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By the time I left the office on Thursday afternoon to begin my Sabbath rest, I had three sermons prepared for today and they were all across the board. I had one that was designed to be very light, mindful that this is not my “personal platform” in Hyde Park to announce to you the end of the world. Another was a dark reflection, a deep heartfelt and agonized response to the news out of Syria about innocent children freezing to death at refugee camps, caught between a country that wants to annihilate them and another country that wants to use them as barter.
Finally, with diocese after diocese sending out guidelines about hygienic measures for exchanging the Peace of God – and can we just take a moment and listen to that warning: that the Peace of God might actually be ‘contagious’ — and receiving Holy Communion along with warnings from the CDC about how to stay safe from this health threat out of China, I drafted the outline of a third sermon about not panicking, about being mindful of the messages that we hear.
Then, I went home and crawled inside a blanket fort and slept for a day with all of this whirling around in my head.
I tossed and turned all Friday night, thinking about Eve and the Serpent in the Garden and Jesus and the devil in the Wilderness. I thought about how Eve wasn’t even created yet when God warned Adam against eating the fruit from that particular tree, and so she was working off of second-hand information when the clever serpent started to quiz her, not to let her off the hook, but just saying.
Finally, around 2 am on Saturday, I just got up and walked around the house, thinking about Jesus in the Wilderness, that magical place where so much divine conversation and insight seems to happen throughout the ages, to the point that “Wilderness Time” has become its own metaphor for an extreme cure.
And then with my morning coffee, I spent time praying about why I was bouncing around between extremes – that is not my usual thing. In two weeks’ time, this community experienced the deaths of at least six persons: four directly from our pews, and a mother and a sister from one couple. And in the middle of those two weeks, we had a party and then did five services on Ash Wednesday.
The exigencies of life literally knocked me off my center. My center snapped loose like a kite breaking from its string, whipping from pillar to post, and feeling every blow.
So, I went back to the two stories – Eve and the Garden and Jesus and the Wilderness. And I imagined myself like the children from Rabbi Kushner’s story last week, seeing the mirror behind the screen of the Torah Scrolls, wondering what these two stories, along with all the stories from the news, were showing me in my soul.
All three events involve the need for recognizing “border security”, literally and figuratively, “good boundaries” the psychologists might say, as well as a solid foundation.
As Stuart and I have said many times, that “tree” in the middle of Eden that was “off limits” didn’t reduce Eden to being “almost perfect”. That boundary at the center of the Garden is what made it perfect.
One of the challenges in intentional seasons of penitence, such as Lent, is to not distinguish between the things that need to change in our own lives and those things that need to change in the wider world.
We do need to make sure that we are cautious about spreading germs. But, what if every time we squirted that Purell we made it into a spiritual practice that calls us to be equally mindful about other sorts of threats to others’ personal welfare that we so callously spread – racist remarks, misogynistic attitudes, bullying.
The Syrian refugee problem may not be mine to solve directly, but there are refugee issues here that I can address with elected officials and social agencies, mindful of my own family history as with every family in this church who can trace their residency in this country to some desperate ancestral flight to hoped-for-safety here from another country. I can also think about how I so easily close myself off from those who are different from me without even attempting to get to know them, just based on a demographic, political, or economic label that makes them “other” than me.
I go back to Stuart’s reminder that to be “political” is to be mindful of how we live together in “common unity”. But, for me, and especially during this season of Lent, I have been reminded in my fractured dissembling from last week, that the first work of my own soul’s “border security” has to be caring for the foundation of my humanity; that is, my prayer life and how open and continuous is my conversation with God.
Perhaps you are thinking “yes; but I’ve been praying” and I still feel liking I’m being tossed with every wave. So, I want to commend to you a possible grounding device: the list of prayers on pages 810-813 in the BCP. I encourage you, as I am committing to you, to pray the prayers in each of these sections at different times throughout your day. And before and after the words, to be silent, still, or quiet – whichever of those states centers your heart – and breathe, willing yourself to move to God’s wavelength; that is, to see the world as God sees it and to offer who you are and where you are right now to God’s use; to love what God loves.
Friends, as Christ’s disciples, we can do nothing less than show up for this work. And, by God’s ironic grace we can also do nothing more.
The Rev. Cynthia Park, LPC, PhD
March 1, 2020