His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
All you need do, Redeemer, is explain. Explain the suffering, the illness, the dis-ease. Explain the disabilities, ill fortunes, and abuse. Explain it all so we may know the cause, the source, the blame.
In truth, we are less interested to see the sufferer healed. We gain a measure of self-satisfaction in our judgments, yes? And leave the sad afflicted in the sad result of “their own failed and sorry lives.”
But you, Redeemer, will not settle for the sadness of our satisfaction. You insist that we lay down our judgment, hear the voices we would silence. You insist we act as healers in the suffering world.
May we take your direction in this time:
[Jesus said] to him, “Go, wash…” (from John 9:7)
A poem/prayer based on John 9:1-41, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Fourth Sunday in Lent.
The image is Le aveugle-né se lave à la piscine de Siloë (The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam) by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.173_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957455.
We’re frightened. Simply and honestly, we’re frightened. We can summon up our courage, but we must summon it amidst our fear.
We fear the thing we cannot see.
For some, this fear has led us into frenzy. Look, see the empty shelves where frozen foods and sanitizing lotion and toilet paper rolls were stocked. Look, see the calls and visits rising at the doctors’ offices, the urgent cares, the hospitals’ emergency rooms. Look, see the frenzy.
For some, this fear has led us into flat denial. Look, see the false-faced reassurances. Look, see the failures to anticipate. Look, see the bald refusal to take ownership of errors.
For some, this fear has led to false bravado. Look, see the gatherings still scheduled, defiant and unwise. Look, see the accusations leveled against “foreign” carriers of illness. Look, see the quest for blame replace the quest for health.
Look and see, O God. Look and see.
Now help us see, we pray, the actions of compassion. May we care for one another in our caution, less concerned with how this virus might affect “my” health than how it might bring harm to “yours.” May we keep our sickness to ourselves (for once, and if only this once, then at least this once). May we bring our groceries to share, our voices over telephones or video streams, our prayers…
Our prayers to you.
Grant strength to those who struggle to breathe. Grant protection to those who labor in healing. Grant compassion to those who share their ability to move about with those who must stay home. Grant connections of hearts between those who must refrain, for now, from touching hands.
In a conversation with a friend and colleague today, as we shared our fears about the COVID-19 pandemic, the approaches we were taking or considering, and the wide expanse of potential futures, I mentioned that I had been looking forward to a time with less stress in my ministry. In each of the last three years, natural disasters and community conflicts have shaken my neighbors (sometimes literally), my colleagues in faith leadership, and our institutions. I had truly hoped that 2020 would bring some relief.
It has not.
In 2018, lava erupted from the lower slopes of Kilauea, spilling across farms, roads, and houses. Half of the Leilani Estates subdivision vanished and all of Kapoho. Places of great beauty are no more. The molten rock flowed for four months. Sometimes it chose new channels, displacing new people. Sometimes it simply flowed in a well-bounded river. Residents scrambled to evacuate, and sometimes returned to recover additional possessions. Some of them have been able to return home. Some never can.
As we observed that the pandemic was not a one day and done event, my friend asked me, “What have you learned about a slow motion disaster?”
I learned that community connection and collaboration are vital. The faith groups of Hawai’i dithered briefly (we must admit that) and organized quickly. We built on existing relationships among clergy and lay leaders. Then we strengthened them. We created brand-new relationships with one another. We strengthened those, too. The “Faith Hui,” as we came to be known, was not unique. Collaborations sprang up between newly formed groups such as the Pu’uhonua of Puna and the Bodacious Women of Pahoa formed in 2013.
Nobody worked alone – or if they did, they didn’t do it effectively, or they didn’t do it for long.
We learned to conserve our strength as leaders and as congregations. We took on tasks, and we handed tasks along. We recruited people from outside our congregations or organizations to help. Some partnerships lasted only a few days, others persisted. Since the lava stopped flowing, new partnerships have evolved to aid in recovery, or to adapt programs built for one purpose to serve a new and similar one.
Sometimes leaders had to step back. Other leaders stepped forward.
We learned that sometimes we had to attend to our own needs. Spiritual care for people in the Red Cross shelter in Pahoa never reached the levels we’d hoped or anticipated. Some couldn’t take the atmosphere, which, just a few miles away from the fissures, was laden with sulfur. I myself had to step away for a few weeks because my father died, nor was I the only faith leader in that period to suffer the loss of a loved one.
The heart may yearn to be in more than one place, but the body can only be in one.
We learned to stay out of the way of other efforts. As someone who had done event photography for so many years, and as someone who loves to capture the power of nature in images, I yearned to visit the area with a camera. But… that would have added almost nothing to the assistance needed by those affected. It would have done little to tell the story that was not already being done by others. My camera and I stayed home. The photo above, taken from three miles away in the village of Pahoa, was as close as was sensible and as close as I came.
We didn’t have to do everything. There were things we simply should not do.
As I lead a study series on Wisdom this Lenten season, I hope this brief meditation reflects some wisdom for this crisis, for this pandemic. We must not work alone. We must be ready to step back as needed and step forward as needed. We must meet our own needs.