It is the paradoxes that are hard to bear right now.
A butterfly just crossed my window. Before that I sat praying and watching mother blackbird, a pair of collard doves, a pair of finch, a wood pigeon and a dunnock. They are my congregation now. This second sunday comes without gathered church, and I am struck once again at gift of Sabbath. Priests don’t normally get to pray over wounded pigeons on a Sunday. We don’t notice the butterfly going by because Sundays are exhausting. However much delight there is in presiding over the eucharist, preaching and praying, holding the emotions of the community, and watching people get caught up in the presence of God, it is not restful.
So, sabbath is gift. And I wonder what we will learn from it — how we can keep it, when one day the church is free to gather again.
I am aware that right now, God is filling the wells. I cannot begin to name the deep peace, the relief that is rising up through the freedom to shape the patterns of life as it suits me — and not as others need. The books, piled up everywhere, are flashes of joy and possibility rather than a stack of accusations of things undone. There is even a sense of solidarity in the blessedness — awareness of so many friends, suddenly set free to breathe (even if the breathing is in counts of 10 as they deal with their ever-present children).
But the things that I’m missing are equally simple.
This morning, I had an overwhelming desire to make muffins. This particular recipe (cinnamon puff muffins) I learned from a friend whom I’m haven’t seen in decades and wouldn’t know how to find. I had gone down to Pennsylvania for a ball, and she produced the warm muffins for breakfast. Honestly, our paths severed and I seldom think of her — but today I miss her, and all the conversations we never had, and wonder if she is safe.
My father also had weekend rituals. As a young child, we would head off to the Italian deli — come home with packets of all sorts of things, and make chewy-breaded sandwiches made of things I no longer eat, but still remember fondly. Later (when we’d moved to a new town, and a new phase of life) I’d come down in the morning to find him cutting oranges while the waffle batter sat. He’d wait eagerly till I appeared, never once telling me that that his plan for the morning, or that he hoped I’d be down by a certain time. Today I miss him — because the rituals of waffles and orange cutting were our liturgical year.
Right now, what I want more than anything, is a ritual of boredom. Hershe and I mostly ignoring each other, as she naps, and the television plays, with the scent of bread rising from the kitchen. This last one is different — it’s not missing her so much as abject terror that it may never happen again.
As I’ve been learning my way into the strange world of recording video and beginning to make sense of online worship, I have not tread the expected path.
I am not preaching (and I wonder: when will I preach again?). Instead, I am just talking with the congregation, trying to be honest about where we are, and what it feels like to be trying to live in hope right now.
What I found myself saying this week (and it is not scripted — whatever comes comes) was that we need to stay as close as we can to the stories of Jesus’ life — even as we ask God’s help in bearing the terror that we want to hide from.
I don’t even know if I can take my own advice.
It is easier to pray over a wounded pigeon, smile at a photo of a friend and a goat, make muffins. Today’s canticle began, ‘Come, let us return to the Lord/ who has torn us and will heal us.’ I don’t believe that God is the source of our wounds. But I do believe in healing. And my experience is that healing doesn’t really feel like anything good. It feels like tumult. Tears and anger and sorrow and flashes of joy all muddled up. Then one day, you’re out the other side — for now — and the tumult ceases, and life begins again.
Healing is Holy Week. Huge dreams and disillusionments; intimate friendships, betrayals, failures, loneliness and loss; empty silences and hope that rises up in a cry where anguish and endless possibility meet. The jumble is all there is right now — and it’s the best way through.