There is a poem I love, “I Tremble on the Edge of a Maybe” by Ted Loder”
O God of beginnings, as your Spirit moved over the face of the deep on the first day of creaton, move with me now in my time of beginnings, when the air is rain-washed, the bloom is on the bush, and the world seems fresh and full of possibilities, and I feel ready and full. I tremble on the edge of a maybe, a first time, a new thing, a tentative start, and the wonder of it lays its finger on my lips. In silence, Lord, I share now my eagerness and my uneasiness about this something different I would be or do; and I listen for your leading to help me separate the light from the darkness in the change I seek to shape and which is shaping me.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about this poem as I go about doing the usual things that need to be done even in the midst of all the changes and restrictions in place because of the corona virus/Covid-19, while trying to figure out how to do things that have never had to be done before. For what feels like forever but has, in reality, been only a couple of months, at least some part of my day has been spent thinking about what it means to life as we know it here in this small Episcopal parish in northern New Jersey. You see, the parish I serve has a large preschool and many of the families are Chinese. The virus broke out in Wuhan during the time we were in recess and a number of families were on holiday in China, including two in Wuhan. Since the news broke, this virus has been real, it’s been up close and personal.
The past several weeks, with the onset of social distancing and the seemingly ever changing onslaught of news and governmental directives, not to mention directives from our bishop, it feels increasingly as if we are living in a giant paradox. We – the Church- are the place people come to for so many reasons in times like this and, in this particular time, they cannot physically come. Our preschool is closed. The 12-step groups we host can no longer meet. We cannot visit to provide pastoral care. Our offices are all but closed, open only to a skeleton crew that is almost never in the building at the same time and, if they are, it is with many feet between them. Our hearts break that we cannot gather for worship and fellowship on Sunday mornings. And still we are called to be the Church, the “life-giving sanctuary, where love begets love” (as this parish has been described).
We’ve been challenged to step so far beyond our comfort zones that at times it feels as if we will be forever lost. We are developing a love-hate relationship with the technology that is even more present in our lives than ever before. Even as we struggle to figure it out and find ourselves frustrated when we can’t get Zoom to connect to Facebook Live or the wifi signal lacks the stability to support consistent audio, we are grateful that it exists and enables us to be together in some way.
We are a faith-filled and Spirit-guided people with an abiding trust in God’s love and a joyful reliance on the promise that God is always present with us, that God’s wildly wonderful Spirit works in and through us at all times and in all things. And yet, as seems to be true of everybody we know, we have been anxious and afraid. We worry that we will get ill or that someone we love will get ill. We worry that we will have to say goodbye in this life to people we love and that we won’t even be able to gather together for their funerals. We worry about money and jobs and being able to buy the food we like and the toilet paper we need.
We worry and we question and we seek to experience the presence of God in all of this. We rant and we rave and we wonder if this means we are not the faithful people we think we are. We remind ourselves that the best relationships are those in which we can be truly ourselves, completely honest about how we are feeling, and then we feel better that our relationship with God has this kind of intimacy.
We live for the day we can gather together in the usual ways even as we wonder if there isn’t something about this new way of being Church that we might want to hold onto for a while. Maybe we want to stream our Sunday service even after we don’t have to, so that some of the people who joined us in the time will continue to bless our community? Maybe we will continue to check in with each other more often just because we can and we know how good it feels to have that connection? Maybe we’ll continue to pray together online at least one or twice a week? Maybe we’ll grow the personal spiritual practices so many of us have begun, rather than shed them as soon as we can gather in-person for worship and have returned to our pre-corona lives?
Maybe we’ll ask God to help us to understand how it is this time of pandemic has shaped us in ways that we need but would otherwise not have thought to discover. Maybe…