There are productive ways to reduce one's anxiety and stress. Already, as we face rising numbers of COVID-19 and the accompanying fear and worry, I've found great advice from therapists and in all sorts of practical spaces. Get up and get dressed, someone says. Don't forget to exercise. Eat and stay hydrated. Call or FaceTime friends. Cultivate your creative side (if I get one more craft kit ad on FB, I might hurt someone). Don't watch the news constantly, you glutton for punishment, I think to myself.
All good stuff.
I am a pastor, and I believe in self-care, and in rituals that connect us to God and one another. Of course I practice and sug
gest particular and proven avenues of prayer, meditation, the gift of breath, walking a labyrinth, praying with icons to help center the mind, journaling on a blank piece of paper. There are also new ways to use ancient paths, including apps one can add to a phone, like my favorite, Pray as You Go.
Yet in this time of self-isolation and social distancing, I find myself clinging to or perhaps drawn toward the most sensory parts of life. In the midst of this pandemic and all the change and upheaval that has come with it, I am most interested and comforted by my belief in the incarnation.
That means I need what I call the Jesus-iest stories, the ones where Jesus' full humanity is present and meets us in the messiness and hardest parts of life: suffering, compassion, fear, loss.
My list of messy is long, and some of it may seem trivial. I miss going outside, but I'm afraid the pollen will make me more susceptible to COVID-19. Before I began my allergy shots, I had two bouts of pneumonia. I've also had heart failure, and this virus has shown its tendency in some patients to attack the the heart muscle. I'd prefer not to test my luck.
Besides physical health, there are my four boys. What is there to say to a 13-year-old who realizes that he will not be able to spend these last two months or more saying goodbye to his friends in the flesh? What do I say when he tells me he is worried about his parents because we are older? I spent a lot of time on my knees one evening listening, hugging, and crying. I tried not to dismiss the reality by saying what Jesus' friends said as he laid out the reality of his final ministry. His disciples didn't want to hear. Instead, they said dismissed him, Surely, Lord, none of this dangerous and risky business you're describing will happen to you, or those who love you? I know why the disciples said that; they were scared, even if they wouldn't say it. I had to admit to my son that I am scared too.
I also miss the routine for our other three boys. At first, I could not quit thinking of my inadequacy in trying to lead my children in online school. Along with my husband, we are struggling with the breakdown of routine and complexities of a virtual school day. One day the router went out, and I walked into their playroom and saw them constructing legos together with no arguing. I decided that whimsy and play must bring relief, and scores, grades, and benchmarks will come behind emotional self-care. Yet when they get stuck, they want answers, and answers these days are not so simple.
I am preparing to go to a new church with serious doubt whether or not I will be able to say goodbye to those with whom I've served: no last supper even.
Holy Week, for many of Christians, especially those who work in re-telling the story of Jesus' last week with his friends must retell it. We have a routine and ritual for these most holy moments, and we are doing the best we can through FB, Face Time, Zoom, Instagram, podcasts, blogs, and anything to follow Jesus from the crowds and palms through the last supper, and his death.
I am not going to gloss over what is happening with COVID-19, nor the last days of Jesus' life. I want to feel it.
I've just finished reading, Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers by Shea Tuttle. Like many, I have read about Fred Rogers, seen a documentary capturing his life, and a recent movie about his friendship with journalist Tom Junod.
In Tuttle's book, I ran across a quote from Fred Roger's mentor, the famed child psychologist Margaret McFarland. Rogers lived this quote in his ministry about our humanity: "Anything human is mentionable, and anything mentionable is manageable." These words also reminded Fred Rogers that his "ministry" to children through television was about the wide spectrum of all honest emotions. He realized that "...if Jesus had not shown his full humanness, then Jesus' power to know and love people would have been limited too. Through the Incarnation--God taking on humanness in the person of Jesus--feelings are sanctified; because Jesus, who was God, had big feelings, those same feelings are now caught up in the divine life." (Exactly As You Are: the Life and Faith of Mister Rogers, page149, Shea Tuttle)
I've got some big feelings right now. As I consider them, and try to share them with you and with my friends and family, I try to embrace the "fleshiness" of my faith:
I like the smell of lavender at the end of the day in my small bottle of aromatherapy. I apply it to the back of my hand, and breathe in deeply. I put my hand next to my face, and, suddenly, it is a sacred time.
In spite of the intermittent yelling in our house, and the frustration, and the fear, we are still hugging one another; we may drive one another crazy, but we are touching; it is sacred.
My dogs are ever present. They are funny, in need of baths, and one of them follows me like he is my disciple. I can barely go to the bathroom that he does not consider it essential to enter. I watch them play, drag in the pollen, and sleep, and snuggle; it is sacred.
And now for the guilty ritual that is pure indulgence: my nightly snack of Trader Joe's Honey Roasted Peanuts. I know this food is not necessary, nor was it normal to buy five bags. Still I know that I would love to share them with Jesus as a meal. I feel certain he would sit next to me--is sitting next to me--and that when I give him a handful of these salty, sweet goodies, he will open his hand and take them. I feel sure he will gladly put them in his mouth, munch on them, and then agree with me that they are fabulous, especially when you crunch down on them. It's fun.
This thought is sacred to me: Jesus is present, and we are eating peanuts together. He does not think I'm disrespectful, or silly, or trivial. He knows I'm trying to sit at his table because I want to be connected to all my neighbors in this current pandemic. In our fear, anxiety, worry, caution, boredom, meltdowns, and goofiness, we sit with the One who knows our humanness.
Jesus sits with me, and with you. He's near. He listens. He gets us. He gets all the feelings too. We are safe.