’m sure that I’m going to get something wrong. Also, maybe: spoilers?)(also, #feminism, I  know this isn’t X-Women…. And why is that anyway? Also, another story.)

So, the X-Men (and women) are mutant humans that have powers. They can heal faster, or freeze things, or make fire, or transfer power, or shoot lasers out of their eyes, or control the weather, or move and manipulate things with their minds. They have these powers because they have mutations on their genes. 

Viruses mutate, too. 

We’ve studied the way that the Flu virus mutates because those mutations are what let us know which things to change and adapt when it is time to make a new vaccine. Usually the changes are gradual, and mostly predictable, and we can keep up with the viral genetic “drift” in our population by introducing the new vaccines each year. 

The gradual genetic drift of viruses is why we can still get sick from the viruses we are exposed to, but because our bodies recognize them as something similar to what we have fought before, by and large, most people’s bodies can manage the change. 

Those are the normal X-Men, the ones that get to be in an ensemble cast and do things as a team because they really only have one thing in their wheelhouse and are predictable. 

And then there is Jean Grey. Who undergoes a radical transformation and becomes something different. So different that she doesn’t even recognize her significant relationships and friends or even her enemies. She is simply a new power on a magnitude that defies the strongest among them. 

This is viral shift.

This is the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19. Yes, it is in the same family as the other coronaviruses like the common cold, like Phoenix is still a mutant human. But. None of our bodies have ever seen anything like it before. 

It jumped too fast. We have no immunity. We are only beginning to understand it, at great cost to life and infrastructure and the world economy. Our heath systems around the world are going to need all the help we can give them to be able to keep this from literally decimating the population of our seniors. And that’s based on the data we have right now, which is only three months of data. We don’t know what other populations could be at risk. And that is why we have to make these great sacrifices. Because this is so different.*

Hopefully you’ve seen the idea of needing to flatten the curve, and if you haven’t, it basically means we know that people who are infected and contagious may not be exhibiting symptoms, and because of that, we are being asked to observe social distancing. I’ve heard it described as physical distancing for the good of the society. 

That’s why we haven’t gone to the playground or over to a friends house for a playdate. We don’t want to be the connecting link that spreads the virus to one of the vulnerable among us. 

Sure, maybe if you are reading this, and you catch COVID-19 while it goes around the global population it won’t be that bad for you. But I have eleven family members over the age of sixty, a number of them with additional health risk factors. I don’t want to have a doctor pick which one of them gets to be on a ventilator and which one has to die, because there simply are not enough resources to go around if the entire population gets sick with unrestricted spread. 

This isn’t a sprint. We’re in this together for the long haul and in order to help out our helpers the best, we need to make these sacrifices of being apart. 

But we are not alone. We are in this together. And when we come out on the other side of this, through this pandemic, I’m looking forward to the hugs we will share again.  

 

*Thankfully, the CDC has considered what to do with an Influenza Pandemic like the one from 1918. Most of the decisions being promoted by the CDC is on their study of the past 4 pandemics over the last hundred years and how to help mitigate the effects of novel viruses. What we are doing now feels and sounds really weird sometimes. But. We closed schools because the science supported that decision. It’s just hard now.

Apart, Not Alone

In the midst of the not knowing 

there is the waiting

But there is sunlight

And flowers, small and purple

Birds that swoop down to porches

Dance breaks for aunts 

half a world away

Giggles and hiding and laughs

Funny faces

Sweet pears and tangy apples

Gentle kisses from sticky lips

Faintly reminiscent of peanut butter

Hugs for just because you walked into the room

And colors of pink to declare and celebrate

Though we are apart

We are not alone. 

It’s an Adventure!

Whenever I am bored, I always wish things were more exciting. 

But when things get exciting, it never really seems to be the kind of exciting adventure that I was hoping for. 

You’d think I’d learn. 

I had someone tell me once that I liked classic adventure, like Indiana Jones, that I like the idea of challenge, but didn’t actually like going out of my comfort zone. I think they were off base (and given that I was told this by someone thirteen years ago and I’m still miffed about it… either they were more off base than I thought then, or they were closer to the mark. Maybe a little of both. I think I’ve taken their remark as a challenge, to do what they said I didn’t know how to do, and have taken on more things that stretch me, simply to prove them wrong.)

I love the idea of adventure. 

I celebrate the adventurous things I have done: whitewater rafting the headwaters of the Nile, serving as a Volunteer with Peace Corps Kenya, giving birth to two children without medication or medical intervention, hiking four days on the Appalachian Trail with four days notice, trying all the new recipes that I continue to find, marching in DC, Charlotte, and Raleigh…

These are good adventures. Not all of them were as picture perfect as I’d imagined, but they were good bucket list items. 

And then there are the hidden adventures: raising two girls to love themselves in a world that tells them to judge their bodies, serving churches that have traditional and normative expectations when I don’t fit into the box (at one point, actually gesticulated to me by a woman on an elevator who was simply surprised to learn that I existed), discovering how to live into a marriage where we see the world differently and how to look together at the ways that we want to learn about the world, and the itinerancy system. 

And then there are the adventures that throw our lives into massive new experiences: the itinerancy system, parenting, pandemics, storms, and other challenges. These are adventures that define us by how we respond to them. They are the big ones, the ones that change the landscape of our lives. And even though I’d rather tell you the story of how I rafted the Nile, I think I am a more interesting person because of how I meet the challenges of these new adventures. 

I’m definitely not bored, now. 

When it is too much

Breathe in, Breathe out, Breathe in, hold it, breathe out.

Relax your shoulders, release your jaw, loosen your stance, and breathe into your belly. 

Ok. 

Go for a walk. 

Watch the baby rhino video from the North Carolina Zoo.

Get a scoop of ice cream.

Put on that movie you can quote the whole way through.

Write out a list of: 

  • Concerns to address
  • Things to do
  • Friends to call
  • Places to go
  • Family to visit
  • Things to release
  • Scriptures to memorize
  • Neighbors to check on
  • Lists.

Get on social media.

Get off social media.

Bake cookies, make treats, eat veggies, grab some fruit.

Make a plan.

Let the plan go.

Take a bath. 

Paint your nails. 

Do push-ups. 

Or sun salutations. 

Or lay in shavasana for a solid twenty minutes. 

Laugh with a child.

Dance to angry, happy, silly, graceful music.

Drink some water. 

Or something stronger.

Plant a flower or a tomato or a tree.

Find a waterfall.

Find a swing.

Watch a bird discover a seed.

Write, in a journal, or on morning pages, or for a blog, or submit to a news organization. 

Read a book that you’ve never heard of before.

Read a book that you love so much that the cover has fallen off.

Watch the clouds.

Play a game with a friend.

Play a game on your phone.

Create a story.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Breathe.

 

Two notes. If you are struggling with anxiety that is affecting your ability to do usual life things, please get help. This is a number to call to receive emotional support.  Or call a friend you trust. Second, this post is inspired by a question that my friend Sarah Howell-Miller asked and received responses to, so, credit to the folks who responded to her, and to her for asking.