We seem to be entering a week with some optimism that we have turned a corner in controlling the coronavirus in Australia. Restrictions are starting to be loosened in selected areas. But I find myself still deeply aware that some people, both here and especially around the world, are continuing to enter the darkness and unknown that this health crisis brings. So, in my prayers a feeling of overwhelming burden for the world often presses in. I mostly just sit in silence, holding it all before God. I am comforted by the wisdom of a modern English anchoress writing about her solitary life of prayer:
People often speak of ‘private prayer’,
but really there is no such thing,
because we pray as the Church.
However hidden or apparently hidden such prayer may be,
it is still the whole Church praying.
(Wind on the Sand: The hidden life of an anchoress, p72.)
When we are in isolation, alone, silently holding before God the suffering of our world, we are the Church praying.
May God’s loving presence be with us all this coming week, both here and around the world.
I always feel moved by the opening reading for Friday in the Dayspring Daily Prayers. It comes from Psalm 138:
I face your holy Temple,
bow down, and praise your name
because of your constant love and faithfulness …
In my mind, I find myself doing just that: bowing towards God’s Temple and praising God’s name. And then, over the years as I visited New Norcia and listened to the words of the same Psalm at Vespers, it grabbed me again in a new way. This time it was the lyric beauty of the words from the Grail translation of the Psalms:
I will adore before your holy temple.
I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
I roll those words around my mind, and roll them round my tongue. How deeply they move me still. Do you have a verse that profoundly moved you in the past, and still moves you today? May the God whose faithfulness and love constantly surprises us by excelling all we ever knew before, be with you and bless you in this coming week of self-isolation.
We have just experienced Lent in a time of crisis and self-isolation. Like me, you may have found it challenging to be with Christ in the darkness of his trial and death. But now, as we enter the Easter weeks, we remember how God’s dark mourning for Jesus, his Son, turned into resurrection joy.
So too, our mourning for our world, our community and ourselves through Lent can be touched with new hope and joy in the Easter Sunday greeting of “He is risen!” and its response “He is risen indeed!” Yes! The risen Christ is present with each of us in our separate homes and in our self-isolation.
So, the season of Easter reminds us that in God’s hands the small, daily trials, were we mourn the loss of how things use to be, can lead us to a larger life (Henri Nouwen calls these “our small deaths”). Take time to sit with the Easter message in your journey with God and reflect on how your mourning, too, can be turned into dancing, even if it is a gentle and slow dance.
The small deaths of our life mean the leaving of things we are familiar and comfortable with, and which may have been God-given at an earlier time. But now we move on
The larger life means going into the unknown paths where we find ourselves after our struggle with the small deaths. These unfamiliar and often uncomfortable paths are leading us to unknown destinations, but the Lord says to us, “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” The fear and joy that surround the resurrection speak of this larger life. Again, hope is kept alive by the cultivation of gratitude, a thankful heart.
Those who have travelled the Christian journey for two thousand years know that the Easter Saturday Pause is a mere interlude between Good Friday lamentations and Easter Sunday celebration of raised life.
Prescience prevents us into entering the utter despair and hopelessness of those who experienced the first Easter. There was no expectation of dead Jesus’ resurrection even though he had provided his closest companions a heads up on several occasions. “What now?” would have been the big question emerging from the funk of overwhelming grief.
Something like the perpetual “Holy Saturday” that now has the whole world in its grip – the one called COVID-19. Will there be an Easter Sunday and, if so, when?
Let’s take a cue from the lived out Christian tradition which now confidently embraces Holy Saturday as a time for pause and reflection, trusting that a time for joyful celebration of union is next on the agenda.
As we move through Holy Week and into Easter in these challenging times, we all may be experiencing a bit of cabin fever. I am reminded of the Benedictines’ commitment to stability. It includes a commitment to a particular place and a particular community, and, at its heart, a commitment to seek God in the good times and the bad.
As I seek God in my place, my home, I am reminded of Jesus’s struggle in Holy Week with his ‘place’, his community, and God’s will. So Jesus understands me and my struggle as I seek stability in my isolation, and in my home. I am encouraged by the words of Hebrews:
Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has entered the inmost Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our faith. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible—he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need.
(Hebrews 4:14-16, J. B. Philips New Testament)
As I sit with God in coronavirus isolation in my home, the Evening Prayer for Sunday in the Dayspring Daily Prayers is my prayer too:
The Sacred Three
my fortress be
Come and be round
my hearth, my home.
May God bless you and bless your home this Holy Week.