My plan for 2020 was to get back to this blog on a regular basis, especially as a means of continued healing in the midst of grief. But even the best plans change, however, not usually because of something as life changing as a global pandemic.
This morning as I walked, I took two pictures. One captures the road behind me, holding the camera over my shoulder to show where I’ve been.
The second picture is a look ahead. Given the time of the morning, it’s interesting to ponder how my shadow is going before me. That will have to be a post for another day.
My thoughts turned to how very different this Holy Week will be from the ones of the past. The first true Palm Sunday parade I was part of was toward the end of my high school years. Revs. Bob and Bea Callis were at Fieldale UMC. They led a parade of the congregation from the ballpark to the church, donkey and all. My feet were washed for the first time on Maundy Thursday during a Wesley Foundation gathering at Edenton Street UMC in Raleigh. After so many moving Tenebrae Good Friday services, the day must begin with the singing of “The Light of Christ surrounds us….” and include the Taize chorus of “Stay with me, Remain here with me, Watch and pray, Watch and pray.” And Easter Sunday has to begin in the dark and include a litany of the many ways you can title a sermon using “The Tomb is Empty.”
This year: evergreen branches by the front door, a Palm Sunday parade that started with deer and ended with blue birds, online worship, deep prayer, sadness and joy. I wonder if we’re learning what is really important about following Christ during this strange time. I wonder if the lessons of turning over the tables in the temple, entering into deep discernment alone about the future while wanting others to be present, reminiscing with friends that have been traveling this road with us, facing sadness and possible death, and waiting…will change us. Are we supposed to be learning how to truly be authentic followers of Jesus during this time of physical distancing? Will the “new normal” for each of us and for the church be transformed as we learn from our current experience?
Just when I thought I might be coming out of my fog of grief, even in anticipation of the first Easter without going to church with Mom, there are new types of grief taking hold. On Friday, Steve found out that a dear friend and mentor was hospitalized following a stroke. We didn’t know how severe the stroke had been until yesterday when word came that this amazing man may only be here with us a few more days. The conversations of which I’ve been a part over the past few weeks of allowing family in for compassionate care/end-of-life visits and the stories of medical personnel who have been with persons otherwise alone when death has come began to flood my mind. As we sat together last night grieving both a life that is dear to us and the fact that the goodbyes have to be said in awkward and unnatural ways led both of us to tears. We have so many memories of the amazing life lived by our friend. He was one of the first to reach out when my Mom died in October. His son shared with us last night that he continued to visit the assisted living community where his wife lived for a brief time before her death last summer to bring joy to other residents. His last visit to our house was right around Valentine’s Day. Always the perfect gentleman, he walked in with a box of Russell Stover chocolate candy. The dogs cuddled up next to him as he and Steve shared the stories once again of how their working relationship began. A call to him was the first I had to make when the surgeon reported on Steve’s surgery on February 20th. The next morning, our friend was at the hospital before I got there, watching as the physical therapists got Steve up for the first time. He called to make sure I safely got Steve in the house later that afternoon and called several times over the following weekend to say he’d be here as soon as possible if I needed him for anything.
The road behind has had its share of grief, loss, love, joy and adventure. It has been filled with God’s blessings.
The road ahead??
It will be different, different than what I expected just a few weeks ago and probably very different from what I think it will be even today. Will this time of quiet call us as individuals and as a church to recognize what is truly important: relationships, communication, less attention to “busyness”? Will committee meetings that often leave us wondering why we were present give way to true connection and transformation? Will the prayers of the people continue to be focused more on the needs of the community and world around us than on our individual petitions? Will the sense of urgency that has caused us to shelter in place bring about a sense of unity that moves us to more deeply care for one another and all of God’s creation?
I’ll be eagerly looking for the continuing lessons of this odd and uncomfortable Holy Week, many of which I anticipate will actually make it more similar to the road that Jesus walked than any Holy Week I have experienced before. As the shadow walks ahead of me, may I focus more clearly on the purpose of the journey.