No matter the duration of intense destruction, a disaster doesn’t end when the trembling bedrock or raging storm is over, nor when we’re told it’s ok to return home, nor when the body of our comrade is buried, nor when a vaccine arrives. The disorientation, the loss and attempts to rebuild, the crisis of trust and meaning, the ability to imagine the future and act with a plan or vision continues to be difficult long after the peak crisis.
In my last letter I invited us, as we move into the third year of this covid19 pandemic, to think about moving together through this time of extended disaster. I invited us to practice pausing frequently to regroup, because we’re still in the wilderness, and it’s not clear when we’ll be “in the clear” nor what that’ll even look like.
The exhaustion so many of us are feeling is real, and if we’re going to keep moving together (which God willing, we will!) the ability to pause, rest, regroup to look around and assess- not only where we are but who we are together- is critical to our life.
I think of Israel being led back out of exile towards the land they’d been taken away from for generations. While this sort of exile isn’t an exact analogy to what disasters we’re living through, I sense some similar themes as we regroup and notice how the composition of our church communities has changed, is changing, during this pandemic and the disruption it’s causing.
Some Israelites were taken away north, some east, some south, some west and across seas. Their displacement wasn’t all lived out in the same place, nor were the conditions of their exile all equal. Some had it harder than others. Word comes from the prophets that God will now lead the exiles home, creating ways through the wilderness of valleys and dry lands and watersprings. Whatever they imagine as “home,” the reality will not be what they remember, or what their parents or grandparents or great-grandparents remember. Some people were born in the chaos and disrupted life of exile, and are “returning” to a place they’ve never known except in stories.
Some people moving with the company are there because they married the grandchild of an exiled Israelite, who heeded well the prophet’s call to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:5-7) So, the “people of Israel” moving through the wilderness, out of exile, toward the land of Israel, are not the same Israel who went into exile. And yet they are together now, moving together, seeking food and rest together, walking weary miles together, and imagining something, not even sure what it’ll look like. A life beyond this wilderness.
Let’s pause where we are to look around, in as many directions as possible, and assess and reflect.
- Who is here among us? Who is not? What stories are we telling about this?
- Do we feel pressure to “get over” anything to keep moving together? What is it?
- What is a vision for life two years from now that we can describe today?
(knowing and trusting that all, as it always has been, is in God’s hands)
- What in what we’re doing now moves us toward that vision?
And what might not move us toward that vision?
- What do we need right now?
- What song or hymn can we sing more often as we move together?
- Where have you looked for God, or discovered God’s presence, lately?
Faithfully with you in the wilderness,