Separate Physically. Pray Collectively. God is with Us.

The Reverend Sally V. Johnston, Assisting Priest

Like a slow-motion 9/11, COVID-19 comes announcing that our lives are going to change dramatically and quickly: from staying away from large crowds to sheltering at home, from eliminating the common cup to eliminating in-person worship. The train of change is barreling down the tracks and we are holding on, grumbling and swallowing our fears as best we can. The truth is, it’s likely to get worse and more inconvenient in the short run. So this post is about recognizing that when we are not in control, when our judgment is clouded by fear and anxiety, we don’t do our best work and we aren’t at our most faithful. But while no one can stop what is unfolding around us we can manage what is unfolding within us.

The following are tips according to my own prayer practice and life experiences in the face of feeling small and vulnerable. They are not in any order or priority. Find your rhythm and create a new discipline for this Season of Separation. Like all seasons, it, too, will pass.

  • Stay informed through reliable media sources. This is your responsibility to yourself, your family, and the community. Recommendations from health officials and declarations from government authorities are designed to keep us all safe and they are being updated frequently. Remember this is not about you; it’s about us.
  • Turn off the news for a while and celebrate the moment in which you are living. Give thanks for your breath and your body. If you’re able, go outside for a walk. Even in the rain. Sing like nobody’s listening. Pull out the guitar you haven’t played in twenty years. Recall and re-laugh about the funniest moment in high school. Dance, do yoga, claim this life as sacred and yourself as beloved.
  • Keep a gratitude diary. Write something each day that you’re thankful for. And who you’re thankful for. Notice and give thanks for companies that are both creative and nimble: one that’s switching from making perfume to making hand sanitizer; another from making phones to making face masks.
  • Remember that the term “social distancing” is a misnomer. The term should be “physical distancing.” We can still call, text, Facetime, and email friends and family. In fact, we need to do it more, not less. Set up an online/Zoom Bible Study, book club, or prayer group.
  • In addition to binging past episodes of The Simpsons, search for other online resources. The Great Courses Online has relatively inexpensive university courses for download. There’s a website called The Festival of Social Distancing bringing you free recorded concerts, operas, and other productions that have had to shutter their doors or cancel live productions. Listen to three-minute heartwarming stories at storycorps.org. The Kennedy Center has a live-streamed art program for kids with author Mo Willems.
  • Deepen your own prayer discipline. Set aside twenty minutes each day (surely you can find that!) to exercise your faith muscles. Include reading, journaling, and listening for God’s assurance of love and mercy. If you don’t have a practice or aren’t sure how to do this, write to me at sjohnston@st-peters.org and I’ll send you some suggestions.
  • Remember that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. Fear makes us close up with stress and wrongly believe that everything depends upon us. Faith has us open up with love and remember that we are created to live in partnership with God. Nothing we do, or try to do, apart from God is enough. With God, we have more than we need.

The Psalm appointed in our lectionary for this coming Sunday is the very familiar 23rd Psalm. Often thought of as a psalm of comfort, it’s also a psalm of thanksgiving and confidence. Read it again with that awareness. Read it out loud so that you say the words and hear the words and know deep in your heart that God – Emmanuel – is with us. Regardless of changes in the days ahead, God’s love and mercy endure.

Deep Peace,