I had to think hard the other day; it was the middle of the week, and I was doing something or other—kind of lost in the concentration of the task—and when I was done, I had this sudden confusion. “What day is it, today?”
We laugh because that’s a common question these days. What day is it? What time is it? Whose times are we in?
Stephanie Paulsell’s Faith Matters article in The Christian Century magazine asks the question, “How do we keep time during a pandemic?” She teaches at Harvard Divinity School and normally leads a congregation of students on campus. She talked about the progression of the pandemic and how it affected the church that she was leading, and what she wrote sure resonated with me.
If you recall, we started in early March with knowledge of the virus, by not passing the peace in worship. And then we didn’t shake hands. We then started to think about doing communion differently, and the offering plate, as well as the use of a shared microphone. It wasn’t long before we weren’t meeting at all. That first Sunday of the Pandemic emergency, we had decided that only the staff and the Board would be present for worship and we would Livestream. But then, even for that Sunday, it was too much and it morphed into Robyn, Robin and me.
Everything was so quiet at the beginning of this pandemic; I remember riding my bike home down Baker Street one afternoon and there was hardly anyone around; you could park anywhere. Stores were closed and no one was outside. These past 2 months have gone by in a surreal kind of way. They’ve gone by quickly on the one hand and infinitesimally slowly on the other.
Without the structure of Sundays and work, many people have lost a sense of time. We’re a bit unusual—we—Robyn, Robin and I—gather here on Sunday. Janet and I have both continued to go to work but even so, time has passed in a strange way.
Paulsell, in her article, talked about a student giving a talk on The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th Century text about Christian mysticism. Paulsell wrote,
“The student drew our attention to the author’s discussion of time. Nothing is more precious than time, The Cloud of Unknowing teaches, because that’s where God reaches us. Keeping time, tending time, and spending time all matter. We should strive to be like the saints, The Cloud says, who ‘keep exact account of time by means of love.’”
That so resonated with me, this idea that we can keep track of time in terms of love. We’ve been invited to think of our physical distancing as saving lives—the life of another, who we don’t know, who’s life we could risk by close physical contact. What’s that if not a form of love? The heroic measures of people who have put precautions in place; the health care workers who have been there for people who are sick. What is that if not love? The grocery store employees, or hardware, or other essential services who are there for us. What’s that if not love? The family outings at a safe distance, homeschooling, working from home, doing tasks and jobs at home to mark the time. What’s that if not love? Calling a friend or a neighbour or a family member far away. What’s that, if not love?
And if I’m over-reaching, well, so what? What if we turned everything we did to love? What if our motivation for living became love? What if how we want to be as things start to open up is love… not the bottom line. Not profit. Not fear of the other because we don’t know where they’ve been. Not hate of a group of people because we want to self-justify our fear. Not doing things as we once did, but looking for new opportunities to be together as families and as communities.
If we are a resurrection people, people who follow the One who is life, light and hope, then how we mark time is in our very DNA. We are Easter people, following God’s lead down new pathways. The stone has been rolled away so that we need not be locked into old ways of being, old patterns of separation and segregation, unhelpful distinctions of socio-economic status or culture or ethnic background.
John’s Gospel is a resurrection Gospel. We often read parts of John 14 at funerals because the passage gets at what is important. There’s also a mystical element to it that brings us full circle back to the Cloud of Unknowing. Jesus speaks about God being in the world, in us and us in God. This co-mingling idea is the idea that God’s very being touches us, enlivens us and lives within. Jesus opened us up to that. And the way we live out this co-mingling of God’s spark in creation is through love.
Like many of you, I have found these past two months quite stressful. I’ve been using our Employee Assistance Provider resources to think about my responses and my coping strategies to this time of COVID-19. (Thank goodness we have access to resources either through our Health Care system or through our employers or other community groups. Seek them out if you need to!) I’ve been journaling and meditating and trying to remain a non-anxious presence. And what I keep returning to is the gift of love. How do I turn my frustration at these sequence of events these past months, which I can’t control, into something which I can control—my own response? I can take my frustration and uncertainty, my fear, and in conversation with others and in self-reflection and through prayer and meditation, turn that into love. Love of those around me; love of the earth. Love for my own being.
And so, on this Mother’s Day, as we remember our mothers or other mothers in our lives, we give thanks for love. We give thanks that the One who creates all life, births love anew in us again and again. We give thanks for being an Easter people who have the spark of resurrection in each of us that re-defines our times through the gift of love.
May you know love and give love; may you know that you are loved. May you know peace. Amen.
 Go to The Christian Century website at https://www.christiancentury.org/article/faith-matters/how-do-we-keep-time-during-pandemic?utm_source=Christian+Century+Newsletter&utm_campaign=cfc764278b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_EdPicks_2020_05_05_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b00cd618da-cfc764278b-82382539.