In some ways, I suppose I could have predicted it. We spent hours luxuriously debating how to safely distribute communion, being able to consider every detail: imagining how hard this new reality would be for our parish, who is a loving, “touchy-feely” parish; researching burgeoning new practices in other parishes and dioceses; and prayerfully considering how to model safe behavior. And in the end, our parish engaged beautifully, the pain of their sacrifices obvious on their faces, but also the determination to protect and care for one another equally obvious on their faces.
But then the bottom dropped out. It was two weeks ago, and I was in the family surgical waiting room, already letting my wardens know I would have to miss a Vestry meeting because my daughter’s surgery had been more complicated than expected, and I had yet to see her. But just as the nurse was telling us our daughter had been moved to recovery and we could go back soon, our Bishop sent out a communication, cancelling all church campus activities, including worship – including that Vestry Meeting we had planned to hold. The next several days were a blur – sleep in three-hour bursts as I tended my daughter; texts, emails, and calls to figure out how to still hold worship virtually; pastoral letters to be written to the parish explaining what was happening and how this would all work; and the reality of this even newer normal sinking in slowly.
I have never had a long conversation with a refugee, but I have watched enough news coverage, read enough human-interest stories, and seen enough movies about refugees to have a tiny inkling of how upending, world-changing, and scary it must be to be a refugee. I would never argue my life in the midst of the Coronavirus is as brutal or devastating as a refugee, but there do seem to be some parallels. Within moments, our world has been upended. We went from being totally free to do whatever we desire, to being confined to our homes, having our jobs be totally changed (or sometimes ended), having the schooling of our children and the social support system schooling represents stripped away, worrying about the scarcity of necessities and the wisdom of going out to obtain what we could find, feeling the anxiety of financial insecurity, and losing the comfort of physical touch and community. As a parent and priest, it has meant taking on the impossibility of two full-time jobs, knowing everyday you could do more, and yet being limited to the constraints of 24 hours a day. And none of that even touches the emotional, psychological, and spiritual weight of upheaval that our bodies are processing, whether we try to stifle it or not.
Unlike most refugees, I know this new normal for us is relatively temporary. Someday, we will be able to go back to some modification of the old normal. But for now, this new reality is foreign, disorienting, and unnerving. I was just yesterday reminded of that song “Rivers of Babylon,” which pulls from Psalm 137 and 19. The echo of the verse, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” has been lingering with me. And yet, that seems to be the only thing holding me together these days – singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. For all the upheaval, all the disorder, all the anxiety and confusion, rooting myself in daily prayer – having people join in watching on Facebook Live, leaving their comments or greetings, or just seeing their names pop up, has felt like a balm to my heart. I have not been able to bless or consume the holy meal, I have not been able to embrace my beloved parishioners, and I have not been able exchange physical signs of the peace. But I have been able to hear the prayers of not only our parish’s heart, but also the hearts of our neighbors, friends, and even strangers. I have not been able to gather physically with our community, but I have felt the connection of virtual community so palpably, I thought I would cry. I do not know how long this new reality will last, but I am grateful for the opportunity to sing the Lord’s song in this strange land. You are most welcome to join me in this singing. And if you do not know the song, I’m happy to teach you or sing it for you for a while. May God bless you all, and I’ll see you sometime today as we gather virtually to sing the Lord’s song!