One Year Later

Everyone remembers the day it happened to them. For me it was March 12, 2020; the day the world around me “shut down.” I remember those first few days: waiting in line at the grocery store for two hours, monitoring infection maps online, calling members to see what they needed. The unknown was unsettling. Would we actually need to suspend worship? How high would the “curve” go before it could be flattened? Would anyone close to me get the virus and die as a result?

One year later, these questions seem trivial. Yet their source remains: grief.

Those first weeks brought an intense, immediate pain. I grieved the loss of familiar patterns of life, the opportunities I counted on, the milestones anticipated. Now the grief has seasoned with one year of absences. Over 500,000 Americans are no longer alive as a result of this virus. We’ve missed birthdays, celebrations, family trips and funerals. Fifty-two Sundays have now passed without the organ, choir, liturgy or sermon being heard in person. It is too much to count or comprehend. I grieve all of it.

At this point, it is tempting to shift the direction of this column, to acknowledge all the ways our church, community and culture has been resilient and resourceful, to claim God’s sovereignty over all things, no matter how terrible or unbearable. Shifting in that direction would be understandable and truthful. For today, though, I need to resist this temptation; and I invite you to do the same. Sit with your grief and reflect upon it. Make it known, and release the need to relinquish it. Instead, lean on prayer practices or close friends to explore the grief of these past 12 months. Be honest about your grief, and share that honesty with God. Consider speaking with one of your pastors or contacting a counselor. Each of us has much to grieve.

During this Lenten season, the Church remembers Jesus’ life here on earth. We recall that Jesus breathed, walked, ate, slept and grieved. For all this we give thanks because we serve a God who knows what it is like to lose a loved one, a plan or a dream. We follow a God who went before us just to experience what we would go through.

If you’re unsure where to start with your grief, I recommend beginning with a pause. I encourage you to utilize the “Sacred Pause” provided in the Lenten Prayer Journey is today’s eNews. Slow down, take a breath, and breathe deep, asking God to meet you right where you are.

I will leave you with a prayer that has been an aid to me over the past year. It’s called “For the Interim Time” by John O’Donohue:

When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.

In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.

You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.

"The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born."

You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.

Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.

What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.