Today is the 16th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Sixteen years ago I never could have imagined today. I was supposed to be on sabbatical with my husband, we were supposed to be in Bath, England, enjoying a soak at the new spa there. That seems a long ago dream now. I can’t even imagine wanting to do that today. We were in Iceland when the WHO declared Coronavirus/Covid-19 a global pandemic and Trump issued his first travel ban. We were able to get on the last flight to Denver from Iceland. The last 10 days have been a mixture of grief and joy. We have spent the week cancelling the plans we took the last year to prepare. We also spent the week talking to our friends and family online a lot. We have walked around our neighborhood and met more neighbors this last week than we have in the 3 years we have lived in the neighborhood.
We had a grant that funded our travels and the foundation is encouraging us to try again for our sabbatical when things have been figured out. In the meantime we, like the rest of the world, are figuring out what daily life looks like. For a few more days we are still under quarantine from our travel time and when the quarantine is over, we will continue to stay at home with the rest of Colorado. The small difference is we will be able to venture out for our own groceries. We have been overwhelmed by the offers of help and support that we have received, and the sympathy people have for our grief, in the face of so much change and grief for so many people. We have laughed with family and friends in our video chats, and have talked with neighbors and strangers on the street.
Today, we are finally unpacked from the trip that we planned for a year to take. Our home offices are reassembled. We are leaning into this new way of life. We are learning how to “love-stream” church and friendship along with the rest of the world.
There are so many people responding with daily online prayer, beautifully crafted church from empty sanctuaries or cozy firesides. For every streamed service, I have asked myself, “am I doing enough?” or told myself “ I need to do that too”. I have struggled with the illusion that I have to be the “best-priest-for-these-times”. While texting with a friend over the weekend a lightbulb went off; all I am required to do, all any of us are required to do is: “Love the people I have been given to love the best way I know how.” That’s it. Love. Love each other. We all do that differently, and we all know how to love. When we let the fear and anxiety subside for a moment, love will shimmer through. Signs of love are everywhere we just need to look for them.
Love the people you are given to love in the best way you know how.
I was struck yesterday listening to and reflecting on the Gospel of Jesus healing the blind man how intimate and physical so many of Jesus’ miraculous acts are. Touch heals. I am reminded how when I was a first year seminary student I attended my first healing service. I was a little bit skeptical, but something compelled me forward for a healing prayer. I burst into tears when the priest put his hands on my head, because I realized I had not been touched by another human being in months, and in that moment something in me was healed that I didn’t even know needed to be healed. I am praying for the people I know who get their only physical contact when they come to church. In these times we have to practice social distancing to flatten the curve and it is the only way to perhaps save the lives of the very people who come to church for human interaction. So, how do we love one another and “touch” one another in a time of social distancing? Above are the questions I am living by these days. I invite you to pay attention to the second question. Who are you checking in on? Who are you connecting with?
If you are thinking about someone, call them, send them a text or email. Check on a neighbor you haven’t seen in a while. When the flowers begin to bloom, pick some on your walk and leave them on a friend’s doorstep. How are you connecting? How are you being a healing presence in the world?
Rick and I are in Langaholt, Iceland, in a comfortable, remote hotel on the western peninsula of the island. It seems that we are the only guests and we have the whole place to ourselves, while winds howl outside, gusting up snow and keeping us inside. We have moved from our room to the dining room, back to our room to the sun room, back to our room to the lobby where we have the best view of the wind and snow working together to create new snow banks outside the front door. While this storm of wind and ice rages outside, the storm of corona virus rages on our social media and in our emails and the storm of indecision rages inside me. We are changing plans and deciding where we will land next. Each peak at the internet has another piece of news, another prediction and more appeals for people to self isolate and avoid large social situations. We are wanting to be faithful to one another and our hopes for time set aside for rest and renewal by the ocean and to being faithful to the wider community of people we will likely be in contact with as we travel. One way or another at this point, if we leave this hotel, we will be in contact with other people, either on an air plane, on a train, at a gas station, or at another hotel, and we are trusting that the people who work here are not bringing the virus to work with them. Corona virus is at home, corona virus is here in Iceland, Corona virus is where we want to be traveling. I am a seven on the Enneagram and I am used to making quick and easy decisions, and I definitely do not like not having a lot of activity to keep me busy and distracted from my thoughts on a normal day.This I already knew about myself. I am learning more about myself as all the storms rage: how hard it is for me to feel confident about any decisions I make while jet lagged and overwhelmed by so much conflicting information. AND, Right now I am grateful for many things, a warm safe place to be in the storm, an incredibly kind and loving person with whom to share this experience, and the presence of so many heart shaped rocks surrounding us in the dining room.
Rick and I have spent the last week packing and preparing the house for us to be gone, leaving notes for those who will be coming by to stay and check on things. We have had visits with neighbors and friends, and we’ve talked and read a lot about Coronavirus. We’ve decided that we are taking this adventure now despite the virus. We’ve packed the things that will help us avoid coming down with it: rubber gloves, anti-septic wipes and lots of Emergen-C. We have been dreaming and planning for this trip for a very long time. We don’t know how much longer Rick will be able to make a big trip like this and we are excited to explore the parts of Europe that will be open to us. There are so many people who helped us write the grant that is paying for our travel, and there are the many people looking after our home and our communities while we are away. We are grateful for the love and prayers so many people have been sending as we get ready to take off on this adventure. We’ll write more from the road! With love and gratitude, Rick and Rebecca
Today is the second day of my first sabbatical in ten years. Thank you to the Lilly Foundation we are able to have the most amazing travel adventure while the congregation we serve has the chance to have their own sabbatical experience. Below is an excerpt from our grant application as a preview for what’s coming.
In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “[in scripture] God shows up in whirlwinds, starry skies, burning bushes and perfect strangers. When people want to know more about God, the son of God tells them to pay attention…to women kneading bread and workers lining up for their pay… The House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other. Sea monsters and ostriches live in it, along with people who pray in languages I do not speak, whose names I will never know… I can set a little altar, in the world or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am there with, and how awesome the place is. I can flag one more gate to heaven…instead of walking right past it, maybe even setting a stone or saying a blessing before I move on…” (pp.12, 13, 15). In our corner of God’s house, at Peter and Mary, we are blessed with a beautiful building and a corner parking lot in an urban neighborhood. A chain link fence, which we considered removing because it didn’t feel welcoming, has become integral to our most vibrant outreach ministry, a neighborhood dog park. Because we were able to see the fence in a new way, we now have a ministry which has created deep and meaningful relationships in and with our neighborhood. We plan to use our mutual time for renewal to stretch into new corners of the world asking, “What are we called to see in new ways now?” The congregation and Rebecca, with her husband Rick, will explore the world and our relationship to it primarily through the lens of photography in what we are calling The God Camera Project, using single use film cameras (God Cameras). We will ask the questions: “How does God see the world and where do we see God?” We will use film and book discussions to support our mutual renewal. While Rick and Rebecca (R & R) explore the vast house of God by travel and visiting with Rebecca’s family, the congregation will explore it by paying attention to the vast house of God closer to home.