Greetings to the St Andrew's Community:
We are living in a surreal time. As a congregation, we are seeking to stay in touch, focused and mutually supportive. As we are not able to be worshipping together in person, I've prepared a written sermon for this week and Disciple Dog has some thougths to share. You can let me know how this works for you and any suggestions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Once I get more proficient at this we will be able to do more with this form of communication.
So here's Disciple Dog's contribution:
And below is mine.
May the indestructible presence of the Spirit of the Risen Christ show us a path forward.
Fear, Faith, Friends – and Courage
No one knows how long this pandemic will last, or how many people will be infected, or how many will fatalities there will be. Like many of us, every day I try to keep up with the latest developments, projections, guidelines and wisdom on how to face it. I’ve also been reflecting on what thoughts are coming to me about the situation that I want to share with you – like I would in a sermon if we were able to meet Sunday in person.
So here we go. I will talk about the role of fear, faith, friends – and courage.
Fear. Clearly this pandemic creates fear. In my 28 years in this community, we’ve faced earthquakes, floods, repeated fires and a deadly debris flow. But the danger here is invisible. Given what it’s done in other parts of the world, fear is not an irrational response. As one writer said last week, when we were hunters and gatherers, we would hear sounds of what could be a bear in the forest. Fear was an adaptive reaction to take the threat seriously and prepare ourselves. If it turns out it wasn’t a bear, that was not a problem; if it was, we’d be more likely to survive than if we ignored the threat. Fear helped us survive.
But as we mature, we need to learn how to manage fear.
I learned a lesson about fear more than 30 years ago. My sister had just married a professional rock climber and mountain guide. We were in the Sierras, not far from Lake Tahoe. He offered to take us out to teach us the basics of rock climbing. When it was my turn, I was working my way up a rock face when I realized I did not know how to go any higher. I was “on belay,” meaning tethered to a safety rope – but I could imagine slipping and hitting the rock face. I felt the adrenalin coming into my system. I said to him “So now I’m feeling afraid. Should I just repress the fear?” “No,” he said, “Fear is your friend. Fear gives us important information. But we need to not let it be in control of us.”
I’ve never forgotten that.
So fear is a very reasonable feeling to have in this situation. But we can make fear our friend, rather than our master. Let’s listen to good, reputable scientific information, notice the fear that can arise in us, but then befriend that information and any fear we may be feeling, but not let the fear control us.
Faith. If I think about the Biblical stories and resources we can turn to in the situation we are facing, many come to mind. This week I’ve been drawn to two, and they are the most common prayers in our tradition. The 23 Psalm was our focus in worship last Lent, and the Lord’s Prayer has been our focus this season. As I’ve said in worship, after almost 40 years as a pastor they still offer new insight every time I turn to them. I’m drawn to them again personally as I wake up in the night, meditate in the morning and during pauses in the day. Today I’ll focus on the 23rd Psalm.
The 23rd Psalm is an individual, personal poem written 3,000 years ago. The focus is primarily on my relationship with God as I face each day. (The Lord’s Prayer, by contrast is collective, repeatedly using “our” and “us.”) Full of simple, evocative metaphors, here’s what it can mean as we face the Corona Virus:
The Lord is my shepherd. So many times in my life, God has been with me even when it wasn’t clear to me in the moment. This time is one more such time.
He makes me lie down in green pastures...leads me beside still waters…restores my soul. Right now the best mental health advice includes finding daily times to restore ourselves. Walking outdoors (at safe distances). Noticing small signs of natural life from our window. Writing in our journals. Composing poems. Practicing mindful meditation. Listening to or playing music. Taking time to do whatever it takes to restore our soul.
“…leads me in paths of righteousness…” This means fulfilling our duties to others – our families, our neighbors, foreigners, widows, orphans, the poor, the hungry and God – particularly in times like this. Doing what is “right” each day as we understand it.
“…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me…” “Fear” again. I’m in two categories of people at risk, as I’m over 65 and have asthma. Many people I know have much higher “ratings.” I contemplate various scenarios for myself, the people I know, and our world. But this reminds me that neither the Corona virus nor anything that threatens my life can separate me or anyone from God.
“Thou preparest a table before me…” A member of our congregation told me she is encouraging people to imagine the joyous party we will have whenever this threat has subsided. I hadn’t thought about that. I do now.
“Goodness and mercy will follow me…” So many acts of kindness are already appearing in our society. A solo cello concert on the front lawn of an elderly person who can’t go outside. Neighbors in an apartment building leaving food and flowers at the doorstep of someone who has just returned from the hospital. A landlord telling a tenant who had to close his restaurant he can skip the rent so he can pay his employees. In the presence of fear, goodness and mercy are appearing all around us.
“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Whatever happens in this chapter of our life, it will not be the end.
The 23rd Psalm is a powerful antidote to fear and isolation.
Friends When I use the word “friends” here, I’m thinking of a variety of relationships, including our personal families, our church family, and our valued friends. As many people have noted, in times of uncertainty and challenge, we draw strength from coming together around dinner tables, in sanctuaries, at rallies, sporting events and vigils. This time we are told to do the opposite – to stay apart. But as we are seeing, there are still many ways to affirm our connection with each other.
Social media has been largely a positive force as people share photos of family, videos of neighbors singing from balconies, light-hearted thoughts, inspiring poems, and spiritual practices. We’ve had Facetime visits with our grandsons, and text messages from friends in other states.
Not everyone has access to social media, and we know there are other methods of connecting. Phone calls. Old-fashioned letters. Leaving notes on doorsteps.
For our congregation, I’m hoping that email, mail and phone calls will be our means of staying connected, and I encourage every one of us to reach out in some way every day.
Courage I mention courage last. I do this because I have learned we can have plenty of wisdom, resources and inspiration available to us, but that in itself is not enough. At critical points we have to decide if we are going to claim these resources as our own and step into the unknown. So many great spiritual leaders, so many of our ancestors, and so many ordinary people have ultimately had to summon personal courage to go forward in the midst of fear.
Several years ago I read a book of letters an Iraq war veteran had written to a friend suffering from PTSD. At some point we have to decide, he said, are we going to let our situation define us, or are we going to define our situation? Are we going to submit to our doubts, or are we going to say “Given what I am facing, who do I want to become as I go through this?”
The situation we are all in is a time to acknowledge our fear, claim our faith, reach out to our friends, and claim the courage we need to endure.