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.
(*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.)