When I am stressed, the walls go up. Walls between me and others, between me and God, even between me and my own feelings. I “social distance” from myself. I curl into an un-feeling, un-thinking ball of existence. This dissociation, whether a defense I learned in childhood or part of my DNA, is as automatic as it is formidable.
It takes a strong persistence to bring me back into awareness. I must begin where I am at this moment… noticing… being:
It is a beautiful, grace-filled place in which God has given me to cocoon. A Maui breeze lifts my hair from my face. Whales play in the distance, a sparkling playground in shifting shades of blue and purple. Wispy clouds drift above a bank of white lightly obscuring the island of Molokai across the channel. There are wind chimes tinkling in the breeze, beneath birds chattering and the rhythmic drone of the oddly similar sounds of road noise and ocean waves.
So peaceful a scene and yet…. there is something else in the air. Anxiety permeates amid the peace and that is what I shrink from. We are in quarantine, sheltering from a global pandemic that engenders fear and uncertainty in every household. For some, the fear of death holds sway. For others, the disquiet comes from the uncertainty. Is this something we need to endure for a season or is it the beginning of a new normal? It is the unknown that frightens us, we who like organization and control. Even if we knew our control was an illusion, it was ours and it was comfortable. Now the illusion is laid bare. There is a silent invisible virus that, at this moment, has no cure and is spreading throughout the world. For those of us in the high-risk category, this is a stark reality. Never before have we needed to rely on others’ responsibility to literally keep us safe. And for us in the US, recent political turmoil has revealed how little we trust one another.
These are the thoughts that have kept me in bed till noon, that fill my hours with binge-watching and computer games, any means to shield me from this despair.
Like the wind-chimes tinkling beneath the louder sounds, there is a whisper that reminds me there is more. There is other. We are not alone on this planet. We are not doomed to kill ourselves off with our in-fighting and irresponsible disregard for our environment. God has stepped in at crucial times in our human history to remind us that He is with us. God, neither male nor female, not subject to our human chemistry, nevertheless lets us describe Him in our image so that we can relate to a fellowship of being beyond our imagination.
God became one of us in Jesus. God put on our flesh, became something altogether new to show us how to find our way into a more whole existence. The offer hasn’t changed in two thousand years. We are still invited. Every day. In every circumstance. In this circumstance.
What does it mean for me to live in God’s presence today? First, He draws me out of my cocoon. He lifts my head with a forgotten song before I’m fully awake. He whispers a private joke as I stumble to get dressed. He leads me outside, to feel the breeze and watch the whales play. He reminds me that He is in the breeze, in the birds’ chatter.
When the anxiety begins to arise, He reminds me that He is not freaked out by Covid-19. We name this thing, to try to control it, to assert our power over it. Jesus demonstrated that God holds the power to control our natural world. And He invites us to share that power. Jesus showed us that not only is God interested in us, He chooses good for us. He brings healing, He restores what was lost, He fixes the broken. Love is the power Jesus preached. Love, the always-hoping, always-believing, forgiving, restoring love.
Yes, it’s a scary time. But John reminded us that love casts out fear. Not by denying it, but by looking at it with Jesus. Like a parent shining a light into the nighttime shadows frightening a child, Jesus invites us to look at our fear with Him. Death itself is a great unknown, full of more uncertainty than even the time in which we find ourselves. Will I be alive on this earth a year from now? I cannot be certain of that today, anymore than I could a year ago. Yet why does this frighten me more today? Because this time there is a name, there is precedence. Is God greater than Covid-19? Is God greater than “high-risk”?
I’ve been noticing these days that most of the “experts” are my age or younger. As a child of uneducated parents, I was taught to revere medical and theological professionals as the next step down from God. Authority was to be obeyed without question. As an adult, while I can appreciate a person’s education and experience, I do not automatically defer to them. I consider their expertise in my contemplation but take responsibility for my own choices. That autonomy is a precious freedom that I believe God intends for all His children.
Does this mean I ignore sound medical advice, ignore science? May it never be! (for fans of the NASB Ryrie Study Bible) Seriously, I would hope every Christian would lead by example in taking to heart our duty to care for both our planet and each other. Now that the stakes are so high in this pandemic, perhaps we can clarify that our individual responsibility to our fellow humans start with wearing gloves and masks and social distancing. I do this to protect you, even if it’s inconvenient for me. But it doesn’t have to end there. If I lay down my rights for the good of others, just as Jesus lay down His life, people will see the sacrificial love of God. They will see a love that doesn’t insist on its own way, but goes out of its way for them. Who can resist such a love?
My peace, my trust in Jesus comes from a conscious surrender of my life into His care. I do not fear His punishment for my poor choices in life (of which there have been, and continue to be, many.) Nor am I anxious to shed this mortal coil. I have things I’d like to do, things I’ve been procrastinating on for many years. I think these are good things, God things. Still, I must hold them lightly, ever aware my ways are subject to His. It is when I clutch my plans, my hopes, my vision of my future that I can miss what He is actually doing. I’ve spent entirely too much time bemoaning the loss of what I thought was supposed to happen. Now I’m thinking it’s better to plan less and trust more.
I believe heaven is not a place in the sky but another dimension, perhaps even surrounding us here on this planet. When Jesus talked about God’s kingdom on earth, it certainly seemed like He was saying it was here. Love is the language and currency of God’s kingdom, and love is the energy between the Trinity and the fellowship into which we are invited. It begins here, now, always now. It doesn’t wait for death, nor is it deterred by it.
Love collapses my walls today. Love reaches in, lifts my head. Love says, “I’m here. Don’t be afraid.”