November 26, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
As we enter the last month of 2020 many of us feel that this year cannot end soon enough. It’s been a year of political turmoil, economic disaster, and, of course, public health crisis. We faced a sudden and shocking lockdown late last winter, then an easing up on restrictions and adjustment to some new kind of normal over the summer; now, as the year grows literally darker, we are coping with the bad news of a dramatic spike in COVID cases along with increased restrictions on our movements to help slow down the spread. Health officials hint that the worst is still to come and offer only a faint glimmer of hope in the promise of a vaccine by springtime. Meantime, many of us bound to our homes, we watch and we wonder and we wait.
What are the resources we can draw on in this time, to strengthen our hearts and souls and bodies? What will help us in our time of need?
For Christians, one of the first answers must be: prayer. In prayer we lift up our hearts to God, even hurting and broken as they often are. In prayer we name our fears and anxieties, our hopes and desires. In prayer we honestly bare our souls. All this by itself can be freeing and healing. When we can name before God what we are truly feeling and needing, we come closer to being able to meet those needs, whether for meaning or comfort, or companionship, or healing, or anything else.
But lifting up our hearts is only one half of prayer. Since prayer is a dialogue it also involves listening to God. And God, who is compassion and mercy, speaks in many ways. Sometimes through an insight that leads to greater clarity, sometimes through a feeling of consolation, sometimes through a word we feel we can almost hear out loud. While the particulars may vary with the individual, one thing will always be constant, and that is: God’s word will always lead us to more solid faith, a stronger hope, and a greater love.
It is always fitting and right to find time for prayer in our lives, but now while many of us are experiencing some degree of confinement to our homes we have perhaps more opportunity than ever.
Prayer, this naming of our heart’s reality and listening for God’s voice in response, can take many forms. It might involve a quiet space and time in your day. It might accompany another activity like knitting or walking. It might be silent. It might involve a traditional formula of words. One possible form is the Jesus Prayer, which I have written about before, in which we outwardly repeat the words Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, while inwardly the prayer of our heart arises on its own. The words become a vessel for our heart’s prayer. Another tried-and-true vessel for our prayers is the book of Psalms. These prayers have expressed the sorrows and celebrations of God’s people for thousands of years. Perhaps you could have a practice of meditatively reading the psalms each day. Any time of prayer cannot go wrong by concluding with the one our Lord gave us. Every time I speak the Lord’s Prayer another one of its lines stands out. It truly encapsulates everything we might bring before God.
I hope that in the coming winter of lockdown the members of Hope Lutheran will find more time than ever before to pray – both as a source of personal consolation, and a spring of community connection as we hold each other up in prayer. As our bishop, Larry Kochendorfer encouraged us:
Please pray for those who will find these restrictions difficult, for all who are isolated or lonely, for our congregations, rostered leaders, the vulnerable in our midst, for those suffering from COVID-19, for provincial leaders, and for emergency workers, doctors, nurses, and essential workers who are bearing the burden of this pandemic.
Community connection, of course, is the other great resource for strength and resilience in these difficult times. As Christians our spirituality is intimately bound up with our life in community, which is our participation in the body of Christ. While we face some restrictions right now in how we can gather, we are still able to connect with each other through phone calls. We have the opportunity to reach out now to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) We also have the gift of technology to keep us connected in our Sunday worship. How blessed we are compared to Christians of past times who faced plague and pandemic, that we still have a way of meeting together! Of course nothing replaces the ability to gather in person, face to face, in worship and in small groups, but we can still make use of what we have been given.
I’ll conclude with Bishop Larry’s words encouragement, which I would also like to make my own, to you the people of Hope:
Beloved of God, as people of faith, continue to be humble and gentle with one another. Honour each other. Make space for lament. Welcome moments of joy. Help each other live into hope. Learn from this journey in the coronavirus wilderness and let the learning lead us forward. Trust that God is at work in this time and look for the new things God is doing even now.
And may “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Yours in Christ,