Seasons in the wilderness

Next week will mark two years since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States. I have retrieved some of my reflections from the earliest stage of the virus’s spread. The same words seem to apply today as we continue to manage this ordeal. While it is virtually impossible to measure the indelible impacts of a pandemic on our lives, our congregation, our society, and our world, it is also impossible to know how grace is at work in and through us during this time to grow us in faith and life.

From out of nowhere, a virus has wreaked havoc across the planet. Its effects have run the gamut, from creating mild inconvenience to causing economic depravation to taking lives. Along that spectrum are job loss; increased family tensions and even domestic abuse; depleted health care workers and the supplies upon which they depend; lapses into addiction and mental illness; faith unraveled; separation from family members who are sick and dying, or geographically remote. In a matter of weeks, this pandemic has cast our world into the shadows of uncertainty and fear, illness and even death.

The psalmist of Psalm 23 knows about shadows, and yet also about finding a way to sing about the goodness and mercy of God even though . . .: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me . . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Notice how this litany of life that has turned vibrant is not recited after having been whisked from the valley of shadows, but right there on location.

As we travel through this season of disruption and distress, I invite you to find your way to the banister of Psalm 23. As you recite and ponder this time-kept prayer, reflect on the ways this moment feels like a valley of shadows. What about the pandemic leaves you sad, frightened, or anxious? Where has your faith been unsettled or felt vacuous? Now consider the psalm’s even though dimension. Where do you see signs of God’s goodness at work, even among the shadows of our global health crisis? In what ways have you sensed that rather than being distant or absent, God seems strangely more near? Where have you discovered a new desire to encourage others? To pray for others? To lend a hand, make a call, join an online prayer gathering? Where have you been able to give leadership in a more purposeful way, even from a distance?

May our journey through the shadows of our present turmoil lead us from fear to love, from despair to hope, from cross to resurrection.

Grace and peace.