a resource for this time of COVID-19 social distancing
By the Rev. Bruce W. Gray
One of the most inspiring modern prayers I have encountered has become known as the Thomas Merton Prayer. Thomas Merton was a well known Roman Catholic monk and mystic of the late twentieth century. He has been described as one of the most influential Christians of this time (he died in 1968), with people from all sorts of faith (or no faith) backgrounds seeking him out for conversation, and in the years since his death, through his many writings have found spiritual guidance, comfort, and challenges. His day of commemoration on the Episcopal calendar of saints is December 10th.
I have found this prayer extremely helpful at various times in my life, and in the oddness of these current times, I have prayed it repeatedly. I hope you find some sense of God in it.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
By the Rev. Bruce W. Gray
One of my favorite museums to visit is the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. It is dedicated to his work, which means the Peanuts comic strip. With all the materials in the museum's collection, the exhibits can change frequently, so it was always an interesting stop during vacations.
I have not been there since moving to Indianapolis around twelve years ago, but the exhibit I saw on my last visit still is easy for me to visualize. It focused on how the Peanuts strip changed as Schultz aged, and I was particularly taken with the various visual techniques he learned to make up for his declining dexterity. I had been an avid Peanuts reader for years before that visit, and had not noticed the subtle changes that took place to simplify the drawings and the settings so that he could continue to draw his works without any assistance. His sense of humor, his insights into human nature, and his awareness of social conditions in the wider world were as sharp as ever but his hands and wrists were showing signs of age and wear.
I had not really thought about before then how creative it is to age, to seek to do the enjoyable activities of our lives even as we have to adapt and change how we do them. I have aged enough since then to gain a deeper and deeper appreciation for the creative aspects of aging, along with a deeper sympathy for Schultz as he worked so hard to keep his standards as high as ever, but through different techniques.
Of course this same creativity applies to our current times, of COVID-19 and a lousy economy. We of course at times will feel frustrated, fearful about the future, and maybe more than a little depressed. But we can, without disregarding any of those sensations, also embrace the challenges of coming up with creative solutions to how to live as fulfilling lives as we had pre-pandemic. I have been very moved by parishioners telling me in emails, texts, zoom calls and almost carrier pigeon about the ways they are living differently but not frivolously in these challenging months.
It would be so easy to hide in our homes, binging on Netflix and perhaps unhealthy snacks, but so many people of Holy Family are finding ways to connect more deeply with God, with people in their neighborhoods, sometimes even with people under their own roofs. With Jesus telling us that the summary of all the Scriptures is loving God with our entire being and our neighbors as ourselves, it is easy but maybe surprising to see that the creative work of getting by in these odd times is holy work, God filled time, and in it we can become even better Christians.