Rector's Ramblings May 27, 2020
I have started running again during this pandemic. One of my sabbatical goals was to get back in shape and lose some weight. I was going to achieve that through lots of walking and hiking and biking as we traveled. As plans were changed, I decided that I still wanted, no, needed to get back on track with exercise and healthy habits. This pandemic time has not made that easy in some ways. Pandemic snacking is like hurricane snacking, only it doesn’t end after a few days! But, carving out time to exercise has been possible, so I’ve done it, and it has been going well. I achieved a goal I had set for myself this week, thinking that it might take the whole summer to do it. So, it’s a new goal I’m chasing.
Over the weekend we allowed our youngest to get together on the Sea Island beach for a physically distanced visit with a friend who had moved to Atlanta last year. While everyone was spread out on the beach, I decided to get in my run. There was a large storm moving up from the south, so I ran north. I realized I hadn’t run on the beach for a long time. I might have run on the beach in my first couple of years here, but not since. I forgot how much more work it takes to run on the sand.
The first issue is that I wasn’t wearing shoes. I had to watch for shells and dead jellies and anything else that would be unpleasant to step on. It was a constant heads up, or rather heads down, effort from start to finish. Also, for all that sand is more energy absorbent than asphalt, without shoes to help cushion my feet, it jarred the joints a bit more. I had to adjust my stride and my footfalls to make sure I didn’t hurt myself. Some of the sand also moves quite a bit underfoot, which means that I was losing some of the energy being produced by my muscles as the sand shifted and compacted. I didn’t get as far with the same effort I might use on a sidewalk. Everything was harder, slower, and more difficult.
Sound familiar? Even after more than two months of dealing with this pandemic, I hear from folks and read articles about how so many things in our lives are just different. We have to work harder to achieve the same results. Things take longer. Simple things are more complicated than they used to be (hello grocery shopping, I’m looking at you!) It’s frustrating, maddening, and sometimes disheartening all at the same time. Then there are those who tell us that the worst is yet to come! There will be a lot more sick people and more financial fallout in the months ahead. But even that fits my experience, too. When I turned around on the beach to run south again, I had to look head on into a massive thunderstorm, watching the lightening and listening to the rumbles that warned it was getting closer. It can feel like living with this pandemic is like living under a big dark cloud that grows bigger and darker by the day.
Clearly I survived! It was raining by the time I got back to where I started, and everyone had left the beach. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was worried about getting struck by lightning by the time I finished. Some of the bolts were within a mile or two – too close for safe comfort. I did get back safely, though, and went on to run the next day, too. Once we find ourselves in the middle of a run with a long way to go to get to safety, we really don’t have a choice to stop. We have to keep running and deal with whatever comes our way. We might also say a prayer and ask for a little strength, for a burst of speed. I wasn’t scared per se, but I was wary, and I made a mental note not to repeat this adventure again if I can help it.
This week we’ve been working on drafting reopening plans for Christ Church. We won’t reopen until July at the earliest, but we’ve begun planning. All the work we’ve done so far pales in comparison to what lies ahead in terms of effort. As we take into account the recommendations for churches to reopen and apply that to our facilities and our congregation, it’s going to feel like running in sand. Never mind that the recommendations will likely change between now and July. Just knowing what we know now tells me that what would have been routine a few months ago will be a monumental task involving new practices, extra communication, retraining staff and volunteers, and all without guarantees of safety. No matter what we put in place to reduce risk, we won’t be able to eliminate all of it. That last reality is the dark cloud aspect of all of this. No matter what we do, how fast we run, or where we step, that cloud will hang there over our heads growling at us for quite a while.
None of that means we don’t try, however. It doesn’t mean we will all sit at home and wait for a year or two. Some of us will, for that is the safe course and best advice for those individuals. Little by little, though, with as much safety as we can reasonably provide, we will begin to come back together and pray and praise God together. Eventually. Lists that try to categorize risk for certain behaviors during a pandemic tend to suggest that church attendance comes with higher risk than many things, like shopping or visiting with a friend on their porch. Full “normal” church services like the kind that were common as recently as February will not be normal again for quite a long time, based on available data. We can’t wait for that day, and we won’t wait for it, though. When the time is right, we’ll start back slowly. Our bishop-elect describes the process like using a dimmer switch. We may have shut down like switching off the lights, but turning them back on will be a slow, gradual process.
The sand will continue to shift underneath us, and we need to be prepared for that. We need to have realistic goals that we are flexible enough to adjust or change as needed. Some things will go better than we plan for and others won’t. Through all of it, we’ll get stronger, even as we use muscles we haven’t used before, or at least for a while. I learned a long time ago that I don’t always like running while I’m doing it. But I love how I feel when it’s over. Not just from the chemicals released in my brain, but because I feel like I’ve achieved something. The Church is in the midst of achieving something right now, although it will be a long time until we can say exactly what it is. In the midst of our struggle to accept our circumstances, in the midst of grief for what is lost, we also know joy and blessing, and a new birth is taking place in the Church, too. What is being born is yet to take shape.
I can’t help but think of the footprints in the sand poem that I first heard as a child. You know the one, where they guy complains because there’s only one set of prints and Jesus says, “right, because I was carrying you!” Let’s be honest. Those footprints on the beach are ours and ours alone. Jesus didn’t carry us. Don’t hear me wrong. Jesus always goes with us. But let’s be honest, no one runs on the beach unless they have to! I think Jesus has earned the ability to float along beside us as the miles tick by. In all seriousness, we’ve got all the help we need for the journey we’re on. Because of that, we don’t need to run this race with our head down, but with our head up, looking to the horizon and the sun that rises there even now.
Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.