What’s the plan? Vacation? Time with family? Dinner out to celebrate a milestone? How about going to school, going to the grocery store, or the gym? What’s the plan? That question is a lot more complicated than it used to be. It’s not enough to have a plan. We need to have several plans: plans a, b, c, and d… just in case… Yep! It’s the ubiquitous COVID Asterisk. Any time we make plans there is that spoken, but often left unspoken, caveat; unless the case load goes up again. Unless we have to lock down, stay home, isolate, again, That stupid COVID Asterisk makes planning anything two or three times as difficult as it used to be, and it loads those decisions up with a level of anxiety that we aren’t accustomed to, a level of anxiety that is just exhausting.
Mother Melesa and I were at a Diocesan Clergy Refreshment Day this week, and there was a pretty standard response to the question “How are you?” There was the “qualifying pause” and then a halfhearted, “I’m all right…” Not, well, not OK, not fine… just all right. As we negotiate the beginning of a program year in the church, planning for Church School, Adult Formation, Choir rehearsals, coffee hour, Sunday in-person/live streamed worship, every decision we make has to be accompanied by a plan b, c, and d. No wonder we were just “all right.” That stupid asterisk just won’t loosen its grip on our lives and it is wearing us all pretty thin! Added to the personal weariness, all of us at that gathering this week know that we are not alone, that the people to whom we pastor, the faithful people in our congregations, the people we love, are feeling every bit as thin as we are. How can we, the clergy, help? How can we ease the burden? How can we offer things that don’t ask too much; and which offer an opportunity for grace, refreshment, and an awareness of God’s presence in our lives, when we are all, every single one of us, so damn exhausted?
Did I mention that the gathering Mother Melesa and I attended was a Clergy Refreshment Day? We were led by Dr. Melissa Perrin, a licensed clinical psychologist, based in Evanston Illinois, who provides clinical consultation for institutions including the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, and who works closely with clergy and dioceses all over the Episcopal Church. She asked a question that I think that we all can benefit from answering in these difficult times. “Who cares for you? To whom do you go to share your grief, fear and pain? Who helps you to get back on track when the train has gone off the rails?” I would perhaps ask that question as, “where do you find home? Where do you feel safe, and honored? Where can you find rest?” Can you take a moment and imagine that someone you love is looking at you with loving concern in their eyes, asking you those questions? If that moment makes you want to cry… know that you are not alone. Know that we all have that deep need. And know that right now, when we need it most of all, it may be harder to find than we have ever experienced. Zoom, Covid quarantines, loving one another by keeping our distance; the learned agoraphobia that has us experiencing other people, groups of people, strangers whose vaccination status we don’t know, as dangerous or even as a threat… It’s hard to find home right now.
Did I mention that it was a Clergy Refreshment Day? Yes. Refreshment. Acknowledging that it is so hard, knowing that “home” it is such a basic need, puts us in a place to take some action; to reach out and to reestablish old connections or to create new ones; to make a home for ourselves where we are safe and cared for, honored and beloved. No. I haven’t forgotten that I spent the first three paragraphs of this article acknowledging how exhausted we all are. I know it will not be easy to muster the energy, to find the time, to risk reaching out to someone who is likely just as exhausted as you are. But implicit in the acknowledgement of how exhausted we are is the urgency to do something about it. Of all of the things on our priority lists right now, is there anything more important than finding home, that place in which we live and move and have our being; the place where we are fed and nourished so that we can go out in to the world and do the work that we have been given to do, caring for the people around us and helping them navigate their way home? Our partners, our children, our extended families, our coworkers may be dismayed at first. It may seem like we are abandoning them to take care of ourselves. But the truth is, and they will recognize this when we return to them refreshed, restored and well, that they will benefit from our self care too!
This is urgent work! It’s not likely that this stupid Covid Asterisk will go away any time soon. We don’t know how long we will be functioning with the need to have plans b, c, and d at the ready. So my friends, there is no time to lose. We need to take a moment to re-center, re-ground, re-establish that sense of home, where we live and move and have our being. Do it today. Make a list. Who has cared for you in the past? Are they still around? Can you reach out to them? Identify the physical places that help you to be. Is it near the water, among the trees, in a specific room or building? Identify them and plan a field trip. Who would you like to walk with you? Assume that they are experiencing the same need that you are and reach out to them. Offer them a reciprocating relationship. Ask them to explore the possibility that you might be there for one another, to walk together through these strange and difficult times. Be up front. Tell them that you are hurting and that you are reaching out because you hope that they will resonate with your story and that they will benefit from a shared journey as much as you will. And then finally, don’t forget to pray.
Pray. I’ve been hinting at that all along. Live and move and have our being. Grounded. Centered. Home, where we are safe, honored, beloved, and may find rest; fed and nourished so that we can go out in to the world and do the work that we have been given to do … Imagine yourself as the prodigal
child, returning to the parent who waits; who comes running down the road to greet you as you approach; who calls for a robe, sandals, and a ring, marking you as a member of the family; who kills the fatted calf and throws a party because you are home, home at last. I don’t know what that will look like for you, how you will pray, how you will allow yourself to relax and fall back into God’s loving embrace. If you need some help with that, with opening that door and reestablishing that line of communication, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or with Mother Melesa. That’s why we are here! But I can share with you something that has worked for me in the last few months. Psalm 63 is my favorite of all the psalms. I have verses 1 – 8 memorized. It is one of my go to prayers. In these last months, as the need for home has deepened with in me, so has my need to recite these lines. Just saying them re-centers me, helps me to feel safe and cared for, brings me home. Finally, it is here, with you all, at 1833 Regent Street that I find home; in our prayer, our song, our thanksgiving, and in the bread, the body that is broken for us, making us whole and making us one. It’s still Homecoming. Our doors are still open. Come home to the one who is always rushing down the road to welcome you home.
1 O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
2 Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
3 For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
4 So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
5 My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
6 When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
7 For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.