“Please use caution when opening overhead bins as items may have shifted.”
That’s how this past year or more has felt for me.
The turbulence, the bumps, and the sudden drops in altitude have displaced the internal cargo. I am not the same person I was. I’m beginning to realize that I’m profoundly different than I was at the beginning of 2020. I think we all are.
But I don’t think we quite realize how much internal shifting and movement has happened. I suspect we’ll be figuring that out for quite some time. As we continue through this, I’m still taking stock of how all of this has and continues to shape me.
I am thinking about this past year because that’s how time is divided for me now. There was life before the pandemic, and there is life after the pandemic.
We are over a year into the shared experience of this pandemic. There were initial reports of a mysterious virus from China. Then we saw the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. There were the images of bodies piling up because of COVID-19. Lockdowns. Masks. Denials of any real threat. Confusion. So many things canceled and the grief of all those losses, and the grief of losing friends, loved ones, and fellow citizens. Isolation. Depression and anxiety. Increases in drug use and suicide. Devastating economic impacts. Divorce rates have soared across the globe.
Many houses of worship were empty. Maintaining our communities and a sense of connection became difficult for many. I was a priest in a parish and we did not have gatherings for half a year. I gathered with the other clergy and a few other people on Sundays in an empty church to broadcast Morning Prayer on the internet. It felt empty and awkward for me. For some it was incredibly meaningful. For others, watching a service online wasn’t that appealing.
We have all experienced the broad and general experience of living through this pandemic, but each of us have our own stories of change and disorientation within the larger shared experience of this past year.
I was laying on the couch in the fall, scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post about a mutual friend. It was their name with a lot of crying emojis. I asked what was wrong and a few minutes later a friend called me to let me know that Melissa had died by suicide. I don’t remember much of the conversation, just the eruption of sadness and hot tears, and my wife coming to sit next to me as the tears continued to flow.
A few hours later I received a call from a parishioner. Their mother had been under hospice care, and she was near death. So I found myself there that evening praying with the family. I have known death and have been around it as a priest. I offered hope just by being there in my black clergy shirt and collar.
I thought about Melissa and her clergy shirt and collar. And I felt empty. I was sad to think of what depth of despair or pain she may have been in before she died. And I was afraid. In addition to the grief and sadness I felt about Melissa’s death, I suddenly found myself terrified at the thought of the possibility that I, one of her black clergy shirt and collar wearing friends, might find myself in the same place.
Moral injury from a mentor. A major vocational change in becoming a chaplain in the military. Not exercising my sacramental ministry as a priest during this pandemic time. The spiritual rhythms that made up my rule of life have been deeply disrupted, and I’m not so sure I’m supposed to pick them up where I left off before all this happened.
Faith is a funny thing. It’s hard to put our finger on it exactly. It’s placing our trust in God. It’s that and more. It’s sometimes a word we use to encapsulate the whole of our lives, like a container that holds all that we carry through this life. It has all shifted for me. And I’m beginning to think that’s okay.
After all of this shifting, I can tell you that I’ve never had less certainty in my life including my relationship with God and my understanding of the world and my place in it. But I do find myself being drawn more to those three virtues Saint Paul mentions: faith, hope, and love.
I don’t have certainty, but I do have faith that God is in the midst of all of this, in the bin that is my life and yours. I find hope in that. And as always, I feel drawn to love, even though I am so anemic in the sharing of it.
God’s blessings to you and yours in this pandemic world we are living in. I hope you continue to find the support you need, and that you’ll be gentle with yourself and aware of how things may have shifted within you, along with the faith that God is in the midst of it all.
What internal shifts have you experienced during the pandemic?