Wow. Did we ever imagine our lives could be so upended so rapidly by something completely invisible and unintentional? War with Korea, environmental catastrophe, even civil war – those I could have imagined – but calamity not intentionally created by humans? I didn’t see that coming…
Tuesday’s headline in the Aspen Daily News advised us that all nonessential businesses must close or face heavy fines or jail time. This unfathomable new chapter in our country’s history has forced us all to consider what is essential and what is not. I am writing to invite you to consider that, as Christians, daily access to an altar is essential. Stay with me on this…
Last Sunday it was my honor to set the Chapel altar as a sacred space for our online community worship and connecting time – both with God and with each other. As I was lighting the eight candles, I was struck by the powerful imagery of lighting altar candles in this “dark” time. It felt like an act of defiance against fear and anxiety. An act of hope. An act of faith and courage. (If you’re not familiar with it, do listen to Peter, Paul and Mary’s passionate song, “Light One Candle”.)
For centuries, Christians from many denominations have created and prayed at home altars, both individually and as families. The tradition is said to have originated in the time when Abraham spontaneously built an altar – separate from any tabernacle or place of worship – simply in gratitude to God. (Genesis 12:7) The twelfth chapter of Genesis tells the story of how Abraham, not unlike us in this current predicament, was called to leave everything familiar and “go into a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Once in Canaan, Abraham built his altar of praise and thanksgiving. To Abraham, setting up that altar was essential.
Fast forward to our situation today. Might an altar be essential to us, too? I think so. I invite you to create an altar and sacred space where you live. Get creative, and listen to the Holy Spirit (and your children!) and choose what items on your altar would help you feel connected with God through this time. Many use candles, flowers, perhaps a Bible or a favorite picture of Jesus, saints or angels, or even scenes from nature. Some add photos of those for whom they are praying. Make it your own. There really are no rules, just make it personal and meaningful. If you are willing, we’d love to see photos of what you have created. firstname.lastname@example.org
Please know we love you and are praying for you and our entire community and please let us know if you need some extra help or a call.
Several decades ago I along with my classmates were at the midpoint through our 36 month residential seminary training in Tennessee. For the vast majority of us, it was a very difficult time, largely because of the uncertainty of the future along with the extreme academic and spiritual demands placed upon us.
I recall lots of my friends were stressed, in tears, worried about income, because none of us had any, and uncertain as to what the future would hold. Few if any of us knew where we would end up serving.
It was at this particularly shared low point that we were all gathered in a classroom. As we took in yet more information about this and that, it was then we heard a strange distant sound. Over a few minutes, the sound became louder and clearer. It was the sound of singing and of musical instruments being played. The volume increased as did our puzzled expressions.
Then, to our great surprise, the doors of the classroom burst open and the room filled in with seminarians in other class years, dressed up in funny costumes singing a very clear repetitive line. That line. “We are all in this together. We are all in this together. We are all in this together.” This dramatically changed our perspectives and outlook amidst our worries and uncertainty.
The world wide pandemic is obviously difficult beyond description and my seminary experience is vastly insignificant in comparison. But one thing is quite relevant. Indeed, we are all in this together. For every single human being across national boundaries, ethnic identifications, orientations, political persuasions, income levels, lots in life, philosophical differences, and spiritual paths, we are all in this together.
In the midst of hunger, unemployment, illness, fear, boredom, worry, uncertainty and more, we are all in this together and to me, this makes all the difference in the world. It is my prayer that each of us individually and we as human kind collectively, will gain new perspectives, levels of understanding, empathy, compassion, and love for all people across every divide. We have always been on the same boat and perhaps, just perhaps, something will come from this time that reminds us of this profound truth.
We are all God’s children, no exceptions. Can you imagine the global shift if we were to embrace such a truth. And perhaps, just perhaps, the profound losses that we are experiencing along with the new normal will lead us to look at each other through new eyes. We are all in this together.
God created all of creation and everyone in it. That was God’s choice. In response, the choice has always been left up to us as to how we will respond to what we have been given. The path of love or the many others humanity has taken since inception.
Over the days and week ahead, please let us know how we may help you, through prayer, grocery shopping, a call to check in, or simply a reminder that you are loved by God and all of us at the Chapel. We are here for you and we are all in this together.
There is a phrase that appears in scripture more than any other. It is not the phrase don’t sin, or start repenting, or watch out, or don’t do this or eat that. It is none of these. It is a phrase that occurs more than 365 times. It’s a phrase in the Bible that is repeated more often than there are days in the year. And that phrase is Fear Not. Fear Not.
What God has to say to you and to me this day in the midst of our vulnerability is Fear Not.
In the book of Genesis, soon after God calls Abraham, he and his wife Sarah experience a terrible famine. They have no food or drink. In the midst of their hunger, Abraham ends up in a horrific battle in which he must rescue his nephew from tyrants. And it is in the midst of the anxiety of hunger and battle that God says to Abraham, “Fear not Abraham, for I am with you.”
Years later in the book of Exodus, through the actions of evil Egyptian Pharaohs, the chosen people of God suffer tremendous oppression and hardship. The people are forced to work long hours for no wages. They see the waters of the Nile turned into blood; the land consumed by frogs, the air filled with gnats and flies as one plague after another strikes.
Parents search to find words to explain to their children why locusts fill the air and why hail destroys the land and people. And after all of this, the people finally escape Egypt, hopeful that Moses will lead them into safety. As they flee the land, thousands of chariots and quantities of weapons of mass destruction are aimed at the fleeing people. It is at this point that God speaks to His people, “Fear Not, I am with you.”
Years later, in the book of the prophet Isaiah, the chosen people of God have lost it all. Their land has been taken over by an invading army. Their homes have been destroyed. Their places of worship are no more. Friends and family members have lost contact with one another as hoards of people are hauled off by marauding troops into a foreign land. The people have lost everything, a place to live, a means to make a living, and the support of extended family members and friends.
It is at this point of utter despair that God speaks to His people and says, “I, the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, Fear Not, for I will help you. Do not fear, for am I with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you….”
In the New Testament, Peter, whose life had been spent fishing, reels with uncertainty and confusion. He is confronted with a world in which nothing seems predictable. Everything he had learned to count on seems shaky. And it is in the midst of Peter’s turmoil and soul-searching questions that Jesus says to Peter, “Fear Not.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says to His disciples, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body…Consider the birds of the air, they don’t sow or reap and yet God feeds them. Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? If God clothes the grass of the field…how much more will he clothe you…Fear Not, little flock. I am with you.”
Over and over and over throughout the pages of scripture, which is a story about our fragile lives, God says, “Fear Not, I am with you.” Throughout the Bible, whether dealing with death, fear, anxiety, anger, numbness, confusion, hunger, despair, or economic devastation, God says, “Fear Not.”
Although I know it can be a challenge to let go of fear, this is precisely what God asks us to do in this and any time of uncertainty. And let us remember Jesus’ words to his followers and to each of us. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
This last week for several days, my wife Regina and I visited our eldest daughter who is attending The University of the South, Sewanee. It certainly felt like a homecoming as Sewanee is where I attended Episcopal seminary in the 1990’s. It is a special place with wonderful people and tremendous opportunities to learn and grow. While we have not lived in Tennessee for quite some time, it is a magnificent state with much to offer.
Tragically this week, a horrific tornado ripped through the Nashville area causing devastation and death. Tornadoes are not unknown in this part of the world and I remember many afternoons and evenings sheltering in place.
It was also this past week I visited several clergy friends of mine and we discussed the Coronavirus, a threat of another kind with lots of unknowns. Both of these things are poignant reminders that life, while full of blessings and joy, is also indeed fragile and ephemeral.
Over the years living with the frailties of life as we all do, generally speaking I’ve had two reactions to threatening possibilities. One is to keep the words of Psalm 46 front and center, the other is to be prepared and informed and hence non- reactive or panicky.
In excerpts, Psalm 46 reads, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea: though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult…Be still and know that I am God…The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
These words are a potent reminder that ultimately we have nothing to fear because God is God. While terrible things will happen, our destiny and future with God is clear and known. And as God is love, we can trust that love is where we ultimately will all reside.
Having said this, however, it is our obligation to respond to the current situation with resources and preparedness. As our Surgeon General recently said, it is important to be cautious but not afraid.
At the Chapel, we have decided to take some very simple steps, things in fact we should do every flu season. Here is a list of what we are implementing, which is in keeping with health recommendations, as well as guidance from other churches and national church bodies.
Charla and I both use hand sanitizer before serving communion and have for years. This will continue.
Beginning this Sunday, we will serve bread and not wine. When the current crisis passes, we will resume serving wine.
As has been the case, we have hand sanitizer throughout our worship and fellowship space and ask all people to continue to practice good handwashing.
We ask, and this includes staff and clergy, that if you are sick with cold or flu symptoms on a Sunday morning, that you stay home and watch our service online (go to www.snowmasschapel.org). Of course, as always, if you are not well, we also would like to know so we can offer care and prayer.
Some churches have asked parishioners not to shake hands during gatherings, but instead to smile or bow or give a sign of peace with hands. We will leave this at your discretion, but as is the case during flu seasons, handwashing after contacting people in large groups is wise.
We are looking at ways to more effectively serve food following our Sunday service.
None of this is meant to cause alarm or fear. We are simply responding to the situation at hand with how we have been advised with easy steps. This crisis, as others have, will pass. I ask you to please join me in praying for the end of this virus, for healing for those who have been infected, and for the complete restoration of world economies upon which we all depend. Please also pray for the people of the greater Nashville area as they recover from the tornado.
Know I hold all of you in prayer and I am so grateful for each of you and for the Chapel, a place filled with the presence of Jesus, the love of God, and great care and love for one another.