That’s the question I posed rather uneasily to myself in mid-March when the Coronavirus interrupted our lives. My husband and I had access to a modest family home in Connecticut with a magnificent view of Long Island Sound, so we decided to pack up and go, planning for what we imagined would be a week or two away. – The sound of waves gently lapping the beach was much preferable to that of trucks careening down the street outside my Boston living room.
Arrange for mail to be forwarded: check.
Stop newspaper deliveries: check.
Find someone to water my plants: check.
Connecticut here we come!
Arriving at our new place, we settled into a new rhythm. My husband ran his school for children with complex medical needs from our dining room table, checking in regularly with senior staff, parents, state officials, and colleagues via the soon to be almost constant and periodically annoying third member of our household, ZOOM.
And I settled in to settling in, finding which grocery stores offered “senior” hours, where to purchase face masks that might arrive before Christmas, and adjusting to being with my husband 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Who was it, when anxiously anticipating the retirement of her husband, had quipped, “Yes, for better or worse. But not for lunch”? How were we, married for almost 40 years, going to manage this new situation and each other?
So now what? Do we just wait it out? Or is there something more?
Scripture and prayer began to show the way. The Gospel for one of the Sundays before Easter, recounted Jesus’ raising his friend from the dead. “Lazarus, here! Come forth!” An imperative. Was I, too, being invited, even commanded, to leave behind the dark places of complacency in my life, or even just its comfortable routines, in order to emerge renewed and more deeply engaged in life? Invited, commanded, not to just sit around waiting for this time to pass – truly tragic for some, inconvenient for others – but to see in it an opportunity, a command even, to listen more attentively to the Spirit inviting me to new life in a new time.
Another scripture passage, Isaiah 43:19, began to quietly haunt my prayer, “See, I am doing a new deed. Even now it comes to light; can you not see it?” With those words God consoled God’s dejected people who had been carried into exile in Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, encouraging them to believe that a new time had already begun. “What new deed, God? What shape is my “new time” to take?”
Even John of the Cross inserted himself in my prayer, encouraging me to listen and open my heart and spirit to new possibilities, a greater spaciousness. “To come to what you know not, you must go by a way you know not. Growth may not feel like growth, and we need encouragement that there is someplace to go if we are to sail on.” (The Ascent of Mt Carmel.)
The question persisted: “Now what, God?”
Scripture tells that before ascending into heaven, Jesus assured his disciples: “And now I am sending down to you what the father has promised. Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) And then Jesus departed from them. Scripture goes on to say that the disciples went back to Jerusalem, “full of joy.” And yet I can’t help but wonder if even the disciples, gathered prayerfully in the upper room, might also have asked, “Now what?“ What did that enigmatic promise mean? What were they to do? How long did they have to wait? They had work to do! Did they get antsy to leave, to go into the streets and find out what was going on? In her beautiful blessing entitled, “Stay,” Jan Richardson ponders this possibility and suggests to them and to us a calming alternative.
Hear me when I say
All you need to do
Is to still yourself,
Is to turn toward one another,
Is to stay.
In this time of COVID-19 is there not a grace to be had in ‘staying”? Yes, we all want to move on, to get back to our “normal” lives, to mourn the dead, celebrate the heroes and heroines who are helping us get through this, throw our arms around our loved ones isolated in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and then rigorously work for systemic change to address the tragic economic inequities in our society that have left people who are poor and marginalized disproportionately more susceptible to the ravages of the disease.
Yes, but while I have this time – and, please God, I won’t have it again – help me to consider it not as an interruption or aberration but as a through-line in my faith life. Will I open my heart and accept the transformative invitation to find the darkened places from which God calls me? Will I recognize the “new thing” already begun in me and accept the uncertainty of the path going forward, of “sailing on.” Am I willing to prayerfully, hopefully, “stay’ for just a while longer while scientists find a path forward? And when life returns to the new normal, will I welcome the Spirit of God, descending on me anew, sending me forth again to the ends of the earth to bring God’s love and hope to God’s people?
COVID-19 is new, but uncertainty and waiting, two hallmarks of the pandemic for those of us lucky enough to survive it, are not. Nor were they new to the apostles gathered in the upper room waiting for the Spirit, for Pentecost.
Yes, so even as I get ready to return to Boston and move into a new normal with its new challenges, let me deeply remember this time and place, embracing it hope-filled as preparation for the time to come.
Noreen lives in Boston with her husband David. For 22 years while working Haley House, a feisty nonprofit in Boston’s South End, she directed efforts to provide permanent housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. Currently, she is a reflector for IVC and accompanies fellow pilgrims on their faith journeys.
IVC By the Numbers
25 – Years of service to the poor and marginalized
$25.43 – Estimated national value of each service hour
$17,495.84 – Economic impact of one IVC service member’s time, talent, and expertise