Holy Week(s) in Quarantine
Man, I'm struggling. Not simply as an extrovert who feels cut off from civilization, but as an actively tech-avoidant person - I have my reasons - forced to engage with others via digital means. And now as we move into the Holiest week of the church year, the culmination of our faith, the world series of liturgical events, we're forced to turn in our front row seats to the most sensory oriented ritual experiences of our tradition for a screen and a sound bar.
As some of my colleagues in ministry have taken to the interwebs with zest for new life and possibilities, my creativity seems to have gone into hibernation while I work through my famine of physical connection. Zoom memberships have skyrocketed as seemingly every organization or group moves to video conferencing for their main source of communication. I subscribed, and have been utilizing it with appreciation and disappointment. It's better than nothing, I suppose, but I am longing for reality, not the virtually real.
In John's gospel, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that "the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem... the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” I keep reminding myself of this as if it is supposed to offer me comfort. I keep reminding myself of this when I consider the empty sanctuary up the street from my home collecting dust, and the sick parishioners that I cannot visit because I might be a carrier of the virus.
The truth of the matter is that, yes, God is spirit, and we can worship God anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves because worship comes from our faith, not from our locale. Our individual worship of God does not depend on presence or participation of others, but rather on our internal orientation towards God. But on the other hand, we learn in John's first chapter that God is also flesh. God is very fleshy in the real human person of Jesus Christ. The birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus are all very in-the-flesh realities. Our orientation towards God, steers us towards God en-fleshed in others, the weak, the suffering, the despairing, to those we love, and those we loathe. God's people will not worship on Mount Gerazim or in Jerusalem because God will be worshiped in the encounters of love and compassion, reconciliation and restoration of God's creation because when our spirit-filled actions are correctly oriented towards God's will and love for God's people, God is glorified.
God is flesh in the Body of Christ, the Church, who is you and me. God is in us, by the outward sign and the gift of grace in baptism, through water and Word and the Holy Spirit. We bear the incarnate God in us when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion and are sent to live among others proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. Worship of God is not simply in spirit, but also the very fleshy activity which grace compels us to for the sake of the other. In the midst of this Lent, however, out of compassion for those whom God's spirit compels us to love, we must fast from much of the incarnational activities of worship that gives our spirit life.
I hear Jesus from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" the experience of apparent abandonment, isolation, and loneliness. I too, feel cut off from the Source. I know, ironically, that I am not alone in that.
Easter Sunday will come and go and we will still be living Lent. Despite solidarity with the entire world, we will still be living with a certain depravity that challenges us to our human core. It can certainly help, but no amount of virtual-togetherness can cure this, and in may cases, it can make it worse. And for all of my contemplation, journaling, and prayer of these last days, I have only been led to one thought, or one Taizé hymn, if you will,
"In God alone my soul can find rest and peace, in God my peace and joy.
Only in God my soul can find its rest, find its rest and peace."
Perhaps our inclination to connect with each other and get super creative with how we utilize social media, or Zoom, or whatever, is less a solution than we think. Of course, whatever we produce will not be as effective or meaningful as if we were together in person. Certainly, they can be meaningful, but it'll never be the same as being together in person. And to be completely frank, from my perspective, the novelty wore off with my first zoom conference when I, the host, lost my internet connection. Furthermore, we are inevitably spending so much more time on our screens, is it really healthy for us to produce more reasons to be staring into the digital light? I don't feel good about it.
I'd like to suggest an alternative. Turn off the screens. Obviously not when you're on them for work, but turn them off at every opportunity that you don't need to be on them. The first thing we see when we log on is fear and information. It can be too much and our mental health demands we curb the amount of media we consume when there seems to be "nothing else to do."
If, "in God alone my soul can find rest and peace," then... rest in God. What if we reasoned with all the musts, shoulds, and have-tos and took the opportune moment (the kairos moment!) we find ourselves in and open ourselves wholly to God.
This all may be difficult. It means something different for each of us. But for all of us it means discerning the real distractions that keep us from recognizing God's presence and weighing the pitfalls of allowing them to continue to consume us. Many of these distractions have been thrust upon us, but many - I'd bet the majority - we have created or at least permitted for ourselves. Which begs the question, "Why am I ok with ignoring or compartmentalizing the presence of God?" That is a question for Lent if I ever heard one.
As I said at the beginning, I'm struggling. I'm struggling to figure out how to be in this new normal, at least for the season we're in it. I'm grieving the absence of the Easter Triduum, which has been the pinnacle of my year since I was a kid. I have been coping in some fruitful and some not so fruitful ways, but I remain unconvinced that more screen time is the solution. (More irony for you as you read this from your screen.)
Ultimately, if God is ever to speak to us as a people, why not at a time when everything is shutting down around us and we're locked indoors. While we worry and pray for those who will become sick and those who will die, the Spirit is rattling the shutters, breaking in to be among us while we may be occupying our time instead of preparing ourselves to fulfill our purpose.
There was another group of people who were locked indoors at a time of great fear when the Holy Spirit came blazing through and rested upon those inhabitants. They went on to spread the gospel from a country the size of New Jersey to the eastern hemisphere. Just saying...
...maybe this June will be a new Pentecost.