So here we are at the end of week two. I know that there is talk of packing the churches for Easter in two more weeks. I just don’t think that is going to happen. I thought for a bit we might be able to celebrate the following Sunday, along with our Orthodox kin, but that, too is looking unlikely to happen. When will our time of physical isolation be over? We don’t know. As one of the epidemiologists said the other day, “That is up to the virus.”
We really don’t like waiting. We like not knowing even less.
We were watching “Walk the Line” the other night. As you may recall it is the story of the romance between Johnny Cash and June Carter. One scene portrays Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and Carter (played by Reese Witherspoon) singing “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” The first lines of this song, written by Bob Dylan, jumped out at me as being applicable for this moment:
Go ‘way from my window
Leave at your own chosen speed…
It wasn’t just because this could be used as another song about social distancing that caused me to pause; it was the strangely formed direction. I have decided that you should leave, but you get to choose how fast you do that. How polite.
It made me think of how we talk with God. We tell God exactly what we want, and when we want it. You know the old prayer: “Lord, give me patience… and give it to me NOW!”
And then the words of the Psalms came to mind. I remembered sitting in a hospital waiting room as a chaplain intern in Chicago, with a woman I’d just met, whose husband’s surgery was going on much longer than expected. I could see the panic rising in her each moment she sat there. She felt completely in the dark, not knowing what was going on and not knowing how much longer it would be. She told me she did not know how to pray. So I opened the words to Psalm 69, and read them aloud:
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck,
I sing in deep mire; where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
The Psalmist, David, recounts all of the troubles and turmoil around him, but then turns in request to God,
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
It is almost as though we, through the psalm, are praying: “Answer at your own chosen speed.”
In the hospital, in that moment, those words of David were enough. There was no immediate news of miraculous recovery. But a soft blanket of peace seemed to settle on the woman who waited. It was enough for her to know that God was waiting with her. And, at the same time, was working through the hands of the surgeons. This is the feeling that this psalm conveys. Just knowing that God, in abundant grace, will answer, is enough. We don’t know much, but we know that God hears our prayers, and God is with us as we wait.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify God with thanksgiving.
Let us be still, and know that God is with us:
Calm us, O God. Do not stop our thoughts from wandering, but accompany us on that journey. When the waters of fear overwhelm us, when we sink in the mire of cynicism and dread, when we disappear in the darkness of ignorance and frustration, come to us. Remind us of your promise to be with us. Show to us your love, your mercy, your grace, as we connect electronically with others. May your Word bring us light, and may we feel the arms of Jesus lift us. Heal us, we pray. In the time of your acceptance answer us. This we pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.