i have thought about this medical leave I am on as a sort of “forced sabbatical”. One of the normal effects of yet another brain surgery is that my physical resources are low. I can read, but I tire easily. I can chat on the phone but extended interactions with others leave me drained much more quickly. It is all part of the normal recovery cycle of a significant surgery.
So, I pace myself. When I don’t sleep well at night, I take naps the next day. I do a few things, but then I need to stop. I do what I can to help out a bit around the house, but I stop when I need to. Stopping leads to listening: to my body, to my family, to God. Like any good sabbatical, chosen or forced, stopping and listening leads to healing, wholeness and the renewal to life.
So, COVID-19 has brought to a halt for a period of time essential activities of our church. It is not quite a “forced sabbatical”, but this pandemic has altered significantly the things we do and do not do as a church family. Though our physical gathering for worship, fellowship, etc. must be eliminated for the time being, our concern and care for one another will continue.
I am proud of our church staff and lay leadership and all they have done, not only in making difficult but absolutely necessary decisions, but also in putting into place simple significant ways to keep us connected and caring for each other that minimize risk of compromising ours, and others, physical health. And I am confident we will continue to show that love and care for one another even if these drastic measures stretch beyond weeks into months.
The last time the United States saw a real pandemic was just over 100 years ago. It was the outbreak of what came to be called “the Spanish flu” in 1917/18. (Although dubbed “the Spanish flu”, historians believe the virus first was contracted by American soldiers training in Kansas, who then took the virus to Europe when they went overseas to fight in World War I.)
The Spanish flu killed over 675,000 Americans – more American citizens than the combined casualties of World Wars l & ll. This past Friday (March 13th) New York Times columnist David Brooks, when comparing the COVID-19 challenge to what happened in the United States during WWI had a sobering analysis of what we could see. Brooks said: “Pandemics are not good for the social trust.” He continued by noting that in 1917/18, the nation started with high ideals of helping one another, but as the pandemic spread and worsened, fear took hold. “People stopped seeing each other, stopped caring for each other, stopped volunteering. The result was that once the pandemic of the Spanish flu was over, it left no trace on the national culture.” Why? According to David Brooks: “Because people were ashamed of the way they behaved; they looked inward, only after themselves.”
We are all praying that COVID-19’s devastation will be lessened by humanity’s efforts and God’s mercy. However, we must be prepared that this pandemic may require of us a collective courage and sacrifice, the likes of which most of us have never had to make. David Brooks concluded his remarks on this subject this way: “We need to take moral steps and social steps, as well as health steps, to prepare ourselves morally and spiritually for the challenges this pandemic will bring.”
Perhaps this is the reason that a kind of “forced sabbatical” is where we find ourselves during this Lenten season. To prepare ourselves morally and spiritually for the sacrifices COVID-19 will require of us in the weeks (months?) to come.
We have already begun to share in the hardships COVID-19 is putting on those of our church family here at Edgebrook Covenant Church. These efforts will need to continue, even expand, as this pandemic worsens. But I am hopeful, even confident, that we will not be overcome by fear as we move into these uncharted waters. We will be careful, we will be wise, we will take every reasonable and necessary precaution, but we will not be paralyzed by fear. For we will move forward in love, knowing that perfect love, the love of Christ for us and thru us to others, overcomes our fears (1 John 4:18).