As we all adjust to a new way of life, as we learn to have church online, as we try to be in community at a distance of at least 6 feet, we are recognizing our longing for the tangible reality instead of virtual images. We are all learning to deal with fear and anxiety in these uncertain and strangely touchless times. We are embodied, physical beings made for community. As we adjust to our new reality, we resist calling it a new normal. We know that deep inside of us we need something more than digital connection, we need something real.
Here at Horizons, our spiritual directors, Shawn and Rob, have teamed up to describe their response to this need. Shawn approaches seeking the real in everyday life while Rob reflects through the lens of Holy Week.
Shawn writes - Many of us are starting to feel “Stir Crazy” and I have found myself carrying stress in my body and pacing for no reason. I know that my soul needs beauty, but I wonder if it needs other things too.
I have noticed that sitting at home I have a tendency to binge watch Netflix or constantly scroll social media feeds (Facebook and Instagram). I have also been watching the news more now than I have ever done before. I think these things give me a false sense of doing something, of having control, but I don’t feel in control during these times of Covid 19 and social distancing. As I’ve noticed my longing for control, I’ve also noticed my lack of trust in God who is truly in control.
So what does my soul need?
I think my soul needs to do something tangible, something real, something physical to ground me in God during these disorienting times. I think I have accidentally stumbled upon this need as I noticed my longing for an illusion of control through numbing on Netflix and Social Media, which may have their place, but it’s not what my soul needs right now. When I found myself pacing for no reason, it was my body telling me that I need to actually do and experience something tangible. I discovered it as well when I have gone on walks outside, played Scrabble with my wife, enjoyed cooking meals, and read a physical copy of a book.
I also think my soul needs a tangible expression of my faith and relationship with God. I’ve wondered how I might embody my spirituality? And, would that be a benefit for me during these times of isolation? In the past, I have used practices such as lighting a candle at the beginning of my quiet time with God, crossed myself, read a physical copy of the Bible instead of a digital one. I took up wood burning to make wood burned crosses, walked a labyrinth or went on a prayer walk.
So in response to what my soul needs in this season, I plan on coming back to some practices that have been helpful for me in the past. Specifically, I will pick back up the practice of lighting a candle to begin my dedicated quiet time with God and blowing it out after I have finished that time. I also want to be more intentional with my walking and make it another time of prayer when I walk for exercise or walk the dog. I want to talk with God and listen as I seek to embody my prayers and literally walk with our Lord. I also want to explore some new avenues or activities to see how I might meet with God in a different way. In the coming days and weeks, I want to explore creating a physical sacred space in my house, a place that I will intentionally set aside and decorate in a way that sets it apart for meeting with God. I will put a candle, a cross, Bible, prayer book, and anything else that I find significant at this time there and start doing my quiet times in that space. Finally, I will try to stay open to God and any invitations He may give me during this season especially as we head into Holy Week.
Rob writes - As we prepare to begin what is usually the most embodied, physical, tactile, image rich week in the church calendar, we are living in the most disembodied, socially distanced, touch deficient time that I can imagine. Even our high definition screens through which our disembodied heads float with mostly synchronous voices remind us how flat and lifeless our little glowing rectangles truly are.
I will miss processing palm branches into the church, singing loud hosannas. I will miss the humbling touch of another in the washing of feet, and I will miss the physical realness of the bread and wine consecrated as the Body and Blood of Christ in the recalling of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. I will miss the richness of a live human voice saying, “Rob, this is the body of Christ given for you.” I will miss walking, physically moving in solemn pilgrimage, on Good Friday in the Stations of the Cross. I will long for a rough wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary to touch and weep in veneration. I will miss the community of preparing for sunrise service, cooking breakfast, setting up chairs, trying to keep candles lit in the breeze. I will miss the joy of gathered friends shouting, “He is risen indeed.” Most of all I will miss the hugs and handshakes, the smiles and laughter, the reality of our human togetherness that no Zoom meeting or livestream can replicate.
I will miss these things and my soul will long for something real and tangible, something embodied and incarnational. My soul will long more the watchmen for the morning. The singing that brings to life these celebrations will remain unsung like the harps of the exiles in Babylon. How can I sing the songs of the Lord in this foreign land of social distancing? I am coming to see this as a season of exile, a season of longing, a season of remembering.
As I miss the celebration of Maundy Thursday with my parish, I will remember the darkened church on a Maundy Thursday over 30 years ago when I heard in my heart the words that Jesus spoke to me through Roger Watkins saying, “Rob, this is the body of Christ given for you.” I will remember the echoing ring of hammer striking nail in our church in North Carolina. I will remember the tears streaking my cheeks as I carried the processional cross to walk the Stations. I will remember.
I will look to the way of Daniel in this season of exile.
I will focus on the physical, tangible things that I can experience. Daniel refused the rich table of Nebuchadnezzer in order to keep his tradition. I will hold my palm cross, I will wash my wife’s hands*, I will walk, I will shout, I will celebrate. Even if it is not the same.
I will order my life around prayer. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for steadfastly maintaining prayer three times a day. We have used the family prayers in the Book of Common Prayer as adapted into Pray Daily to maintain this order in our house.
I will pray in contrition and supplication, interceding for all people, for all nations, and for the church. As Daniel prayed fervently for deliverance, so I will pray, “confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God.” My soul longs for something tangible and real. Perhaps, there is nothing more real than our heartfelt prayer.
What will you write in this season? What practice might you need/want to incorporate into your faith as a physical expression or embodied expression of it? Are there activities you need to add during this season of life as we learn to live into being home more and experience new rhythms in life? Does your soul need to do something more tangible or physical… Something a little more real?
Please let us know how we can pray for you in this season by commenting on Facebook or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
* In our parish, we wash one another’s hands instead of feet. This allows everyone to participate and also recognizes that in today’s culture it is our hands that come into contact with the muck of the world rather than our feet.