Confined with Ourselves

Posted on May 01, 2020

Easter Vigil by ourselves (and Deacon Aunt Margie and cousins Charlotte and Josiah)

My uncle used to joke at the end of an evening, “We enjoyed ourselves…that’s about all we enjoyed…”  Here at home quarantined with ourselves I find we are enjoying ourselves... some of the time;  we are also disappointed in ourselves or bored with ourselves a lot of the time.  

In “The Wise Woman,” by George MacDonald, the mystical Wise Woman, in order to affect change in a selfish girl, confines her in a home where she must labor day after day at mundane chores.  With another self absorbed young girl, she encloses her in a bubble in which she must see herself in mirrors from all sides.  I feel that this “shelter-at-home” has this agency of transformation behind it--forcing us to be with ourselves as we go about mundane, repetitive labors, some of which we don’t even know how to do.

I know that I had big plans for this time cloistered at home with my children.  I gained twenty hours a week simply by not doing carpools, shuttling to activities, and engaging in active church ministry.  In the return for the deep loss of engagement with friends, life giving activities, and all the preparation for a Holy Week that we live for every year, I thought life at home would provide a kind of sabbath;  I would be productive;  we would have the chance to read books we have not had time to read, learn games that are still in their shrink wrap on the shelf, play music, sip coffee, make food that we enjoy, FaceTime with family and friends overseas, watch some documentaries.

Even as I look at that list, I realize we have done some of all of those things.  My meals have been more interesting because I am at home during meal prep time;  I have skimmed a Marie Kondo organizing book and organized my closet and drawers and the board games (whoopee); my boys played eight hours of Monopoly; we have had daily walks and more regular family prayer; we have had meaningful Zoom calls with family and friends, the kids have strung hammocks four high, and we have read out loud to each other and watched an interesting movie series.

But the feeling I have is restlessness and disappointment.  Screens are necessary for school and engagement with others. My husband has been on Zoom calls for work sometimes eight hours straight, and my older children are scattered throughout the house on computers for E-learning. It is a disconcerting disconnect to be so embodied with ourselves while being completely disembodied from others. And it is a strange “sabbath” to be away from Church and Communion.  The regularity of the news feed of fear looms large in our conversation, and our daily decisions about contact with extended family or others feel disorienting.

In this atmosphere of restlessness, I have watched us all go through a level of de-tox, of slowing down, of accepting limitations. Not having the normal hurry that jerks us out of our homes and gives us a brief escape into activity, not having the rush of careening toward lights out, forces us to be with our thoughts and our emotions, to be reminded of our choices. It is almost as if being able just to be with ourselves has affected an important work of awakening in us a discontentment with life, a longing for something more.

What if the success of this time is not once again measured by productivity or even creativity, but by personal growth in gratitude, hope, faith, and love?  By shifting our expectations of life? And is it possible that this is achieved simply by being with our own emerging thoughts, reactions, fears, and expectations, and having time to see them as they are?  And then to find that God is opening a window into an eternal space? 

At the end of each day, I do an Ignatian Examen, which involves rehearsing the day from four vantage points.  This has formalized a self-examination that has helped me articulate what is emerging in myself.  This first involves asking Jesus to be present with me as I look back over my day to reveal what I need to see in the light of his love.

The first is Gratitude:  this is a chance to allow the events, conversations, faces of the day to go before me, and to see the hidden mercies, graces, joys of the day.  The monopoly game on the living room floor for three days was an irritation, but two older brothers included a younger brother who often feels excluded, and he held his own.  I become present to that hidden small miracle and grateful for the seeds of something transformational. We stood and observed an unusual hawk in our backyard and identified him as a Cooper’s hawk.  To help our family with gratitude, we have a gratitude journal on a stand on the table encouraging everyone to write moments of gratitude throughout the day.

The second is Thoughts: this is an opportunity to examine my thoughts of the day--this is where I end up spending a lot of time. Where did my thoughts lead to faith, hope, and love?  Where was I caught up in a desolate cycle of thought?  Dialoguing with God about these thoughts and having him shine his light on them, has been an important aspect of the shelter-at-home for me.  Where are my disappointments catalytic for re-evaluation and change?  Where are my disappointments simply an acknowledgement of living this side of heaven? My fears of how this whole Covid-19 experience will change our world have had to be challenged with the faith for how this whole Covid-19 experience could change our world!  

The third is Words: this is an invitation to rehearse my words of the day.  I often find that I neglected to use words that could bless others and encourage them.  Instead, I was reactive or critical.  But I can also hear God’s, “Well done,” when I engaged in a conversation where I listened and was a vehicle for blessing in my words.

The fourth is Deeds: this is a chance to pause and examine actions of the day.  Where were they self serving? Self-sacrificing? Pointless and wasteful? Enriching and engaging?  Where did my deeds match with God’s purposes for my day or where was I drawn into the expectation of others or the misplaced desire to please others?

This simple exercise (which I actually do the following morning, looking back on the day before) has helped me be “with myself,” but in the transforming presence of God.

I am adjusting my expectations of this Coronavirus Confinement.  I have ceased to expect that I will accomplish a lot or that I will have bursts of creative energy and artistic output.  It will be more like the planting and weeding of a garden--totally unspectacular, laborious, with little to show for it at the end of the day, but evident in the breaking forth of a new season.  In actuality, weeding and tending and planting is full of the small actions of hope and expectation. So helping a child with math, listening more intently, making food, sitting down together to eat it, going on countless walks, being willing to navigate the feelings of fear and frustration with an awareness of God’s presence is sowing transformational rewards. 

In short, being with ourselves as we actually are, increases the capacity for us to be with God and others as they really are and find joy in it.  And when this confinement is over, I believe we will look back and see the creativity that emerged, the changes that were sown in the hiddenness of this time, and the longing for God and true community.  This is the faith I am engaging for how our world will be different after Corona...we will be different.  And this unleashes eternal possibilities.  

I better go cut some boys’ hair right now, a labor I do not relish. Wish me joy.

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Stay With Me: The invitation during Covid-19

Posted on April 09, 2020

I cannot imagine more apropos words during the coronavirus confinement than Jesus’ words: “Stay with me.” We have heard loudly the injunction to “stay at home,” and for many this has led to isolation, loneliness, or confinement with people of whom we can only endure small doses. But Jesus offers companionship, “Stay with ME.”

(Of course his injunction to “Watch and pray,” also has new meaning as we all turn on our devices to watch our holy week services.)

Years ago I remember watching Stewart depart for a Maundy Thursday service he was leading while I stayed behind to care for a sick child. I remember a tremendous disappointment that I was going to miss a service that has meant so much to me, that I had waited for all year. I remember complaining to the Lord, “My desire to go and worship and be with the Church on this night is a good desire. Why did this child who is never sick have to be sick tonight?” I quickly heard in my spirit the whisper of the Lord, “Stay with me.”

This year as we have processed being denied our rich Holy Week through which we are deeply fed, I have wrestled with the sentiment, “maybe we should just skip Holy Week, at least in our expectations.” And yet, Jesus whispers, “Stay with me. Do you want me as much as you want the rich rituals of the worship experience?”

Should I expect that God could meet us in our own homes? It reminds me of Psalm 78, the Psalm we always read on Maundy Thursday, in which the psalmist echoes the Isaelites’ doubt, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” Dare we ask of God that we be fed this weekend? He fed the children of Israel with the bread of angels in the wilderness. May we ask for this bread in the wilderness of our own homes?

When Stewart and I visited Jerusalem a couple of summers ago, I laid no expectation on myself for having emotional encounters with the Lord at holy sites. I wanted whatever Jesus wanted to give me. I would not have expected my highlight of the whole trip to be the Garden of Gethsemane. I entered the garden and could imagine Jesus blind with grief touching the craggy and twisted olive trees, now some being over 1,000 years old, moving to a place where he would pass a night of shadowy anguish, haunted by the looming threat of morning and what it would bring.

But it was the Basilica that really took my breath away. The large brass doors with olive trees opened into a space where many domes were covered with painted stars. Every stained glass window was a simple cross, depicting the reality that everywhere Jesus looked he was surrounded by the impending cross. The stone before the altar where Jesus allegedly prayed that night was surrounded with a wrought iron crown of thorns.

And from the crown of thorns emerged at various intervals a cup, the cup of suffering that Jesus had to choose to drink.

Why would Jesus ask me to stay with him here? It is in the garden that he invites us to kneel and begin from where we are but not where we want to end up. It is here we face our fears, our hesitations, our weak wills that shirk from embracing the cross that is ours to take up. It is here that we are honest about everything in us that wars against his kingdom.

This year I know I am bringing into the Garden of Gethsemane my own fears of our global future, my fears of what it will cost me to be a vocal Christian in my own context, the resentments I have nursed instead of embracing forgiveness, my physical pain, and the questions of still unanswered prayers. Here in the garden I want to embrace the kingdom. I want to love Jesus more than all of these other things I carry. I want to say with Paul, “...that I may know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings in order that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)

Sometimes the Lord keeps us in the Garden of Gethsemane for a long time. Some of you feel like you live in the Garden of Gethsemane. I have lived through seasons when I start the day begging the Father to let a cup of suffering pass me by and wrestle with him until evening when I can finally say, “Not my will, but yours be done,” just to get up and do it again the next day. But as I surrender my will and stay with the Lord, I find his companionship transformative. I can drink the cup of suffering because it is also the cup of glory to be shared with my suffering and triumphant Lord. For it is only by embracing the cross that I can share in his resurrection power and life.

As I was kneeling and praying at the stone where Jesus prayed, I was moved to tears by the artist’s imaginative rendering of birds perched beside each cup.

These birds were there to comfort Jesus, to be with him in his sorrow. I was touched by that caress of comfort, that small grace in the form of these little birds. The birds stayed with him. To me those birds have been a symbol of the many graces God extends to us in our loneliness and sorrow, a reminder that Jesus has sent us his comfort.

Though we want to run, to act, to do anything to escape suffering, and we are invited to STAY, the invitation does not set aside all action. We are called to watch and pray. Watching implies some sense of expectation that something is coming; something is stirring; he calls us to be aware, alert, to contemplate, take notice so that as we pray we will be guided to know how to pray. And we pray.

I believe the Church is praying more globally than we ever have before. During this Covid-19 crisis in which we are staying in, let us stay with Jesus, let us watch what God is doing, let us pray. Let us be in the Garden of Gethsemane, and simply be with Jesus in the midst of the suffering of the world and pray to embrace the way of the kingdom, which is the way of the cross. Jesus invites you, “Stay with me.”

Practical Ideas for preparing your home as a “garden” where you can stay in with the Lord:

  1. Prepare some space in your home that is a place that is a reminder of God’s presence. The Israelites had the Tabernacle, then the Temple, and within the Temple, the Holy of Holies. In our home, we have a table with a book stand on it, a cross, lanterns and candles that we light at prayer time. On the book stand, we put an icon or an open book with a picture that represents the reminder of the particular holy day. You can put flowers, open Bible, anything else that reminds you of the presence of God in your home.
  2. Consider turning all devices off during the Triduum (the Three Days, beginning the evening of Maundy Thursday and continuing through Easter Day). Only use devices for devotional purposes, ie. services and music. Do not search the web or use any social media. Tell your family and friends to call you if they need something. Because we have been thrust into a world of connection only through devices (and thank God for them during this time!!), we will need to be extremely intentional to make space for watching and praying.
  3. Get into nature and receive the comforts God is offering through his creation. Take prayer walks in the neighborhood. On Palm Sunday we went on a walk around our block singing as a family, and we have had other prayer walks, such that our neighbor got inspired to plan a block wide Easter morning sing from our respective side walks.
  4. Tune into what your church is doing. If you need Holy Week services, consider our church, Church of the Resurrection, which will be live streaming. See the link for services and so many resources for children, prayer walks, and the plan to raise an Hallelujah out of our windows on Easter Sunday at noon. and our diocesan website:

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