The COVID-19 pandemic that will not end is getting to me and everybody I know. I want to tell you about a few ways it is hitting me hard in the last few weeks. I’m feeling the isolation. I miss my sense of belonging. Find myself walking on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and yet crying. I am mad at all the wrong things, little things, ridiculous things. My impatience is the size of Alaska and just as icy. My fuse is short. Meditating helps and so does quiet breathing. Yet right away I can snap back into a state of frustration.
Slush and mud
This feeling reminds me of a day last winter when more than a week of snow days left us all stuck at home in Nashville where the ice was thick, and temperatures freezing. And our only snow equipment is (wait for it) the sun. But I kept up my practice of walking. Lacing up my boots, wrapping my neck with a bright scarf and pulling my hat down snug on my head, I donned my 40-below Minnesota coat, and choosing the warmest mitten-gloves.
But one afternoon when I was nearly home from one of my snow walks, and the temperatures had been rising slowly, a car headed my way. It was going too fast for the icy conditions. I tried to step over but the ditch was steep. I waved my arms and stepped off the road as far as I could. It did not matter. Within moments, a rooster tail of slush and mud and melting snow covered me head to toe. I heard myself screaming curses.
This is what it is like not being seen or heard. Being invisible in spite of my red hat and bright scarf. Being soaking wet, unable to see through dripping glasses, and covered in mud on a cold winter day? Made me want to spit nails. This feeling of vulnerability, shock, and helplessness at being covered in muck, it’s like the whole damn pandemic season.
We are slowly re-gathering, and travel is back. Yet the strain of separation and the constant demands of decision making, means there is no new normal just the new abnormal with all its exhaustion. Even my extroverted self is not energized in the ways I used to be when I’m actually with people I know and love. My mind seems to collapse in on itself trying to convince me that I belong nowhere. Have you had this experience?
You miss a few weeks of church, and no one calls or emails to ask where you are? You’re overwhelmed with work, and have n time to call for friends, and they don’t call you either? Do you ever feel like you are waving and crying out, yet all you get is splashed with mud and muck?
It’s exhausting to be the leader, teacher or caregiver anywhere right now. And so many people I know who are trying to lead feel like they are trudging through snow, covered in slush, and short-tempered. I’m hearing versions of this from my pastor friends. Some of them are walking away from their jobs without another one on the horizon. Always supporting everyone else and not having a place just to exhale eats up the margin of our lives. Many of the people we usually turn to for support, are in the same isolated dinghies, floating in an ocean of regret, exhaustion, and demoralization.
In my saner moments I know that none of this story I’m telling myself here is the whole truth. And please believe me, I don’t feel these things every moment of the day. But lately it’s been hitting hard. And when I take time to reflect, I know these are the conditions of our pandemic life piling up into an unholy mess and leaving us all depleted and unsettled.
In Christian spirituality we like to say that vulnerability is a positive asset. We want people to be themselves and speak with truthfulness and honesty with each other. And yet in this time of exhaustion and overwhelming conditions, it is inordinately challenging. Vulnerability is not so much a decision to make as it is an existential crisis.
Deeper cracks and fissures
And then there are the deeper cracks and fissures in our social fabric that opened in the last 18 months. They continue exposing complex, difficult, and painful realities. Racism and sexism and homophobia are not news. These chronic pandemics have been gnawing away at our human well-being for centuries. These harms are part and parcel of the oldest system of unfairness and injustice in the world: patriarchy. And every day I am both a beneficiary and constable of patriarchy’s power as well as its victim and the target of its most careless whims. Like white women everywhere the system is both rigged for me and against me at the same time.
We can get mad at all the “Karens” and “Betsys” and “Pattys” of the world and dismiss them, rage against them, post videos about them. I fear and dread moments when my fear, frustration or despondency might push me to become like them. Yet to deconstruct the complex experience, my experience, as a white woman in US society in 2021 takes more than assumptions or dismissals. Every position in a system of patriarchy is a terrible place to be. So many of us are somewhere in the middle, both benefiting and suffering. The vulnerability of owning that while also navigating the damages of the pandemic season? Well, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to face it.
Giving our fears a name
Today my purpose is small and simple. I am naming these things. The fears. The hopes. And the exhaustion. I’m inviting you to name them with me in your own life and ministry. I do this with hopes that you, wherever you are in the prevailing system of privilege and persecution, top, bottom or somewhere in the middle like me, maybe for a moment you can feel seen and heard. Maybe for a moment we can see together that we are not just the terrible blueprint stories which have been handed on to us by our parents and predecessors. Because we are all shaped by a system that is fueled by fear, a system that needs transformation. I believe it will take us working together to hold one another accountable for our place in that system, and to work toward undoing its harms.
Epilogue: Finding hope
Like an epilogue to this post, I encountered a sturdy hope on Sunday evening. I attended a congregational ordination meeting with ministry candidate Lauren Plummer. It was the first time in 18+ months we held a church function in our sanctuary (with all the protocols in place!). It was beautiful and inspiring to hear Lauren’s story and covenant with our congregation.
The season of hope and the season a vulnerability are intertwined, moment by moment. Tonight I had a glimpse of a future story about the church that keeps hope alive. I met children face-to-face who were born during the pandemic. And I greeted friends I have not seen face-to-face in so long. In it all, I beheld God’s grace alive and well, calming fears and connecting lives in ways that matter.
Here is another story about fear and inspiring hope and ordination. Listen to learn how Cathy’s faces her fears and where it leads…
“Facing Fears” is chapter 43 of Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life.