Six months is a long time to have a church building closed. I was imagining what it would be like if our physical home had been closed because of a fire or flood or some other disaster. I suspect it would be far more difficult for us to have jumped onto the livestream band wagon if none of the other churches in Fort Collins were having to take similar measures. But we find ourselves still feeling as though we are living in exile from the people and the structural home we love.
I keep thinking about Psalm 137, a lament that speaks of an exiled people who long for their homeland:
By the rivers of Babylon --
there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked
for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Lament is a perfectly acceptable form of prayer at this time in our common life. I suspect that many of us are growing tired of livestreamed worship, and I can tell you that I am really weary of trying to connect over the internet with the hundreds of people whom I suspect are out there, but whose reactions and responses I cannot see. I am tired of the hollow feeling of singing hymns with only four people singing in the sanctuary. It seems as if we have “hung up our harps” and God only knows when we will be back together and able to sing robustly “one of the songs of Zion” with a choir and a congregation. And like anger, lament is okay...but it’s a lousy place to get stuck.
We have to move forward from that place of feeling crummy about the state of our lives and recenter ourselves. The wisdom of the Psalms again comes to our aid, providing a pivot (ugh...I’m tired of that word!) moving us from imploring God to doing what we can do by being faithful. Psalm 13 is short and to the point:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my
heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my
enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
[pivot] But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Each of us has something to be grateful for...some bounty that God has entrusted to our care. Even if it something as elemental as waking up this morning, we can give thanks. I find it difficult to be grateful and grumpy at the same time, and since we have a choice about our own outlook, I make an attempt to live in gratitude. I’m trying to pivot into the love and goodness of God, rather than to get stuck in the mire of lament and self-pity. Singing helps...even if it’s alone in the shower.
Isaac Watts, a Congregational minister in London in the 18th century, usedPsalm 90 as the basis for his hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and for those of us who feel as if we are in exile — who miss our home — it contains these lines about our true home, which never closes down: “Still be our God while troubles last, and our eternal home.” Don’t be afraid to call on God directly in these uncertain, stressful times. We all need to allow ourselves and one another a bit of grace to feel our lament, and we also need to acknowledge that this pandemic is not going to last forever, and there will come a day when we can return to our fellow members and our church building.
Keep the faith!
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.