“Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end… ‘So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.’” John 13: 1c, 14, The Message
I wouldn’t say, I’ve turned a corner.
I wouldn’t say, I have gotten used to a new normal.
But, this week, I might say, I’ve gotten over a hump.
My Enneagram number is 9. We 9s will do whatever it takes to keep our inner peace intact and our external dynamics calm and peaceful, our expectations reasonable… and expected. You can imagine how well I take to sudden, abrupt change. We cancelled worship and the final week of School for Christian Living (3/15/20) about 36 hours before it was to happen. We were reluctant to cancel because we had several guests planning to be with us and the final week of a program to conclude with an exclamation point. But, in the end, that’s what we did. We changed our plans. I called our guest preacher about 12 hours before she was to get on a plane to be with us and told her not to come.
We were reluctant to cancel church.
We were reluctant to acknowledge the truth about our situation in Alabama.
We were reluctant to understand the reality we were facing as a nation.
We were reluctant to admit that we were as vulnerable as the rest of the world.
Change is difficult. Truth is hard to hear. That’s the hump.
In the gospel of John, chapter 13, Jesus gathers with his beloved disciples. He is keenly aware of the changes that are ahead of them. He knows the truth. But the beloveds are not mentally and emotionally prepared for this. They are reluctant to hear him. They are reluctant to accept the truth. Even Judas is reluctant to let things play out. He gets involved in the plot to force Jesus’ hand.
Even so, Jesus makes something of his final hours with them, sharing a last supper together. Then, Jesus takes the form of a servant. He sets aside his robe and puts on an apron. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the apron around his waist. It was holiness that mattered in these moments, not hygiene. He wasn’t modeling cleanliness or etiquette. He was modeling servanthood. It was an image he wanted them to remember — him bowing before each one of them, washing with care their calloused, tired, dirty feet.
A few weeks ago, when the threat of COVID 19 meant that we could no longer gather for worship in our church building, I understood that truth. The reality of community spread, the necessity of social distancing in order to impact the rate at which people could get infected and require hospitalization made sense. Flatten the curve. I got it. Still, I was sad. I was disappointed. With this sudden shift came so much loss. If I start listing all the things we have said good-bye to, it will just be depressing. And what I’m trying to say here is that for the first couple of weeks of all this, I was more slothful than imaginative and too anxious to be creative. The good-byes far outweighed the possibilities. Stress and anxiety reduce our human capacity for imagination. It’s no wonder the disciples hid out for days after Jesus’ trial and death. Their inspiration was gone. What would they do now without him? Our capacity to love and serve is compromised in the wake of such loss.
So, if you’ve struggled to be productive and energetic recently, like I have, give yourself a break. Or as the church would say, “Give yourself some grace.” It’s a time to be gentle with oneself. Put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help someone else.
Catch your breath.
Re-inflate your own lungs with oxygen for the soul — a walk, a phone call, FaceTime, poetry, scripture, prayer, listening a little longer to a co-worker. Cry if you need to. Make a list if that makes you feel better. Take a nap. Imagination will return. Creativity will slowly creep back in. Harness that energy for good when it shows up. I’m over the hump of feeling overwhelmed most of the time and now only feel overwhelmed some of the time. At some point, I may turn the whole corner and accept this new normal.
In the meantime, deep breaths.
Until we meet again, blessings to you, fellow-traveler, during this most Holy Week. Resurrection is around the corner.
Under the restrictions of COVID-19 we cannot literally stoop at the feet of someone and take their tired foot into our hands for a soothing wash. Perhaps creativity and imagination will reveal other opportunities for us to serve one another – to be the church, to follow Jesus in these uncertain times. How do you imagine we can do this? How have you seen this happening already? Where have you seen God in the last three weeks?