A while back a friend posted the following on her FB page:
For those of us raised in rural subsistence communities, this pandemic/social isolation feels like a return to a former life. A life we thought was gone forever, a life that we didn’t know we grieved as we drove to work every day. It is a return to life as it was meant to be.
All those years of scratching out gardens in the back yards of rental houses, and making bread at every possible occasion, never having a bought cake in the house, and cutting up tights because you don’t have an elastic, hoarding jars, saving garden seeds — everyone thought we were a bit crazy. But it was important to do that, not because we needed to at the time, but NOW, we actually know HOW to do this. I won’t need to learn this summer how to grow my first garden and watch it fail. I already did that 20 years ago.
I’m sad for all the loss of life, for all the financial losses people are experiencing, for all the turmoil, and the lonely people in their houses. I know this is hard. I’m terrified someone I love will get sick and die. But my inner voice is very clear “Your grandparents prepared you for this day.” I’m ready for what comes next...
My friend’s words echo true. For most of our married life, Jim and I lived a semi-self-sufficient lifestyle on the farm, in ways very similar to what my friend describes above. We developed habits in those years that now serve us well. We still have a big garden (teamwork: Jim grows and weeds, I harvest and preserve), a freezer filled with our own veggies, a steady supply of our own home-made bread (now with milled flour from wheat Jim grew), and a can-opener that hardly leaves the drawer. We learnt to be content with less when circumstances did not force us to, and our modest income was always enough. In this regard, life in the Covid-season did not change these aspects.
But other aspects have changed, dramatically. Not so much for Jim the gardener (gardening and self-isolation for an introvert go well together), but more so for me the extrovert parish priest. The fact that I have not written a blog for nearly a month is telling. Even my preaching voice has been rendered mute — embarrassing admissions for a priest, a preacher and a writer. It’s been hard. It’s still hard, and painful. I’m doing my best to be open to the technological learning and experimenting via Zoom and YouTube. I’m trying real hard to find creative ways to make pastoral visits on decks and backyards, thanking the warm sunny days for making such visits much easier. But some days I truly feel like an old tattered cloak covered by new pieces of unshrunken cloth that don’t quite fit (Mark 2:21–22). The forced ministry changes simply feel too much all at once.
My people-oriented hard-wiring remains a liability in this season of social restrictions. I’ve had the odd melt-down because of missing in-the-flesh time with family, friends and parishioners. I can be found talking to myself for lack of face-to-face social interaction. My mind goes numb on days with too much Zoom time, when active engagement gives way to the urge to throw a rock at the screen. Research just validated this: Zoom-fatigue is real and inadequate for sustaining relational trust and growth. I’m positive the neuro-pathways in my brain are retracing themselves to compensate for today’s solitary daily existence.
Even with our cautious re-opening of in-church presence of parishioners combined with the weekly Zoom-worship service, I see how this can be fraught with painful challenges. People are so happy to see one another in a space that fosters bonding and community, that they easily ignore the physical distancing. But while one parishioner feels safe because we implement strict rules of conduct, another suffers caution-fatigue and feels insulted that she cannot approach others for a visit. And I feel the tension of needing to be more of a technician than a priest who leads God’s people in prayer and presides over the Holy Eucharist — offering Holy Communion is still months away. Where have those days gone? The daily swim between gratitude for simple blessings of health, safety and love and grief over the calamities in the world continues, while trying to tap a strength and resilience not needed before.
We do grow new spiritual muscle and discover our resilience in times of crises. And life does surprise us, even in the church. My local Anglican colleague and I just finished a 5-week discussion on the meaning and purpose of the Eucharist/Holy Communion/Lord’s Supper/Mass. A virtual community grew among this small group (12–16 people) of Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics who gathered on Zoom each week to learn from each other and from the assigned articles what the Holy Eucharist means to us. When it came to distinguishing between Real Presence, virtual presence, physical presence, all of sudden we realized that our online community became “real” in ways none of us expected — we became the Body of Christ together in our remote walk of faith and in our desire to grow and understand. Was this transformative process not unlike the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord?
We finally hosted our 12-year old granddaughter for three days, her first visit since Christmas. It was glorious to just hang out, go for bike rides, play at the spray park, watch a movie, giggle and shiver before diving into the cool lake water, drool over an ice cream treat at DQ, and more of such mindless fun things. When we have been deprived of one another’s company, we experience each other’s presence more deeply, with more grace, longing and gratitude. Absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder.
And now indeed the garden is showing off its lushness, pregnant with the promise of abundance. The earth feeds us in more ways than we realize when we forget to pause our hectic pace of living. My friend is right: our grandparents still have much to teach us, especially now. They lived through many a hardship, no doubt. But looking back now, there was virtue in their self-sufficiency, wisdom in their reliance on Mother Earth, and freedom in their modest dwellings and lifestyles. While we continue to struggle with the uncertainty of this present moment, swimming among the reeds of grief and frustration, impatience and hardship, lost in a sea of unpredictability, Covid-19 is holding out a daring promise: the old can become new again, setting us free to live simply so that all can simply live.