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Pastoral letter – 4.23.2020

Dear Good People of Saint David’s,

I remember weathering my first February in Maine. One early morning I looked out of the second story window of our little grey cape house onto the grey snow that reflected the grey sky that was interrupted only by the outstretched bony fingers of the maples in our yard. I said quietly out loud to myself, “So this is what Stephen King writes about.”

A few years later, southern Maine had a big March storm that dumped a foot of heavy snow. Early March is when just about everyone is done with Winter. You know this by how deep the sighs become. I must have been breathing rather deeply because a friend told me, “There is water moving under the ice.” What a calming phrase of optimism: water moving under ice. If there is water moving under ice, the ice is melting. Surely Spring will come among us soon, it assures us. That phrase has since become a coin I keep in a deep pocket to pull it out in times of holding out. A pandemic seems like one of those.

There is water moving under the ice of our present context. However, we do not find it in the plans to relax the Safer at Home directives of our state governor. Nor is it found in the relative sense of routine we are bound to have established. Or in the relief of e-learning or take out meals or a walk around the block. We find it outside.

Yesterday was Earth Day. It seemed to pass without fanfare. In truth I have never really celebrated “Earth Day,” but for the same reason I do not specifically preach about Dr. King on the Sunday prior to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Any and every day, any and every Sunday can be opportunity to talk about the Beloved Community, a Commonwealth of Love (the Kin-dom of Heaven) where all God’s creatures live in unity with their Creator and with one another. And so I write to you this day, to tell that you water is moving under the ice of this pandemic in interesting ways. You may have read the news coming out about some boons from the world-wide lockdown. Air pollution is down in heavily populated industrialized areas. Some people in northern India are seeing the glory of the Himalayas for the first time! People are hearing birds more either because there is less traffic or because the birds are more vocal with less urban noise. Coyotes and foxes are more visible than before in places like San Francisco for similar reasons.

It does seem as though I’m seeing different birds in my yard as well as more of any kind of bird. (In fact, I’ve had a house wren and a robin set up shop in my garden room. Their eggs just hatched and now I’m stuck with the squatters until everyone has flown the coop. I’ll clean up after them later, I suppose.) Yet, I’m also noticing more trash in my neighborhood. The Lowes, Kroger and Target parking lots are littered with nitrile gloves and the occasional facemask. Thinking about all the take-out meals, I see piles of single serving containers—cardboard, plastic as well as Styrofoam. At the very same time many of us enjoying the apparent “bounce back” of nature we may not be recognizing the false hope this provides.

In an interesting article about misinformation on “nature’s reset,” National Geographic talks about how during crisis humans thrive on hope-filled signs. This seems natural enough, right? Don’t we all look for a good word when skies are grey? Don’t we all want to know that water is moving under the ice? I do. And yet, we must be careful. Which is worse: getting false good news on a bad day? Or being told the truth, no matter how bad the day is or will become? This article also talked about how much we humans want to believe in the power of nature to heal itself, regardless of our role in its present broken state. So when juicy videos of dolphins in the Venetian canals go viral, we immediately gobble them up in a kind of euphoria that bewitches us into believing the climate crisis is not as bad as it seemed six weeks ago.

However… Is there any follow through? Have we checked the truth of such a claim? (I can hear my sometimes cynical father say, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”) Do we know how we’ll integrate the lessons we’ve learned about air pollution into our post-covid19 future, especially with everyone eager to get back to work?

The water moving under the ice here is that we can learn. Like it or not, the shutdown has improved certain matters of God’s mechanisms in Creation. Can we maintain these improvements? Better yet, can we experience an uptick in these and other burgeoning recoveries? This pandemic has taught us many things, some lessons have hit some harder than others, with those out of work taking on the load of learning. However, one of those lessons tells us that our green spaces, fresh food and being outside are important to us. I would argue that lesson belongs to humanity, not just to those living in Nashville.

Our routines of commuting that froze our ability to challenge our traffic system have melted away. How will the experience of working from home change this? Our predictable schedule of locking ourselves inside before and after work that chilled our interest in getting outside has broken away, and now we crave it. Will we make the time to walk outside or garden or sit on our porches or open our windows after covid19 comes under control?

This has not been a terribly pastoral letter, has it? Reading back over it, I sound a bit like I’m writing a letter to the editor. Yet, my purpose is indeed to be pastoral, to give spiritual guidance, to pronounce God’s blessing in my love of and service to you. It absolutely sucks rotten eggs that we cannot be together on Sundays to sing and celebrate. It stinks to be isolated physically. It’s lousy to wear a mask and gloves all the time outside the house. And I detest washing down all my groceries when I get them. But we are learning some new truths here about how we live upon this island home of ours. Perhaps we are making sustainable changes based on new values we’ve discovered or encountered. Perhaps we are realizing values that no longer serve the life we were living, but serve the life the Divine overflowed into the creation of humanity.

Love God. Love one another. Love Creation. These truths are the water moving under the ice. I would like to challenge you to tell the truth about what you’re learning through this pandemic. Maybe your learning has nothing to do with outside. Maybe it has everything to do with yourself or your homelife. Maybe you’ve had revelations or dreams that trouble you in unexpected ways. Whatever the case, tell the truth about them. I invite you to tell me the truth about where the water is moving under the ice in your life. Send me an email or let’s schedule a Zoom/Facetime/Skype conversation. I’m dying to know what has been going on with your spirits throughout all this.

Outside the parish window, the rain plucked off all the dogwood flower petals. They seem to be breadcrumbs that lead to the clump of native Tennessee irises. There, one has just opened, and two are getting ready. I’m so glad it is Spring. All this beauty and life—this is what Christ wrote on Easter morning.

Peace be with you, friends.
With much love, Carolyn+


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