Good Friday, Covid-19 Edition

Pieta-2 by Stacey Torres

Turns out that Good Friday was my breaking point. Theologically appropriate. The waves of feelings that have moved through and around me during these five weeks of isolation – anxiety, contentment, rage, peace, restlessness, joy, loneliness – descended into depression today. A sense of uselessness threatens to drown me.

I lay awake last night thinking how counterintuitive the not-touching part of this pandemic is. Human touch heals. If we don’t know this instinctively, science has plenty of studies to confirm this truth. Dying alone is traumatic for the one dying and even more so, I believe, for the loved ones left behind. As a hospice chaplain and then a trauma chaplain, I witnessed the need for presence over and over. I can see how my mother has deteriorated both mentally and physically in the 5 weeks she’s been in quarantine, even with lovely care. As someone who lives alone and whose primary love language is physical touch, I feel the distance in my bones like a sickness.

I understand and support the physical distancing effort and have been practicing it and preaching it for weeks now. And yet … and yet … is there a better way?

The earth regenerates as fewer planes and cars and oversized ships pollute our air and water. But what about closer to home? Is there a way to connect just a few people here and there? Create small circles of physical connection to keep each other sane and grounded? I would like to do this for others. Hold a hand of someone who is sick or lonely. Stroke the head of someone who is anxious. Wrap my arms around the grieving ones.

The first few weeks of the pandemic I was mostly hopeful – grieving the enormous loss of life and livelihoods, yes – but aware that something beautiful might emerge. Deeper connections. Stronger compassion. Awareness of our global humanity. As the weeks slip by, I feel that sense of hope retreating. Will we all be so emotionally broken at the end of this that we’ll just long for the former “normality” more than ever?

On Holy Week, the closest friends of Jesus fell apart. They abandoned him, denied him, betrayed him, hid away from him. Only the Marys remained, Magdala and his mother. Bearing witness at the foot of the cross and ready at the crack of dawn on Easter morning to perform the burial rites. Present to anoint the broken body with herbs and spices and ointments.

The symbolism is not lost on me. The men cowered. The women showed up. Those who had power to lose ran scared. Those who had none to begin with could risk everything. Could this Good Friday be the one to finally break the remaining hold of patriarchy and white supremacy in my own heart? Maybe I am not drowning, maybe I am being washed clean.

The Marys led early communities of Jesus followers. It took almost 400 years for their influence to be nearly vanquished from the Christ movements. And then, in the 1890s, the rediscovery period began. (Interestingly, this is the same era that several new denominations were begun by women in this country.*) Now, 75 years after the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, the scholarship around Mary of Magdala is finally maturing. A Divine Feminine understanding of the Christ energy rises. Will this be the Easter when the women’s tales are finally believed?

What will our post-pandemic life divulge about us? It’s hard to know on Good Friday. The friends fell asleep when Jesus, in his deepest distress, needed wakeful attendance. The traumatic journey to Jerusalem exhausted them. Maybe we are asleep in Gethsemane right now, unable to pray for even one hour, exhausted by these recent events.

Good Friday gutted me. As it should. What then will Easter bring? Will I arise ready to run toward death with healing touch? Ready to embrace all we have sealed away in dark tombs as defeated, powerless, useless, heretical? Ready to anoint the broken bodies and welcome them back into the land of the living?

Easter isn’t here yet and so today I sit in this place of shattered silence. And yet … something has changed. I feel it in these still-sick bones.

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(*See Emma Curtis Hopkins, Mary Baker Eddy, Myrtle Fillmore, Ellen G. White, Aimee Semple McPherson, and early ordinations of women in the Cumberland Presbyterian, Methodist Protestant and American Baptist churches.)

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Doing a New Thing

I have decided to post some of the messages I’ve given over the past year, because that seems to be where most of my writing is these days. And also because this community that I’m blessed to serve inspires me every week and I hope it will also inspire you. Enjoy. 

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An Old Sermon for a New Year

I haven’t written anything recently that seems like something that needs to be shared. So I decided to look back and see what I wrote five years ago and found this sermon. The references to recent shootings were at Tucson, when Gabrielle Giffords was shot among others. But I’m sad to say there have been so many shooting since then that this could reference just about any month in the five years since I wrote this.

January 23, 2011 – A Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

            Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

When my husband and I had been married for one year, we decided to quit our jobs and become live-in house parents in a halfway house for ex-offenders. A progressive Catholic Church ran the program out of an old house in a sketchy neighborhood as an extension of their prison ministry held at the maximum security men’s prison. Our housemates were mostly men who had done some pretty serious time for some pretty serious crime. Continue Reading →

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On Picking Up Kleenex

Over the last few years, at any given time I’ve had at least two friends whose CaringBridge site I was following. If you don’t know CaringBridge, it’s a wonderful online way to keep in touch with family and friends while going through an illness. Often it’s cancer, but not always. It’s also been ALS, heart disease, difficult surgeries. When I see an update in my inbox these days, I don’t automatically know who it’s about. It could be one of several.

I’ve thought about that a lot while lying on my couch recovering from my own surgery. Mine was no big deal, so I didn’t need a CaringBridge site. But I did send out an email to a number of friends and they’ve been so great at stopping by with food or coming to walk my dog or sending super sweet prayers via email and phone.12311235_10153412443182739_771720198529413692_n

Even though I think that my gratitude practice is pretty good – I’ve been at it since childhood and it’s kept me sane through the toughest times in my life – there’s nothing like a little time without one’s usual capacities to put that gratitude in perspective. Like, how often recently have you been grateful for the ability to bend over and pick something up? Continue Reading →

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Sex Work and Feminism

On a muggy summer day in 1987 in a courtroom in downtown Chicago, I waited to be called by stillettothe court security officer for my chance to enter lock-up. Other women waited for their chance to get out; I was waiting to get in. I was 24 on that first day I walked into the dark cell and heard the thick metal door clang shut behind me with a frightening finality. A dozen tired, strung-out women sat or lay on the hard benches along the walls of the cell, all arrested the night before for street prostitution. My job was to let them know about services available to them and to teach them safe sex techniques. As if I had any clue about what might make these women safer. Continue Reading →

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Saturday Morning Poem

Fall 1985, New York City.
An Upper West Side apartment.
The Food and Justice Committee
gathers for a potluck
planning our next action –
buzzing, earnest.
A woman swoops
into the room,
places a large bowl of grapes
in the middle of the table.
Conversation stops.
We awkwardly eye the offending fruit,
glance sideways at each other.

January 20, 2009, Washington, DC.
The Mall.
Eight days ago my father died.
I stand in the crush of millions,
joyous, reverent, crying.
Aching with cold,
aching for audacity.
A poet preaches.
An oath is taken.
History –
and I am here.

July 2015, Asheville NC.
My kitchen.
I shell peas.
The washing machine whirs.
The coffee grows cold.
The voice of that poet
sings to me from my computer,
her own words – and Audre’s and Adrienne’s and Gwendolyn’s
and tears stream.
Sings praise to farm workers and women in kitchens
and I shell peas
and remember.
“What if the mightiest word is love?”*

*From “Praise Song for the Day,” the poem written and recited by Elizabeth Alexander on the occasion of the Inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama.

My poem, written quickly – too particular, too many allusions for general consumption – but nonetheless I share it. Maybe one day I’ll even edit it.

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American History and Me

Through these last weeks of watching the Charleston massacre and Bree Newsome’s beautiful act of courage taking down the Confederate Flag and now our nation’s annual celebration of independence on July 4th, I have been reflecting on my own family’s American history.revolution

Here is the story I have enjoyed telling since I moved to Asheville, NC, nine years ago:

My great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother took a train to these mountains from the eastern part of North Carolina in the 1860s and settled in Big Sandy Mush. My great-grandfather, Nicholas Arrington Collins, served in the Asheville Police Department and, as a young detective, gained some bit of local fame when he solved the Emma Post Office Robbery of 1901. He later became the Chief of Police for the APD. Continue Reading →

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