When someone is grieving, people share about the stages of grief. When talking about a child growing up, what stage of development are they in? And of course, our current life has stages – what stage of “reopening” are we in and what will the next stage be? On the subject of stages, I realized the other day that there was something else of stages for me over the last seven weeks that we’ve been in this. I look back and see that I’ve had three different stages – my labyrinth stage, my “50mm” stage, and my ND (neutral density) phase. Let me explain.
When all this began, it was mid-March and we were right in the middle of Lent. For most of the remainder of Lent, I found myself at the Catholic center near our house walking and praying the labyrinth there. I thought that I would definitely be finding myself at the labyrinth throughout this “great pause” and I was there most every day through Easter. There’s something powerful for me in walking and praying a labyrinth – the physical action of walking, the experience of drawing closer and moving further away from the center, and the time spent in the center to be still and to listen for the speaking of the Spirit. But the experience doesn’t end there because there is also the journey out. There is a fullness to the journey of a labyrinth walk. Sometimes the process feels like it takes a long time, sometimes it feels very quick. Praying the labyrinth, however, in that period was very much an introspective time for me – it was looking within – how was I feeling, what was this going to be like, how will we do family life, what will we do for worship and congregational life, will one of us get sick, what about family and friends…lots of questions…lots to pray…There were lots of emotions – fear, worry, anxiety, hope, trust, wonder. There were times that I felt very alone in walking and other times that I felt like Jesus was right there with me.
But it felt like an abrupt shift from there to a new stage but not one that I feel like I “chose.” It wasn’t that I decided to stop going to the labyrinth each day but instead something else started to emerge for me. I started using a lens for photography that I haven’t used for a while. It is called a “prime” lens which means that it doesn’t zoom in and out like others. Instead it has one “focal length” at 50mm and is a great lens for taking closeup pictures but also in what creates the “blurry backgrounds” one sees in portraits, etc (technical term for it is “bokeh”). But to take a picture with this lens means getting close to the subject and it means moving to the subject rather than just twisting the lens to zoom in without having to move. And I think in this stage, I was personally doing a lot of that – moving in closer to certain things that were emerging, needed to be explored, and trying to hear what the Spirit was continuing to speak. I was reading, talking, listening, sharing, getting closer.
And then there was a third stage (and quick side note – like other “stage thinking” – these weren’t necessarily linear – yes there was a progression, but each of these stages had moments where they appeared in the others – imagine a squiggly and curving and looping line rather than just a straight line). This last one was a period where I pulled out a filter that connects to one of my lenses that is called a “neutral density” filter. I shared about it in my Psalm 38 video. It darkens the lens to allow for a greater sense of “movement” of things like water and other objects. It is what allows a photographer to capture an image like this:
It moves from a shot that is just about that instantaneous moment to something where one can see the ways that the water is moving. It smooths out the peaks and valleys and shows where the water was coming from and where it is going. And that’s where I find myself right now – in a place of really beginning to wrestle with the “what’s next” questions – what will school be like for my kids in the Fall? What is the long term impact of this upon them, upon us, upon me? What will our community life as a congregation look like when we “reopen”? How will we do worship? Will aspects stay “distanced”? What new things have emerged that we want to continue? What were for a time and ok to leave behind? Like the UCC catchphrase asks, “How is God still speaking?” I have had lots of conversations with people both within and beyond the church about “getting back to normal” (as well as a lot of reading and listening) and the reality is that a new normal is here and new normals will keep coming as we move forward. That doesn’t mean that everything of the past is thrown out but that there has been such a seismic shift from this that there is a total “what now” and “what’s next” happening. I wrote the following to a church member earlier today after she had shared that she was curious about what is going to emerge… “I too am eager about what effect this all has on life, church, school, relationships, society, politics, sports, entertainment, ecology…and the list goes on.”
So what do we do? Back to the creek image above…To accomplish a shot like this takes time – just because one puts the filter on the lens doesn’t give a shot like this. It takes time and it takes stillness. The shot above took 12 seconds with the camera locked onto a sturdy tripod. So, there is a lot of discernment to take place – some of which will be in the short run and some of which will come as we traverse this new landscape.
But that is the path that the church has always been on. While Covid-19 is new, the path of discernment, navigating new waters, and listening to the stirrings of the Spirit is what we’ve always been about. From the first hesitant steps of the early Jesus followers trying to figure out what this new thing was that God was doing to the councils of the church hundreds of years later trying to figure out what this new theology would be to women and men in the Middle Ages who were seeing to keep an active vitality to faith to reformers who were not seeking to split the church but instead seeking to bring it back to central foundations that had been lost. This has continued into the last several hundred years throughout the world as people have worked to understand what God is doing in their specific places of life and ministry and sought to see how the Kingdom of God and the teachings of Jesus can be more faithfully lived out in equality and justice in the here and now and not just pointing to some undetermined time in the future. And here is the reality of all of these stages in the past and the reality for now as well. We don’t do this alone. We do this in community with other Jesus followers. We do this with our communities and neighborhoods. We do this with our families and our friends. We do this with people of our tradition and people of other faith traditions. We do this in the power and in the Spirit of God. In our first “distanced service” on March 15 I shared something that has not and will not change… God is with and God is for. That has not changed.
God is still speaking friends. God is still speaking.
I thank you for having made it this far and I invite you to join me in praying through song using this powerful and beautiful piece called “All Things New”