Preparing our hearts for transformation in the “sacred time” of pandemic . . .
I had several contacts yesterday regarding a poem that I shared in my homily. Written back in March, when we at Trinity were initiating plans to cancel worship for the first time in the coronavirus health crisis, Lynn Ungar’s poem is simply entitled “Pandemic.” Before most of us had been asked to stay home and shelter in place, Ungar’s vision was to respond to the emerging crisis with love, not fear.
The wisdom of the poem speaks beyond the confines of our COVID-19 separation; many of the other ‘viruses’ that separate us in this life could be likewise addressed.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
—Lynn Ungar 3/11/2020
The context of my sharing of this powerful little poem was inspired by yesterday’s Gospel parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). With Jesus’ command, “Let anyone with ears listen,” Jesus’ followers are urged to ‘prepare the soil’ for the seeds of the Kingdom of God that our Lord sows, to prepare our hearts for the indwelling of the Spirit. “Promise this world your love,” Ungar writes, “so long as we all shall live.” Her directive comes during a time when one could choose to see nothing but ‘bad soil,’ and the inability for something good to thrive and grow among the ‘weeds, rocky soil and scavengers’ that characterize our COVID-19 world. But what if this time in the wilderness of global pandemic is perceived as a sacred time, a deep Sabbath, in which the Word of God is poised to fill us and send us into the world with a message of redemptive love and life?
I also shared a little Hasidic tale in yesterday’s reflection. In that teaching story, a rabbi encourages his people to study Torah so that God would put the scripture on their hearts. One of the rabbi’s students asks, “Why does God not lay the scripture in our hearts? Why would God only put scripture on our hearts?”
The rabbi replied, “God knows our hearts are closed, so God’s Word can only rest on our hearts. But when our hearts inevitably break, God’s Word, resting on our hearts . . . God’s Word falls in.”
We are broken hearted for those who face illness in this pandemic, for their loved ones, for those who are front line workers, for those whose employment has been terminated, for those struggling for racial justice, for the lonely and despairing, for sisters and brothers throughout our world whose lives are upended and who struggle in a time of unrest and uncertainty. May we be those who enter this deep Sabbath of pandemic by letting the Word of God into our hearts, that we may extend and share a ‘God blessed’ holy love in this sacred time.
“Promise this world your love,” the poet writes, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.”
Once again, blessings to you on this beautiful summer day. May you be safe, may you be well, and may you be held in love.
It remains a privilege to serve as one of your pastors.
Grace and peace,