Stations of the Earth and the Cross

This past Lent, churches in my area were planning our annual Ecumenical Lenten Service. The title of the service was Stations of the Earth and the Cross. The date of the service was March 24th. It was cancelled due to the Covid-19 Pandemic when we were strongly advised to go home and hunker down. Maybe we will pick up the pieces of the service next year. It is hard to predict anything. There are so many pieces to pick up and some of them are pretty well broken.

But I could not drop the idea of stations of the earth and the cross. My broken heart and our shattered world makes every day a little or long journey from Good Friday through Holy Saturday and on some days to Resurrection Sunday. I still cannot gather in close company with my own parishioners, never mind our ecumenical partners. And yet I am called to keep praying, stopping, and weeping alone and along side (6 or more feet apart) others who are passionately disturbed and also overwhelmed with joy as God continues to meet us – in creation, in pandemic, and in physical isolation.

Early on I started sending prayers and photographs to my parishioners. Small ones. Personal ones. Prayers of hope for our world and each other. Prayers of delight in the overwhelming beauty and the quiet. Laments for the sick and dying. Here is one of the early  prayers when snow was still on the ground.

O God you have showed us
time and time again that church
is not a building and not one form.
You told our ancestors that you would rather
be found in a tent
than in a temple
so how not surprising it is to see
that we too are now hunkering down.
Walking the streets
and the trails
talking to each other by computer
sinking into the silence and meeting you
in kindness, writ all over the faces
of neighbors around the world.
Bear with us Lord
as we try to bear with each other
and with this disaster of Biblical proportions.
Settle us. Help us to listen and obey
new requests to stop rushing about
and just stay home. May we breathe deeply
this cool air tonight and rest in your love. Amen.

snowy church pic

Since those early days we have been grieving even more intensely and continuously as our towns and cities rock in protest over the horrific murder of George Floyd, who called out for his mother while he was choked to death. Jesus on the cross looked for his mother too. The prayers of the earth echo both of these men – tears of anguish, tears of grief.

This week on my prayer walk I went through the elementary school yard – now devoid of children. Only the garden seemed to thrive. I was drawn to a peony, wishing that the kids were there to weed the garden and to notice the ants already covering some of the buds. I wanted to lay down in the garden and listen to the bees humming.  I thought of all the children of all races who attend this school and I prayed that someone is with them, holding them in love. This prayer came in the evening.

When I dive into the peony
I surrender all claims
that we are separate
flower and me, bud and bloom.
The sweet fragrance overtakes me
and I know why they say
that women swoon.
As we slide into early summer
one day sweat pouring off our skin
another day frost on the rooftops
peony and I hunker in the garden
our hearts weeping
for the beautiful world
calling out for relief.
My prayer today is a simple one.
Help us to know
that we are One
with you and with each other.
May It Be So. Amen

peony

Today while I was on my walk on a trail leading down to the river, I stopped to take a picture of a cluster of yellow iris and another one of a young warbler who I imagined had fallen out of its nest. I sent one of the pictures to a friend and another to my wife. I know that there is a prayer here waiting to take shape. Meanwhile all I can do is wait.

warbler

 

 

 

 

holding my breath

hummingbird at feeder

Breathe on me breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I would love as you have loved
And do as you would do.
When I am sitting in my window seat
where I have been for the duration of Covid-19
and the hummingbird comes to sip from the feeder
I hold my breath
while it’s little heart goes on beating
as it fills it’s incredibly thin beak with sugar water.
No time to hold it’s breath while feeding to beat the band.
We are holding our breath, hoping that what is happening in front of us
will stay forever – the hummingbird, this time with You, this clean air –
or will vanish, leaving us to put our broken hearts together.
And so, while we cannot yet sing in church,
the virus spilling out with a force we cannot control,
at this window seat, with this tiny visitor as my witness
I sing a prayer, that I will be filled and made anew,
given the courage to do as You would do.

pastoring in the age of covid-19

covid pastoral care

Every pastor that I know is praying on the question of what it means to pastor in this time of physical distancing. We have ramped up our social media skills including use of Zoom and YouTube and teleconferencing. We are on the phone more than ever while our inboxes are strangely full or empty as  people either reach toward us or shy away, closed up as they are in their houses and their fears. We crouch at open windows and sit out on our porches so we can talk to church members and neighbors in need.  Some of us are working at food pantries or giving meals or gift cards to go. And we are, as our church sign says this week, praying full time while worshiping on-line.

church sign

In many ways it is all wonderful even as it is horrible. We witness love in action daily, and we, like everyone else we know, have no clear idea about what is happening and what we should be doing. When these questions plague us (often in the night but it can be any time and place) we do our best to settle into the cloud of unknowing that hovers around our world and listen closely.  Sometimes a small still voice breaks through. Sometimes silence answers. Sometimes a neighbor knocks and we answer with a Word.

Our presence in our churches and communities is not what it used to be. Most of us are guessing that it will never go back to “how it was.” And yet the Presence of God, so familiar with changing times and places, is more vibrant than ever. At least that is what it looks like from my window. I understand now in a different way that our whole lives have brought us to this moment.  I am grateful to be here today.

fragile AND resilient

bog mat
Creator God
help us to carefully step
one by one in the Way
that you have given us
so that we do not damage
the earth and the remarkable
beings that live in it.
Give us the signs that we need
to be safe and not overly fearful
in this big and glorious
fragile and resilient place
we call home.
In this bog
the silence is weighty
the wind fierce
and the boardwalk
is brittle with age.
Thank you
for the subtle colors
and the clarity of your Word.

Signs of the times.

sign

Bridge of Flowers Shelburne Falls MA

My teacher, or at least the ones who put his words down in print, often talked about our human need for signs.  Here is one saying. “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?

The signs of our covid-19 times are everywhere. This place closed. That place empty. These people covering their faces with masks. Those people refusing to comply. The obituary column in every paper across the world growing by leaps and bounds. The air suddenly cleaner and animal and bird sightings more frequent. Streets empty and then, with a word from on high, are opening up again. Signs of the spread of an minuscule and deadly virus. Signs are everywhere but can we discern them?

We know that some signs mean keep out. Other signs mean come near or stay away. Some signs seem to be saying that the planet is breathing again while we are holding our breath. The locked doors on the churches are signs that it is not safe to enter. But are they a sign that the work of the church has stopped? Not anymore than the Closed For The Season sign on the Bridge of Flowers means that the flowers have forgotten to bloom.

It is very hard for us humans to sit with not knowing. To tolerate our own inability to discern just what is happening, what it all means, why it is happening and how long it will last. It makes me think of the meditation teaching “stay on your mat.” Stay in the discomfort. Do not look too hard at what other people are doing or saying. Keep your focus on the teacher and your own space.

Like most people I know in this time of covid-19 I am drawn to signs; hoping for relief. And I am also drawn to the mat and the teachers. The ones who gently point to our tendency to make predictions and to judge others as we would not want people to judge us. My mat is quite small but is large enough to hold my frame.  It is hard to stay mat bound. I want to break out or break into a new place. I want this time to be over. For the signs to say open for business. But the sign of the time that comforts and strengthens me is one that says “this too will pass.” Discernment takes time. And time is what we have.

The Rhubarb Prays Today

rubharb

While we are sleeping
you are working
bringing life back
into the winter-worn soil
and our virus-worn souls.
In these quieter times
when they say that the birds
are singing more loudly
(not just that we are hearing them
but they are singing
to beat the band)
are the worms shouting too?
Today we pause and Creation
stops groaning
and the prophet proclaims.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands. Amen

New forms for new times.

My attention is short these days as I hear is true for many others. I want to read but my thoughts wander or stop completely.  What used to be is not and what never was, is; which makes for an Alice in Wonderland kind of walkabout. Sometimes hilarious.  Sometimes terrorizing.

A few years ago I had a practice of writing a haiku a day accompanied by a photograph. That form which in USA haiku style was good for the time. 17 words with a center core in nature. Now that form escapes me and I have found that when I write it comes in the form of a prayer. Again with a photograph. Words do not do justice to this wonder world.

I am posting the prayers on my and the church Facebook and sending them out on email. Not because they seem worthy of being read but because I am standing on the river’s edge, casting out my line, not expecting to catch anything but hoping against hope for something to catch me. Connection itself. God’s Connecting Sometimes Upside Down Life Savior.

Today’s prayer.  And photo.

bse window

Dear God everything is turned
upside down and inside out.
We are locked away
looking out at our neighborhoods
or standing out looking in
to our neighbors.
Places usually alive with activity
schools and shops and churches
are just about empty.
We turn to You for re-orientation.
Help us in our looking in
and in our looking out
to see who shares our world.
When they are in or out of sight
help us to love them
even if on some days
they frighten us
because they are wearing a mask
or not wearing a mask
are old or young
sick or seemingly not sick.
Knock on our hearts O God
and find us here
answering your call. Amen.