A facilitator of a Facebook group for church leaders posed this question last week: What are your affirmations about who God is that is life-giving and uplifting in these times?
My response was “God cares about physical bodies.” Now, living in the Great Basin for the past ten years has taught me that some Christians might read that answer and think I am referring to the purity culture. That is not where I am going, and one way my readers can know that is because my scripture of choice is not a go-to passage for the purity culture. Instead, it is about God’s love and God knowing and creating us as physical creatures. I love all of Psalm 139, but this week I have especially been remembering these verses.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
We are, each one of us, created by God. We are beloved. What is more, with the incarnation, God being born in human form, God through Jesus knows what it is like to be embodied. I have to say that a pandemic makes me appreciate the incarnation in brand new ways, and I already had a healthy appreciation for Immanuel, God is with us. All of this is the biblical and theological groundwork for the following suggestions for my parishioners and all the people I care about.
If the first day/weeks of the COVID-19 were figuring out how to help my Lutheran congregation in Southwest Idaho keep worshiping God, then the next chapter was learning all about what pastoral care looks like during the pandemic. It meant changing my expectations for myself (I can no longer go to hospitals and homes and sit with people). My first parishioner has been hospitalized (not with COVID-19) and it is so hard. I feel helpless, even though I know I am not. I have made the mental adjustments. I have reasoned that if phone calls, emails, cards, and Marco Polo messages from friends across the town and across the country have buoyed me in the past few weeks, why would the same not be true for my parishioners?
What I have spent even more time learning about and considering is how all of our bodies are absorbing or coping with the stress and grief in our lives. Some of us already know people who have died from the virus. Others of us are so far grieving the loss of the way things were. We are grieving the loss of human interaction and the needed physical touch that comes with it. We are grieving cancelled events and gatherings. Sometimes I judge these feelings in myself, “those are not big problems compared to actual death Meggan” and yet I know that if a parishioner judged his own grief I would say, “those are still your real feelings and they are valid.” Here is a link from the Harvard Business Review, to an article about the grief we are experiencing that has been making the rounds on social media: That Discomfort You Are Feeling is Grief.
People who specialize in trauma have become lifelines for how to make our way through this chapter. I can sense in myself the toll of everything. I am not as productive as I would like to be. I need more refueling, whether it comes in the form of hydration, conversations, sleep, things that make me laugh, or prayer. I also need to get rid of the stress hormone, cortisol. What was hammered home to me in every Zoom Meeting/Webinar/Conversation I have had about this is that more exercise is good right now. It is not just good; it’s crucial. If I do not get rid of that hormone walking around my neighborhood, chances are I might release it in a conversation with an innocent parishioner/relative/friend/colleague.
One of the things we have worked on in my congregation over the last five years is weaving the language of stewardship into all of our ministry. Certainly we are called to be good stewards of our financial resources, something I will surely return to in a future blog. But as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be stewards of so much more: the natural world, the resources passed down from past generations, our time, our relationships, and yes, our bodies. And if we neglect our bodies we are not much good stewarding anything else and we will not be ready emotionally to care for the people who die during this chapter or care for those left behind to mourn.
So I implore all of us to do the following:
- Build up or nurture circles of support. Use the telephone, video chat, pen and paper.
- Get some exercise every day. More is better. Get rid of that cortisol.
- Get enough sleep and keep eating a nutritious diet.
- Change expectations for productivity–you will not be as productive during this time and that is okay.
In my attempts to prepare to provide pastoral care over the phone, I have been familiarizing myself with the plethora of prayers in my Evangelical Lutheran Worship Pastoral Care book. Here is one for times of trauma:
Let us pray. Our Lord and our God, grant us grace to know your love in whatever we face. Give us patience and thankfulness even in our pain, anxiety, or loss; and move us with compassion and tenderness for our afflicted neighbors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.