I think that it is safe to say that things have been strange lately. I don't need to tell you why...you already know. However, I have to say that I am feeling the strangeness more now than I did at the beginning. I have been a little distracted since then.
You see, late in February, right before my son's birthday and right before our planned trip to PAX East I managed to injure my back. Long story short, after weeks of trying to stretch it out, and then taking prednisone, it didn't get better. In fact, if anything it got worse. One MRI later it turned out that I had a herniated disk along with underlying congenital lower lumbar scoliosis and stenosis. After a few shots and some PT I am now hopefully on the mend. Things are still a bit of a mess...but they are SO much better.
I spent most of March, April, and May in a metric ton of pain. I slept on the floor in the living room. I stumbled around inside the house unable to manage a walk outdoors. I was able to do my job--ironically--because the pandemic had forced us into “virtual church” so I could preach from the living room as well as sleep there. Otherwise, I probably would have had to take a leave of absence for at least a couple of weeks.
In most ways it was pretty depressing, particularly with all the chaos going on around us. However, it did keep me focused. I am grateful for that. I had only so much time to concentrate, so I spent it on the things that mattered most, like preparing the church for it's new "virtual" status and figuring out my own response to the new rules of pandemic engagement.
By the time the murder of George Floyd came to light, along with the national reaction of anger and mourning, I was better able to move--a little--and to take some small part in that response. As tragic as that situation is, there is something in the protests and policy initiatives that has the potential (if we continue to soldier on) to usher in real and lasting change. I am glad to be able to witness what I hope--most of us hope--will be a massive culture shift.
There is a lot I could say about our situation right now as a country. There are plenty of memes and such out in the ether that complain about the horribleness of this year. There are, though, glimmers of hope in areas that haven’t seen much of that in a long time. This year could be the year that we re-think racism and law-enforcement. We might just even re-think our responsibility to each other. There is a chance--a chance--that historians will look back at the many trying moments of 2020 and say that this year we are in--instead of being cursed--is when everything turned around.
But back to the strangeness for a moment; as the pain slowly becomes manageable, I find that I have more time to think and to read. However, much of that time is taken up with...anxiety. A couple weeks ago, when I was still sleeping on the floor, there were tasks to do. There were too many tasks, in fact, for me to sometimes manage them all. I had to concentrate on the problem before me. I had no time to reflect.
Now...now I have time and that isn’t always a good thing. I have been humbled, physically, emotionally, culturally. The next couple months are wide open for many. I look into the future and it isn’t all that clear where to go or what to do.
I am anxious about how to socially distance this summer and beyond. We talk about it as a family pretty much every night. We also talk about race. I worry about how not to get sick or get others sick. I am worried about how to be a good ally in the days, weeks and years to come.
I also want to be a good pastor. That means figuring out the waves and tides that will push us one way or another. It is always pushing us away from a world that may never be the same again--I can live with that--and toward something...as of yet unknown.
Anyway, I don’t miss the darkest days of this back problem. However, as I move back into the world I must say that I am impressed by all of you. You, dear reader, have been doing the hard work facing right into the storm. I am amazed. You have my support and my love. After all, we are all anxious with cause.
Lately I have been strong enough to take short walks around the neighborhood. There is a slow-moving log that until recently hung over the dam near my parsonage on the Charles. We all watch it with great intensity. My neighbors wave at me or stop to talk. To them I have become the masked version of a 19th century parson stumping along on my cane, drawing humorous comparisons to Horatio Alger Sr., who passes for famous in these parts. He was pastor during the Civil War, so at least contextually it is fitting in this hot summer to come. Then I get back to work at my standing desk.
People, we will keep fighting on, won’t we? Even though we are afraid. We come through these times of pain together doing our best to manifest the love that we and the world need. Then, in the end, we are that much closer to the Commonwealth of Heaven.
I have work to do. I am glad you are working, too.
So I am posting this Sunday's communion service here on the blog as I have made a number of edits to our usual service. There are a number of new prayers which would be great to recite in unison. This is hard to do in virtual worship so in case folks want and advance run...here they are. The entire communion service is based on a much-adapted (first by my predecessor, M. Boardman, and then by me) service from the Iona Community in Scotland. Some of it still remains so it should be a least a little bit familiar...
Eliot Communion June 7, 2020
Minister: We gather today in spirit, mindful of the trials of the world, but also aware of the divine abundance that exists within and without us; that waits for us and draws us together even in the darkest times.
All: We gather together knowing that this abundance can and will sustain and strengthen us for the journey to come.
Minister: Thanks be to you, O God, for the rising of this day and for the rising of life, itself. May you be with us in our suffering, may you guide us in our struggles, may you celebrate with us when we find joy, may you love with us when we find love.
For we confess this day that :
All: We have not touched, but trampled you in creation. We have not met, but missed you in one another. We have not received, but rejected you in the poor. Forgive us we pray. God, strong and holy, God holy and deathless, bless us with mercy, we pray.
Minister: Dear God, we recognize the special urgency of this day, when we have found our society tested. As a people we stand on the edge of decision. We can decide to continue along the same path we have trod for so long--ignorant of the plight of the oppressed--or we can choose a new direction, persisting in the act of opening our hearts so as to make an equal space for everyone.
God we pray for the wisdom to make the right choices and we are sorry for the choices that have brought us to this point in time. Help us to act with the abundance of our hearts toward all people, no matter how different they may appear from us. Help us to encounter this world in humility, without the burdens of our bias.
Prayer Against Violence
All: We pray for an end to violence as a tool to dominate others. We oppose it’s domestication and normalization in our society as a means to silence the voices of the powerless. We recognize our own complicity in this cycle even if we have never struck out in anger or self-righteousness. Please give us the clarity of vision to find and end the ways in which we have passively and actively contributed to the domination of others. Strengthen us to resist the temptation to ignore the cries that come from society’s margins in this current moment so that all your people may be healed and whole.
Prayer for the Health of the People
All: Dear God we also pray for those who are suffering--physically and mentally, directly or indirectly--from the current pandemic. Please help us to think not only of ourselves but also of those who we come in contact with, understanding that our perceived freedoms do not make us free if they rely on the suffering of others. Help us to care for each other during this difficult time by strengthening us to put our own conveniences aside for the good of those who are most at risk whether that risk is related to health, geography, race, economic circumstance, or any other measure. Help us to see our place in the interconnected web that binds all of creation together so we might bring about a diverse community of mutual care.
Prayer for the Private Cares of Individuals
All: Finally, we pray for the private struggles of individuals that we may never fully know or understand. We recognize that in the midst of these large, attention-grabbing stories there are still issues of birth and death, of illness and pain, of relationships and of isolation that occur beyond the news. We honor those among us who battle these demons far from the light and heat of current events. Help us to respond with love and care to our fellow humans. Help us to understand that we do not know fully what burdens they carry. Help us to make our world a safe place to share our burdens and find mutual support in our journeys.
Minister: At the Last Supper, Jesus, in sharing bread and wine invited his disciples to share his journey. Today we renew that journey with him and with a world of fellow-followers. Come, enter into communion with the Earth, the sky, the sea and all of creation.
Minister: Among friends, gathered around a table, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke the bread and gave it to those who were with him, likening it to his body, His life, which he gave for us and yet remains present to us.
Eat this bread in memory of Jesus and of those who are near and dear to us.
Minister: In the same way he took wine, and, having given thanks for it, poured it out and gave it to his disciples saying, “This cup is the new relationship with God, sealed with my blood. Take and share it."
Drink this wine in memory of Jesus and of those who are near and dear to us.
Minister: Spirit of the Living God, present with us now, may this bread and wine be heaven’s food and drink for us, renewing and making us whole, that we may be your loving and caring body in this world. Amen
Unison Prayer of Thanksgiving
In the end as in the beginning, God is God: Loved by us, wanted by us, praised by us, served by us, filling us with the gifts of the spirit, Making us whole for the good of the earth. For bread and wine, this place and time, thanks be to God, Amen