In the past few days, I have been called a “sheep” and even a “brainwashed sheep” on social media. This was in response to my expressed opinion that it is a good thing to wear a mask in public places right now.
For the 61 years I have been on this planet, the advice of medical doctors has generally served me well. Occasionally errors have been made but if I followed the doctor’s guidelines, I was better off 98% of the time. So when the pandemic began, I was motivated to listen to what the health experts and medical doctors were saying.
I acknowledge that early on, there were confusing messages about the wearing of masks. In March we were still learning about this virus and how it is transmitted. We didn’t want people hoarding PPE that would be required by nurses and doctors and it was not felt that cloth masks offered protection.
But the messaging quickly changed. Although we learned that cloth masks might not give much protection to the wearer, it became clear that they could protect others. The more people wear a mask, the safer we all are.
But that makes me a sheep according to some on the Internet. And of course, when they call me that, they intend it as an insult.
Here is the thing….for most of my life I have been happy to be called a sheep. It is a word that describes my relationship with God. I am a little sheep following my loving shepherd. He leads me beside still waters and into green pastures. When I know my shepherd is around, I know I am safe.
While animals can’t express their feelings in words, I imagine that a sheep settled in a green pasture where she can munch away to her heart’s content is happier than the one precariously balanced on the ledge of sheer cliff, because she chose to scamper away from the shepherd’s guidance. The stranded sheep might have experienced an exhilaration in their freedom as they ran but if they can still see the flock resting and eating in comfort, do they have regrets?
Now…don’t get me wrong. Obviously, I do not equate the guidance of health experts with the work of the Good Shepherd.
But I think there is a principle here that is worth considering during this present time.
So…you can call me a sheep.
But I am at peace in my present pasture.
And the grazing is good.
At the time I write this blog, churches have been closed for more than two months.
I know this has been difficult. I know that many want to return to communal worship.
We look at crowded parking lots and open parks and trails. We wonder why we can’t gather to worship?
I live in Ontario, Canada. We are still prohibited gatherings of more than five. And so we will continue to livestream our service and experience a shared worship experience with those who come online.
South of the border there is pressure from the highest levels for churches to open up. I know this pressure is starting to be felt here in Canada too. And I will not deny that I long for the day when I can gather with my church family.
The reality is that people can social distance on a beach or in a park or while shopping They might choose not to do so but it is possible.
But there is so much about communal worship that is inherently high risk during a pandemic.
It involves the gathering of unscreened people in an enclosed, indoor space. If just one is ill that can lead to a chain of infections. Some large churches might find it impossible to social distance. There will be singing. We will instinctively want to hug and greet each other.
It can be very risky for sure. And although all these activities feed our soul, none of them are truly essential for the Christian journey. Highly beneficial yes. But not essential.
Paul wrote many of his Epistles, full of profound spiritual truths, when he was in a horrible Roman prison. And those words have nourished the Church for centuries. That was his legacy.
John wrote the Book of Revelations while he was in exile.
We can certainly carry on with our spiritual disciplines in our homes, knowing that this will pass eventually.
This can be a time when the Church rises up and speaks love and shows love. Or it can be a time when we demand our rights to ignore risk and gather together.
I choose the former.
The church I attended as a young person had the words of Micah 6:8 inscribed behind the platform. For eight years, I worshipped with that congregation and read those words over and over during the services. I know they profoundly influenced my spiritual development.
What does the Lord require of me? To…
*Walk humbly with God.
I do not need to be in a church building to do these things.
Perhaps during a pandemic, these words are even more relevant. To choose to treat everyone in a just manner. Not demanding my right to worship if it would put others at risk. To show mercy to all who are struggling with isolation and to those who have a different view of how we should navigate these times. To walk humbly with the God I trust. He knows the way through this wilderness. I just need to follow.
What does the Lord require of us?
What will be the legacy that we leave for all those who follow us in the years ahead?
It is almost two months since they first told me that volunteer chaplains would not be allowed to come in to the hospital to provide spiritual support, as a result of the pandemic. My program has changed.
Two months of constant changes and readjustments and precautions. I have to admit, last week I hit the wall emotionally and had a couple of days where I was just sad and grieving. I am sure you all have had many days like that and the cold and snow certainly did not help my mental health.
But I continued to pray and trust God. The reality is that trust and faith are not measured by our emotional state. Perhaps our faith is at its greatest when we choose to say “I believe” even though we feel despair.
And so I kept on breathing those “breath prayers”.
“Lord, I believe.”
“Lord, I know you are with me.”
“Lord, rekindle my hope.”
And little by little my feelings and faith began to align.
As we look to the week ahead, we see hopeful signs. The number of Covid patients in ICU across Canada continues to go down. More than 70% of all Covid patients in Ontario are now listed as “recovered”.
The weather is soon to warm up. We can now buy plants for our gardens. These are little blessings for which we are grateful.
Life will not soon return to what it was at the beginning of this year. But let us still be mindful of all that is good.
Continue to stay safe everyone. You remain in my prayer.
The words to this old hymn have been going through my mind a lot lately.
I coordinate Spiritual Care at a hospital. In normal times a volunteer chaplain comes in each day.
None of them have been permitted to come in since March 13th, when we began to realize the impact of the pandemic.
In the past, I have often asked the team of chaplains to respond to a question by writing on our office chalkboard.
At the beginning of this year, the question was,“Do you have a word for 2020?”
The responses that were written are still up on the board. Here they are.
Faithfulness (God’s), gratitude, thanksgiving, joy, awareness and peace.
Obviously when these words were shared in January, we had no idea what life would be like four months later. But each one of these words is so important during this time.
We need to:
Trust in the faithfulness of God, who changes not.
Remind ourselves to speak words of gratitude and embrace thanksgiving when our minds might want to focus on what we are missing.
Choose to find joy in all the little blessings each day.
Take time to mindfully cultivate awareness of God’s presence.
Affirm that true peace is not dependent on our circumstances.
These are good spiritual practices. I choose not to erase the board until the chaplains return to my hospital.
This phrase is so completely right for these times.
I long for a holiness that is revealed daily as I live in my private home during a pandemic. I long to be holy and so I continue to surrender to the work of God’s Spirit.
This does not mean I am not fearful. Or scared. Or occasionally weepy. And yes, even testy at times with my husband.
It does mean that I say, “Christ is my Lord. I trust Him in all things.”
He never promised that we would be shielded from suffering or the impacts of living in a broken world.
He promised He would be with us through all the troubles of life.
So daily my prayer is,
“I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”
At the end of each day I hope I can say I did my best to live for His truth.