Psalm 04 – Processing Our New Normal

Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

4  In your anger do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.

Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will show us any good?”
    Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound.

8 I will lie down and sleep in peace
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.

 

I am fortunate enough to work from home to begin with, so “sheltering in place” for COVID-19 has been less disruptive to my routine than it has been for many.  I already had my youngest here full time (now her older sister is officially home until August, since the rest of the school year has been cancelled for Virginia), and right now my farm duties consist mainly of keeping everyone fed.  That’s no small feat with three hardworking men in the house (our two farm employees live with us at the moment), but it’s something more or less compatible with watching children simultaneously.

That being said, I feel like we’re living in a state of suspended animation.  The farm is doing well, for now.  We lost all our wholesale business but retail demand has spiked.  How long that will last is uncertain, as economic hardships become more likely for at least some of our customers as time wears on.  Farmer’s markets, due to open in about a month, have been at the very least postponed.  So I wonder what the future will bring, living in a little bubble now with my two girls, doing pretty well at sticking to a schedule that leads us nowhere but down the road for a walk with the dogs, back to the kitchen table for some home-led occupational and speech therapy, and into the garden after quiet time.  It’s pretty much the same day in and day out.  I’m guiltily enjoying the day-to-day of it, except for the rainy days that make outside-time a little less fun and a lot shorter.  But I don’t know what’s on the horizon: will we be able to continue like this for weeks, possibly months?  Will the orders hold, the money hold?  How long til we can go to the playground again, see grandparents again?  Will farmers markets start up in the summer?  Will our restaurants come back online in a way that allows them to order from us again?  All I can do is sit here and wonder.

The dichotomy of spring bursting forth while the world crumbles in on itself is disorienting, as well.  I have gone grocery shopping twice now, and each trip into town it seems like there is a malignancy in the air.  There is a feeling of emergency because the shelves are empty. I’m afraid to breathe, afraid to touch anything.  The produce looks sinister because I do not know what germs might be lingering on the peels and rinds.  But then I get home, and see the remaining daffodils waving cheerily in a warming breeze, birdsong filling the air, and early butterflies fluttering by.  The wildflower meadow I’ve been painstakingly establishing the past two years has lots of new shoots in all different shapes and sizes, promising for a beautiful display starting in a few weeks.  My volunteer strawberries have flowers on them.  A few days ago, I had to turn the TV off after watching a special report on an Italian hospital because it was so unsettling, but that same day I noticed the tulip poplars are leafing out, and my mustard greens were sprouting second leaves.  Fear and joy follow each other in a tight circle right now.

Because of this unprecedented mass pandemic and the global effects it’s having not just on people’s physical health but also their economic and mental health realities, I’m going to set my Lenten reading of Job aside for now.  While Job makes an ever more relatable figure in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, I want to take a break from these passages of anguish to focus first on some passages of comfort and encouragement.  Perhaps, given the time, I’ll be able to provide some distraction, diving into some of the Bible’s most interesting stories, or provide an antidote to some of the fear-mongering eschatological readings some zealots like to throw around in times of crisis.  I’ll take it week by week.

Today I want to introduce you to my favorite Psalm, one I’ve been thinking of a lot in the past couple weeks.  It has been one of my favorites since high school.  It strikes the perfect balance between counsel and rejoicing.  I am not always great at self-regulating, and am very quick to anger when hungry, tired, or stressed.  As such, I have felt like verse four, “in your anger do not sin, when you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent” is always a needed reminder.  My fuse was very short at the beginning of our shelter in place, in truth I had a bit of a breakdown that first Sunday.

I’m terribly ashamed I let it get to that point, but I’m sure that a lot of people out there have similarly been pushed to their limits of late.  If you are having trouble, ask for help.  This is not some vague call for “self care,” a lovely idea that is often hard to put into practice due to constraints of time, money, and family.  No, this is a call to action.  And yes, there are still resources out there right now, even if person-to-person contact is limited.  For myself, I finally started counseling through Better Help – and guess what? They have an unemployment discount. If you are able to pay in bulk, the price keeps dropping.  They’ve also provided this article on free online therapy, and NAMI has this list of hotline resources for those in crisis or needing guidance in where to turn. I also finally got an anti-anxiety medication filled, too.  These two steps have helped me tremendously, and I’m not ashamed to admit to either.  Taking care of your mental health – in the form of counseling, medication, or otherwise – is of the utmost importance, especially in times like these.  Through these things, God has given me relief from my distress, indeed.

As a person prone to anxiety (and in recent years, insomnia) I especially appreciate that last verse, “I will lay me down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” and will often repeat it to myself in an effort to get to sleep. You see, I’ll fully admit to prayer not being the strongest part of my spiritual practice.  “Talking to God” does not come naturally to me, so I appreciate rote phrases, such as this or the Lord’s Prayer.  (The number of easily memorized, rote prayers is one of the things I find most appealing about Catholicism.)  If you, too, struggle with praying in times of trouble – or just in general – I suggest memorizing the last verse of this Psalm as I have and using it as your bedtime prayer.

I am finishing writing this as the girls watch a movie and dinner simmers on the stove.  With Chris throwing everything he has into farming while we can still make some money at it, I’m only left with stolen moments like these that I have time to write.  I’d love to be doing so much more, but I’ve made peace with it.  If a little writing time is all I have to give up, I’m doing pretty well.  I hope you are giving yourself the grace needed to get through this strange time, and would love to hear from you all on how you’re coping.  I am happy to lend an ear to anyone who needs to talk, provide comfort food recipes or activity ideas for small children, or recommend some readings.  Comment or message me, and be sure to take care of yourselves.  God bless, and I’ll be back with something new next Sunday.

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Romans 12 – Remembering the Corona Virus Whistleblower

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Dr. Li Wenlaing, 34-year old doctor in Wuhan, China, died last week after contracting the corona virus.  Back in December, he had warned colleagues about it, after which he was forced by Wuhan officials to sign an official statement renouncing his warnings as lies and rumor-spreading.

The Wall Street Journal reports Dr. Li as wanting to continue to help, no matter what. “The outbreak is still spreading,” the article reports him writing on his verified account on Tencent News. “I don’t want to be a deserter.” His mother confirmed his commitment to his patients and public health in this NY Post article, both seeing it as his duty as a doctor.

I think Paul would agree with me that Dr. Li filled all of the obligations which Paul puts forth in this chapter.  You see, this bit of Paul’s writing is, according to all the sources I’ve read, a very politically radical statement.  Caesar declared himself head of the state, so in saying that Christ is the head of the church (with all belonging making up the body), puts Christ forth as a rival to Caesar.  Add in that little sentence about “do not conform to the world” and this becomes a very subversive message in the eyes of Roman authority.

But accusations of political subversion didn’t deter Paul, the message of Jesus Christ was too important.  Accusations of rumor-spreading didn’t deter Dr. Li, trying to save people from the corona virus by spreading the message was also too important.  And, just as Paul urges us to do, Dr. Li used his own specific gifts – in his case, healing – to keep serving his community for as long as he could.  Yes, I believe that Dr. Li will be one of God’s special saints.

I don’t believe God calls us all to martyrdom. A large minority of early Christians actually sought out dying in Jesus’ name in order to cement their place in heaven (remember the Crusades?), perhaps rising with the saints, who Paul says will be raised sooner than the rest of us hoi polloi believers.  Saint Francis, now remembered as basically the friar version of Snow White, set his sights on converting a Sultan or dying in the process.  He was so fervent the Sultan basically was like, “no thanks, but if you believe in your god that strongly here’s safe passage through my land just get this crazy out of my court.” But I digress.

We don’t need to die for God, but we should devote ourselves readily to service.  That is, I believe, what Paul means by a living sacrifice, and why he goes on at length about using our gifts in service to the world.  As an aside, I wrote two posts last year about the wonderful gifts God has given us (and how to use them) and also assessing your spiritual gifts, if you are at a loss to how you might play a role in serving the world.  Please don’t let martyrdom scare you off from service, or make you think that what you are doing isn’t good enough.  The important part of the equation is service. Death of a generous spirit, when it happens, is a tragedy.  Dr. Li is a shining example of this.  I pray that we open our ears and our hearts to the message of the whistle-blowers, who call our attention to impending crises and ongoing injustices.  I pray especially that those in power may not be hard of heart towards those messages.  Let us remember Dr. Li with the saints, and may his death not be in vain.

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