Praying for Ukraine

This Sunday (March 6) we will of course include in our prayers the people of Ukraine (and all people living, or trying to live, in war-torn places across the globe). As part of those prayers, we will sing the hymn “This is My Song” by Lloyd Stone, set to the tune of Finlandia (by Jean Sibelius). The author wrote the lyrics in 1934, between the two world wars, expressing a hope for lasting peace among all nations, races, and cultures, including “My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine; but other lands have sunlight, too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine. O hear my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.”

We honor our humanity by seeing the humanity of others. We are connected in deep and in ordinary ways. How can we wage war, any of us, when we are, whether we see it or not, one in our human experience?

Peace and blessings in this difficult time,

Pastor Leslie

Sign of the Times: No Crossing Guard

My prayers go out to kids and parents and teachers and school administrators this week especially, as the school year began on Tuesday, virtual learning at least for now here in Madison, WI.  It is no doubt difficult and disappointing that there couldn’t be school in-person safely right now.  In fact, my children’s message this past Sunday was an apology to the children that we adults in general, and our leaders especially, couldn’t do enough over the last five+ months that we could make it possible for them to safely come together at their school buildings to learn and socialize. Like with churches, I don’t say that schools are closed, only school buildings are closed – teaching and learning go on, just in a different way than before.

Since the end of May I’ve been working in my church office (because we have few staff and can easily practice safety measures), and the usual route from my home to the church each morning takes me past an elementary school (Frank Allis Elementary School).  In usual times, in addition to children arriving by bus, there are some kids being dropped off by their parents on either side of the street in front of the school, so they have a school crossing guard posted at the crosswalk to help them safely across the street.  If one drives by at the “right” time, one gets stopped for a minute or two for young people with or without parents to cross.  In the past I’ve been stopped like this several times a week.  I miss it!  I miss seeing the kids sprinting or skipping across the street, happily greeting the teachers who are outside to make sure they find their way in good order into the building, the friendly waves to the parents, the friendly chitchat between the kids and the crossing guard when they are asked to wait a few seconds before being allowed to cross the busy street.  They were scenes that brought back memories, happy memories of my own school days. They were little scenes of joy (and hope) that brightened up the start of my day.

Yesterday and today I drove passed that school and there was no crossing guard and no kids excited to be going to school…at least for now.  I know we need to do this, to keep kids and teachers and crossing guards safe, and to keep parents and grandparents and others safe.  And I know that we will return to bright autumn and winter and spring days with kids once again excitedly entering school buildings to begin a new day.  I have that hope.  And in the meantime, I have memories of other first weeks of school, to remind me of why I wear a mask and practice safe distancing and help lead my congregation to do likewise, for the sake of our whole community. 

Pastor Leslie

A Prayer for Today: A New Normal

Lord, help me to stop using the phrase “return to normal.”  Erase it from my vocabulary.  For that sense of “normal” is the killing of people of color by police and white supremacists, lynched before our eyes again and again and again without us taking action to stop it.  That sense of “normal” is the tolerance of poverty for some, inadequate medical care for some, housing discrimination imposed on some, which we ignore in our comfort.  That sense of “normal” is racism, heterosexism, xenophobia, sexism, of discrimination and violence against our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters.  That sense of “normal” is us divided.

O God, truly we don’t need a return to normal.  We need what was normal to be shattered, broken, a thing of the past.  We need your strength and wisdom and courage to do the shattering, to break from the old normal, to make it a thing of the past.  And we need to not grieve its loss, even as we feel our shame and confess our sin at letting it happen for far too long.  We need a new world order.  We need new systems, just systems for all.  We need just institutions for all.  We need opportunities for all.  We need equal protection under the law, for all.  We need safety, and liberty, and life, for all.  We need dignity and respect for all.  We need to make this all happen.  With your help, merciful and gracious God, we can make it happen, if we can see others—your beloved—through your eyes and your heart.  Help us, we desperately pray.  Amen.

from Pastor Leslie

Love One Another…Please!

This isn’t a sermon, it’s a modern-day lament.  These are some thoughts on a difficult night.

Like the psalmist as of old, I cry out to God “how long,” knowing full well that it is we humans who are choosing to perpetuate evil in our world, by things said and done, and by things unsaid and not done.  How long, how long will we devalue human life (at least some human life, especially human life that comes with skin of color)?  How long, how long will we choose not to love our neighbor by denying that our personal actions and inactions can literally mean the difference between the life and death of another?  How long, how long?

Tonight our country reached a horrific milestone, over 100,000 dead from COVID-19, and each day we will be adding more and more to the total.  My heart breaks for each life lost.  My heart breaks for each person mourning the loss of a loved one.  My heart breaks for what the world has lost with each life lost.  We didn’t create the virus, but our actions can help keep it from spreading.  Yet picture after picture from this past weekend showed people gathering in crowds, not keeping 6 feet apart, not wearing masks.  How many in those pictures were sick without knowing it and infected others?  (I was going to say “unintentionally infected others,” but when you know there are risks involved, is it unintentional?)  How many of those people, or the people they encounter since, will die?  On average about 1,000 people have been killed by this virus in the US since the first victim in February (or was it January?).  I used to live in northwest Wisconsin in a city whose population was about 3,400 people – I think about how with an average death rate of 1,000 people per day, it is like that city being wiped out in about 3.5 days, and I can’t imagine it.  I think about those lovely people—mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers—gone.  They are people.  Their lives matter.  Why can’t we love one another enough to wear masks, and socially distance, and wash hands to protect one another?  Why don’t we love our neighbors enough to say that we will take the vaccine when it becomes available (yes, a recent poll found that only 51% of Americans say they will take the vaccine if/when it is available!).  Why can’t we love one another enough to insist that our government (President, Congress) do their job of protecting us, providing sufficient PPE for frontline workers, getting enough testing and contact tracing done?  Researchers say if we had just started responding sooner, if we had just taken this more seriously, we could have saved tens of thousands of lives—why don’t those lives matter more to us that we aren’t more outraged at the lack of leadership, the lack of guidance, the lack of action?

But, as one TV commentator puts it, COVID-19 is not the only virus leading to preventable deaths in our country right now.  Racism is like a rampant virus in our country.  We proclaimed slavery abolished almost 150 years ago, we have laws that claim that discrimination on the basis of race is illegal, yet our actions show that the virus of racism is still very deadly.  Racism recently took the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, two more lives that should have mattered more added to a much too long list.  Racism was the virus at work in Central Park that thankfully did not cost an African American man his life, but it could have.  Racism is the virus at work that compounds the COVID-19 virus by targeting people of color and Native Americans because racism has led to poverty, unequitable distributions of healthy food and medical care.  Racism is the virus at work that leads to families separated at the border, that leaves children incarcerated at the border without medical care.  Racism is the virus at work when the land of a native American tribe is taken away from it by order of the American government so that a competitor can put up a casino.  Apparently we do love one another, but only if they are white.  It is not up to people of color to “cure” the virus of racism—the only people who can do that are the perpertrators, us white people.

How can we say we love one another, when the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, when we live in cities where there is not enough affordable housing or access to medical care?  How can we say we love one another when we exploit people in low paying service jobs while not giving them a living wage?  How can we say we love one another when we allow billionaire bailouts during this pandemic but won’t decry the lack of support for small business owners and the poor and the immigrant?  How can we say we love one another when our actions threaten the very planet we all have to share, not just with one another but with future generations?

I turn to Jesus’ great commandment, to love God and love one another (each a part of the other) because it is his key teaching for those of us who call themselves Christians. Or at least it should be, from what he said; we Christians in general have a lot of work to do to make this teaching a reality.  It is not a teaching exclusive to Christians, but shared with Jews and Muslims, and other faith traditions have a version of its close relative, the so-called Golden Rule, among their teachings.  It is something easy to say, but complex and challenging in putting into practice, as the history of humankind has shown us.

The deaths due to the coronavirus and the virus of racism and our other human-caused ills are causing me to lament tonight, as they should.  Maybe my feelings are heightened right now because I am missing our in-person gatherings at church.  We are trying to keep one another and our community safe, and that is a good thing.  But when we gather, not just for worship but for the conversations at coffee hour and over meetings (I’m glad we have ways to connect electronically, but its not quite the same over zoom), we share stories, and I get to hear about the ways in which good is being done in our community, and it reminds me that God’s Spirit is at work in the world, that yes, there are people loving their neighbors.  I know we hear of this with the sacrifices being made by frontline workers, and parents who have found themselves being not just parents but also teacher and social director.  I know we hear of this with the stories of generosity of many giving to COVID relief efforts, and the stories of people working together to end racism and other forms of discrimination.  Sometimes one just feels overwhelmed by the horror stories, and one needs to lament.  This lament will not solve all the problems of the world, heck, it doesn’t even begin to describe them all.  But it helps keep the fires within me burning to do something about the problems, to work toward being part of the solution and not part of the problem.  I hope it does the same for you.

That is the thing about those lament psalms—the psalmist starts off in lament, but eventually remembers that there is another side to what is going on in the world, that there is indeed reason to trust in God’s steadfast love, that it endures forever, in spite of what we do or don’t do, because God intends good for all creation.  God loves us, this is why we can love one another.  God made us in God’s image, which means we were made to love one another.  We don’t do it often enough, there is so much more work we need to do in our world to show love to all, but we can do it.  I think…I hope…I pray.

Pastor Leslie

“The Personal is the Communal”

Well, this morning was “interesting,” to say the least, with a Zoom outage thwarting our worship gathering.  This is the message I would have given, and it is a scriptural response to those who say we don’t love or trust God enough if we choose to take precautions by wearing masks, keeping distance, and not opening our building up too soon for worship.  Blessings, and take care.  Pastor Leslie

The WI State Supreme Court ruled this week against Gov. Evers’ “safer at home” extension.  It was not long after the ruling was reported that people began gathering, many without masks or social distancing, in bars and restaurants.  Some counties, including ours, has instituted their own “safer at home” public health orders.  As we seem to be speeding (quite unprepared, at least here in Wisconsin) toward reopening the economy, there is much discussion going on, not just in businesses but also among faith congregations, about if, when, and how we should gather in our buildings, in person, in groups.  Friday afternoon was the latest in a series of conference calls that our Lt. Gov. has been having with faith leaders, and the questions asked of many faith leaders was not when, but how we can gather in person.

Yes, I would like us to gather in person – to see people, talk with them, sing together, pray together, drink coffee afterwards and get to know their story a little better – those are some of the blessings of this thing we do on Sunday morning.  The Dane County public order states that places of worship are “essential” services, but has restrictions on how we can gather.  And if we listen to the health experts, we are not at a point where it is safe to do so.  This week our Church Council will begin discussing what our policies will be concerning when and how we will gather in person in our church building, and there will be opportunities for congregational input as well.  But at least through May we will not be gathering at the corner of Atwood and Ohio – it is not safe to do so yet.

There are many voices being raised in the public sphere about this issue, and some claim theological reasoning for opening up public gatherings and even doing so without safeguards such as wearing masks and keeping six feet apart.  These voices challenge us: “If you trust in God, God will protect you,” as if to say that wearing a mask means we don’t trust God.  Others judge people’s commitment to God by saying, “If you get sick, you just haven’t prayed hard enough.” They recite “God helps those who help themselves,” as if it is scripture.  And the one I heard this week, as justification for opening up churches for worship: “God is worth taking the risk for,” as if God is only resident within the confines of four walls designated as “church.”

These sayings remind me of the modern parable about the man and the flood.  Its been raining and raining, and a flood is predicted.  A man decides he’s going to stay in his home despite the warnings; “God will protect me.”  The waters start to rise to street level, and his neighbor stops by, “Come, let’s evacuate.”  The man replies, “I’m staying; God will protect me.”  The flood waters continue to rise, and they get up to the front door of the house. A boat comes by with law enforcement personnel, “We’ve come to evacuate you and take you to safety.”  Again the man replies, “I’m staying; God will protect me.”  The water rise some more, filling the house so much that the man has to climb up on his roof.  A helicopter hovers over his house, and a rescuer is lowered in a basket to bring the man to safety.  Again he replies, “I’m staying; God will protect me.”  The flood water rise so much that the house is completely covered, and the man drowns.  When he gets to heaven he meets up with God, and he practically yells at God, “I trusted you, that you would protect me.  Why didn’t you save me?”  God answered him, “Oh son, I tried to protect and safe you.  I sent your neighbor, and the police, and the helicopter.  Why didn’t you take my help?”


Yes, I value the spirit that flows among us when we worship together in our church buildings; I understand why people are eager to do so.  But from what some people are saying, what is more important to them than the worship experience is their sense of liberty, which is not really a value mentioned by Jesus.  Yes, people were free to follow him or not, but he never implied that following him was about freedom.  What he did emphasize, in word and deed, was that following him was about our responsibility toward one another.  Jesus never really talked about a personal relationship with God, but he talked a lot about our relationship with one another, our communal responsibilities.  His teachings emphasized how we were to treat one another, how we should related to one another, how we were to be covenant with one another.

“You have heard me say, ‘It’s going to be bad.’ I’m telling you again—it’s going to be bad—so that when the bad begins and when the bad overwhelms you, you’ll be prepared to hold on to love and remember that you’re not alone.” (paraphrase of John 14:27b-29, by Rachel G. Hackenberg)

Jesus proclaimed that he did not come to overturn the law, but to fulfill the law, the law that was about a faith that was communal, not personal.

Honor your mother and father…Do not lie…Do not steal…Do not kill…Do not covet what your neighbor has…the Ten Commandments were mostly about how we should relate with one another, how we were to live together in community.

“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Micah 6:6-8.  The prophets emphasized how we all, common folk and leaders alike were called by God not to make altar sacrifices to fulfill some sort of personal piety, but that we were called by God to be about the work of doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly.  We are not alone, we are not an island, it isn’t just about us, but about the other as well, especially the most vulnerable.

This is echoed in Jesus’ great commandment, to love God and love one another, both parts of the same cloth.  It is echoed in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, when after telling the story he questions the man who asked “who is my neighbor”: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” – Luke 10:36-37  This is echoed in Jesus’ teaching that “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

And we could go back, almost to the beginning of the Bible, to the story of Cain and Abel: “Then when G-d asks [Cain], ‘where is your brother Abel?’ he arrogantly responds, ‘I do not know.  Am I my brother’s keeper?’”  As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin offers to us in Jewish Literacy, “In essence, the entire Bible is written as an affirmative response to this question.”

So if anyone tries to tell us that we don’t love God enough because we aren’t worshipping in the building at Atwood and Ohio, the we don’t trust God enough because we wear a mask or keep our distance in public, or if they claim these are just political responses, we can confidently say, “no, these are faith responses…we are following Jesus’ teachings, to love one another, to be a good neighbor, to be our brother’s/sister’s/neighbor’s keeper.”  We are doing the sacrifice God requires of us, to do justice for the most vulnerable, to do loving kindness toward nurses and CNAs and doctors and other hospital and nursing home staff, and walking humbly in the face of a dangerous virus with our God.  And if they still give us grief about what we are doing, then our only faithful response is to bless them – “God be with you.”


Foot Washing, Hand Washing, and a Holy Mandate


maundy thursday 2020

The above picture is of the communion table for our virtual Maundy Thursday service last night.  You no doubt notice some strange things on this table — I will explain.

While we shared the story of Jesus breaking the bread and sharing the cup at that last supper as part of our service, I focused by message for the service on the passage from John’s gospel (John 13:1-17, 34-35) where Jesus is with his disciples, and after the supper he gets up and washes his disciples feet.  After doing so, he tells them to go and do likewise.  Just as they had been served by him, so too they must serve others.  And a few sentences after that, he tells his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”  In Latin, this is “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos,” which is why this is called Maundy Thursday: Maundy, from mandatum, the Latin for commandment, or maybe more appropriate, mandate.

Jesus gives us the mandate–“love one another”–and the source of our strength for doing so–“as I have loved you.”  And this is where my strange communion table items come from.  Jesus washed his disciples feet.  Today, we are called to wash our hands — not just for our own sake, but in order to help others stay safe, in order to keep people out of the already crowded ICUs, in order to protect doctors and nurses and CNAs and first responders.  Wash your hands, for you love one another.  Likewise we use hand sanitizer and a face mask, for we love one another.  Why the TP roll on the table?  To remind us not to let our fear drive us to hoard materials, for there are others who also need them.  Stop hoarding, for we love one another.

And it is not just in a pandemic that we are called to love one another, and what is on the table helps us to remember this: bread and cup–feed the hungry; the basin of water–help all to have access to clean water; the hand sanitizer–help all to get access to medical care; the TP–help all to get access to needed materials for daily life.  And the face mask helps us to remember that we should make this a world where no one has to hide their true identity, that all should feel welcome in our world as they are. And the palm branches, from our Palm Sunday service, are eco-palms, reminding us to care for creation.

I truly believe we do have much love to share — let us follow Jesus’ mandate, now and always: “love one another, for I have loved you.”

peace and blessings,

Pastor Leslie


Holy Week, Easter Not Cancelled


I’ve seen some reports in the media that Holy Week and Easter are “interrupted” or “cancelled” or somehow their arrival has been put in doubt.  What many do not fully understand, even some “in the church,” is that “church” is not a building.  When the church building is closed because we are trying to keep our friends and neighbors safe from the coronavirus, some mistakenly believe that “church” is not happening.  But “church” is the body of Christ, it is a congregation of people of faith, and a life of faith is not dependent on some bricks and mortar.  [And I would say the same is true for our Jewish and Muslim friends, as well as folks of any faith tradition.]

Yes, having a building does facilitate us gathering, worshipping, communing over coffee and donuts, having Sunday School, offering a space for community groups to meet, doing mission and ministry, etc.  But we are a people of faith, we are a church family, we are answering the call to love God and love neighbor, even when we cannot gather in-person on a Sunday morning.  We are gathering virtually for worship, prayer, bible study, and meetings.  We are calling, writing, texting, emailing, IM-ing each other to support one another. We are running errands for those who cannot get out. We are praying for one another and our community and all those sick and all those helping and putting themselves at risk in their essential work.  We are continuing to advocate for the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, those suffering injustice, those excluded, those marginalized.  Some even worked the polls on Tuesday in WI’s ill-advised in-person election that put so many at risk, so that others more vulnerable could be safe and folks could vote.

The church is open for business, even if our building is closed.  It is the nature of church, when it lives up to its calling — not a building, but a community of faith, a compassionate and caring group of people, young and old, rich and poor, a wondrously diverse family of folks who love God and love neighbor, in word and in deed.  Brick and mortar not required.

Peace and blessings,

Pastor Leslie

Sleepless in pandemic


From chatting with others (electronically, or from a safe distance) I have found that I’m not the only one who has experienced insomnia or restless sleeping or strange dreams/nightmares (or all of the above) over the last few weeks.  Its not just that our routines have been changed so dramatically.  I know I’m not the only one disturbed by the news and worried about loved ones, medical personal, first responders, store clerks, delivery persons, etc.  We are all worried about the economy.  Its not surprising we struggle with quieting our minds enough to sleep.  Sometimes I manage to do better when I remember to practice better “sleep hygiene,” that is, turning the electronics off early enough, writing out my thoughts and concerns in a journal, praying, reading a book, even some chamomile or mint tea and/or melatonin have helped.

What doesn’t help is shaming.  We have enough of that going on in the world in general.  Do not shame yourself if you are having mental or spiritual concerns during these difficult times.  Yes, Jesus said many many times “do not be afraid,” but he did not mean “do not be concerned,” and he certainly never would shame anyone (besides the Pharisees, that is, and only as a teaching tool).  He just doesn’t want us to be so overcome by our concerns that we don’t remember to also share God’s love and peace with one another while we are dealing with that which concerns us.  And what helps us deal most with our concerns these days is to reach out for help, and offer help as well, especially in the form of connection — call, email, text, Skype, whatever your favorite form of connection is — for it is not mere slogan or catch-phrase or greeting card pablum that we are in this together — it is in community that we will get through this.  Not every person for themselves.  Not “what can you do for me”.  What will get us through this is to help one another.  Just having someone to talk with, or receiving a card from someone, or seeing someone’s face, these all can make the difference in someone’s day.  You don’t need something momentous or big news to share; just sharing a laugh over something stupid, or finding out that yes, someone else is also having trouble sleeping, can go a long way toward helping someone, maybe even helping them sleep a little better tonight.

I’ll leave you with the words of two verses of a hymn, an oldie but a goodie:

Abide With Me (words: Henry F. Lyte)

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the shadows deepen, Lord with me abide; When other helpers hail, and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I need your presence every passing hour; I need your grace to foil the tempter’s power.  Give me your love my guide and stay to be. Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.



Gratitude, especially in difficult times

You may think I’m crazy, but I’ve decided to start a gratitude journal as part of my effort to mitigate my COVID-19-induced anxiety.

What, a gratitude journal, in times like this? What a thing of privilege, in a time when folks are getting laid off left and right and small businesses are shutting down and we don’t have enough tests to even see how much of a problem this thing is nor enough hospital equipment to protect the nurses and doctors caring for people…

But yes, a gratitude journal. I’m late to the bandwagon that has been gratitude journals. Every once in a while I remember to be grateful, but not consistently enough to make a difference in my “root cellar” store of gratitude. There is a reason we call such things “spiritual practices,” for we need to practice them regularly, like our piano scales or our multiplication tables or our squats or our meditation before they become part of us, and then if we stop we have to get back in the habit today.

I get a newsletter on wellness from the New York Times in my email inbox from time to time, and yesterday it too talked about gratitude as a spiritual practice for our current times. As the author, Tara Parker-Pope, writes,

“Every time I wash my hands, I focus on my feelings of gratitude. I start with the doctors, nurses, ambulance and hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic. I think about the countless numbers of hourly workers who are restocking grocery store shelves, working at pharmacies and staffing checkout counters. These people are coming face-to-face with hundreds of people each day, putting themselves at risk so the rest of us have food and necessities. I think about sanitation workers collecting our trash. I think about the young man who provides maintenance and cleaning to my building, while grandparents care for his 9-year-old and 1-year-old children…A gratitude practice does not sound like much, but we know from research that a daily gratitude practice is good for us, helping us reduce stress, get better sleep and stay healthier. Thinking about the sacrifice of these people gives me a boost (and I also share my thanks in person when I check out at the grocery store).”

I’d add that being grateful also leads me to write to my congressional representatives to push for paid sick leave for all, for relief for those put out of work, for the closing of immigration detention centers,…

I will be going old school and doing a hand-written gratitude journal starting today, but I will share my first entry here: I am grateful that I am part of a faith community that is truly a community, caring for others and not just for themselves in this health crisis, and even amid this health scare still reaching out to the wider world seeking to love all our neighbors. Case in point: one of our members called me yesterday and wondered whether I had heard if a man from our church was going to be ok because he lived alone and relies on restaurant meals for his food and much of his social interaction, and most restaurants have closed to all but take out due to public health directives. The man on the phone knew about the other man and his habits because they had chatted often before Sunday services and then again afterward during Coffee Hour. That is one of the ways that a church can be a community – we are not alike, we may even come from different political viewpoints, but we get to know one another and care for one another.

That is what hurts so much with not being able to safely gather in person in community: we are missing those connections, and we are missing opportunities to help one another and to help others in our area and the world. (We are working on facilitating such connections remotely, so stay tuned for more info.) But I am grateful that I am part of a community where the hyper-individualism of our day is not the overriding ethos, where people care for one another, and we can offer peace and love to all.

And I know, a gratitude journal will not protect me and my loved ones from the coronavirus, and it won’t make masks and respirators magically appear in hospitals where needed, and it won’t get us back to where we were one month ago, but it will help me to remember and pray for that owner of my favorite local coffee shop, struggling to stay afloat, and the nurse working extra shifts , and first responders,…, and it will remind me that it is not all about me, and maybe that wisdom will help carry us through to a brighter day, a more loving world, and more unite world. Maybe. I live in hope.

March 17: Be Still My Soul

I’ve noticed already that some people are struggling with the isolation of enforced physical distancing, and wondering about what the world, and their world in particular, will be like after this outbreak is behind us.  There is worry about what life will look like, will their favorite/needed activities still be here, and I don’t blame them for worrying about this, for our regular swim sessions, our favorite yoga instructor, the neighborhood restaurant that is like a second home and they know us by name…all these are important to us as ways in which we define ourselves and socialize in the world.

Yesterday, when I heard for the first time a newscaster predicting that everyday life would be changed by this outbreak, my first thought was — hey, it is way too early for such fear-based predictions (and also, what an issue of white privilege this could be considered, but that is a topic for another day).  But I also appreciate that uncertainty can lead us to such thoughts.  The uncertainties we face today — how long will we have to cancel worship services, or stay 6 feet apart from one another, or fear just going to the grocery store, and for most of us the greatest uncertainty (not getting the virus, but passing it on to someone more vulnerable than us)  — these uncertainties may be one of the most difficult aspects of this outbreak.  And so we go to a dark place — things will never be the same — it is natural. It is wise to focus on what we have control over — what we say and do today — but it is natural that we get distracted by what we have little control over right now — what the world will look like on the other side.  Perhaps this is a good time to remember “the Serenity Prayer,” a spiritual blessing for everyone, not just twelve step groups:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I offer something else today as an aid, of sorts, to help us to center ourselves in the spirit of what is there for us today — God’s love, and God’s presence, no matter how physically isolated we may feel today, and no matter what may come in all our tomorrows.  Below are the words of the hymn “Be Still, My Soul” for us to meditate on today, and a link to an instrumental version .  I hope it blesses you and provide you solace and calmness today.

Peace and blessings, Pastor Leslie

Be Still, My Soul (verses 1&2; words by Katharina von Schlegel, translation by Jane Laurie Borthwick, from The New Century Hymnal; music by Jean Sibelius)

Be still, my soul: for God is on your side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to your God to order and provide; in every change God faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: your best eternal friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: for God will undertake to guide in future days as in the past. Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be clear at last. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know how Jesus’ power ruled them long ago.