These are anxious days. Is it possible that it has only been two weeks since this new reality descended on so many of us? Every day has contained such change that it feels as if months have slipped away. Every hour can feel marked by an underlying sense of emergency as we check news and call loved ones.
It’s strange to think back to a few weeks ago when I was planning ahead for my daughter’s high school graduation. Should we host the party at our house or did I need to rent a space? When should I put invitations out? Instead of the black gown and mortarboard in May, two weeks ago as school was rapidly shutting down, my daughter’s literature teacher invited students to line up and walk down the classroom aisle. She bumped elbows with each one, congratulating them on finishing well. A classmate pulled out his bassoon and played “Pomp and Circumstance.” The teacher emptied her cabinets of PopTarts and coffee pods and they toasted one another.
In those first few days home as everything we had planned seemed to fold around us, we ricocheted between grieving our lost plans and full schedules to being cognizant of our many blessings. We are in good health, our jobs transitioned to home, our cabinets are full of food. And yet, there are so many for whom this is not the case. The pain and worry are palpable.
As a Christian practicing a liturgical tradition, it has been particularly resonant for me that all of this is happening against the backdrop of Lent. Lent, the forty days leading to Easter, is a time for inward reflection and outward service. The name Lent comes from an old word meaning “to lengthen.” Lengthening seems like an apt description of what is required of us just now. During this pandemic, like it or not, we are being forced to lengthen ourselves: our patience, our compassion, our time between grocery runs. In addition to these things, I’m learning to lengthen my ability to sit with uncertainty. While busy signing into Zoom meetings and scraping together meals, I’m aware there’s a constant hum of worry and questions just below the surface. Who among those I know will get sick or lose their jobs? Will I lose people I love? Will I get sick? These are questions that no amount of mental forecasting will answer. Instead, I must lengthen my practice of holding still within the questions, of being okay without answers.
“One of the things that I’m aware of is that consistent habits, what some have called habits of grace, can really be helpful especially in unsettling times,” Bishop Curry wrote in a March 16th letter. Bishop Curry’s habits of grace aren’t tantamount to whistling by the graveyard. They aren’t ways to pretend we are okay in the midst of a crisis. Instead they are the tangible ways we lengthen ourselves in these times. From far away, we all watched Italians unite to practice a habit of grace by singing together every day. We have seen the footage of health care workers gearing up in reused masks and garbage bags to head into crowded hospitals in New York City and around the world. Some of these daily habits of grace are heroic and on the frontline, and some, like joining in song with neighbors, happen on the back balconies of apartments. But the invitation to us is there: in this time of anxiety, the financial pain and health concerns, there are hidden gifts. We can choose to develop habits of grace that lengthen our minds and hearts.
For so many of us, these habits will evolve from the small choices we make in our day, as simple and profound as the words we choose with our loved ones (and ourselves) at the day’s opening and close.. I have found great solace in the renewed ritual of plunging my hands almost daily into garden soil and calling out to neighbors as they pass. I watch as two daughters take up sketch pads and another plunges into Tolstoy; my sister reads the Narnia Chronicles by Zoom to a group of eager children and adults every morning; my husband, busy with back-to-back virtual meetings, takes time for tea with our family during the day. Still others in our church reach out by phone at least twice a week to check up and connect, and grocery runs and help are just an email away. Another older couple I know speak nightly with their extended family about their gratitudes for the day. What are habits of grace you are developing or hearing about? Please leave a comment, below.
Friends, may love and mercy surround us; may we feel the love of our neighbors; may we bind one another in prayer, support, and connection that transcends all barriers. May we take a deep breath, tune our spirits to the abiding love that will not forsake us, and, in small ways and large, act to care for this hurting world.