Today is the last Sunday before Lent, and as we enter Lent, I want to encourage you to try the spiritual exercise of consideration. It is probably not a spiritual exercise you are familiar with. I actually sort of made it up, but it seems to fit this time of COVID-19. Consideration.
Before we explore the how of this spiritual exercise, let’s consider the why. To start with, we have been through a lot. For the past year we’ve sat in confinement due to the pandemic. This plague has taken a terrible toll on the economic well-being of this nation. It has exacerbated our divided politics, and, in too many cases, inflected a deep sadness from the loss of 500,000+ souls.
And yet, as we sit at home faithfully abiding restrictions imposed for our common good, we also see a light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, there are still things to be concerned about. There are unknowns and even with the vaccination the virus could still be an issue.
And yet, based on the science and the care of our leaders this nation promises to reopen soon. Children will go to school. Restaurants will open up, as will gyms. We will have a choir at church, and pass the Peace. And so, given the reality that is unfolding before us, I invite you to the spiritual exercise of consideration.
Let me say more about this exercise. To enter into consideration is to contemplate, and then map out, how you will transition from where you are, within the confines of your current safe space, back into the world that needs your presence.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way encouraging you to rush out the door. I am in no way encouraging you to go out without a mask. I am in no way encouraging you to not wash your hands. I am in no way encouraging you to have a party in your no-ventilation basement.
But what I am doing is asking you to use the season of Lent to consider what will bring you back to a more regular pattern of life. This coronavirus will never be eradicated. I may be wrong, I’m no scientist, but from what I have read and heard this virus will be endemic to our system going forward. Waiting for it to go away completely will ensure never coming out of the house again.
And so, I invite you to consider this Lent what are the incremental steps you plan to take to reengage the world? What are the switches that must be tripped for your re-emergence? There is actually a lot to consider, because a lot has changed these past twelve months, at least for me. For one, my world has shrunk a great deal during COVID. My personal interactions have been limited. My social engagements have stalled. And I’ve changed. I’m getting gray hair. I put on 5 pounds (maybe 10). I have shrunk (or my son has grown). Sweatpants now match my clergy shirt (on the Zoom).
Maybe your world has shrunk as well. Maybe you have changed. Maybe you have changed some things up. Maybe you decided that a pandemic is the perfect time to stop dying your hair. And if you thought it was a good idea, then it was a good idea… and yet, you also know that when you go out into the world you will look little different. That’s OK, and people might notice, because people notice stuff, (they are like that), but no one cares, least of all God.
Similarly, if you want to wear sweatpants to church that’s cool. They look great with a blazer or under an alb. No one cares, least of all God. In fact, God may have invented sweatpants. God certainly invented grey hair.
Another thing that has happened during this time of lockdown and the subsequent limited human encounters is that conversation fluidity has become less viscous…or maybe more viscous. You know what I mean; or maybe you don’t know what I mean, which sort of proves my point. What I mean is that after being closed off from other people what use to be easy, normal, casual conversation sometimes feels weird and awkward.
The Atlantic magazine recently had an article recently about how we’re losing social skills and zones of connectedness that we used to be facilitated and upheld through small talk. Who knew small talk was important? Turns out it is not small, but significant conversation necessary for social vitality.
A professor (Epley) from University of Chicago observed: “that feeling socially connected increases happiness and health.” He continues, quoting Aristotle, “humans are by nature social animals,” and “can improve their own wellbeing and that of others, by simply being more social with strangers.”
Here is some good news around small talk you can’t screw up it at Epiphany Parish, because this is your spiritual home, and the worst that can happen is that you can say something really awkward, or maybe slightly offensive, and then when you are told about it, (and I hope you are) you can apologize. I do that all the time.
Now I understand that some of us may be feeling a little PTSD around the virus; wanting to wipe everything down, worrying about somebody talking without a mask on, or being obsessed with how far apart people are sitting at the Super Bowl. These are all-natural things to think about after all we have been through… but, it is time for consideration. It is time to consider how we will re-enter the community.
It is time to take inventory of our life and how it has changed and what the future looks like. Let me make three suggestions on how to participate in the spiritual exercise of consideration.
1. Make a list of how your life has changed these past 12 months. Take your time. Be thorough and detailed. Ask yourself what you have been prohibited from doing during this shut-down? Maybe Mahjong with friends, or the Saturday YWCA apartment clean ups, or working at the center for wooden boats, or singing in the choir. But also include the changes that have taken place that you quite like. Maybe you like ordering groceries to your house. Maybe you like wearing sweatpants and slippers all day. Maybe you like watching church from home. Be honest about the changes that you have liked.
Then take a green highlighter and mark what changes you want to sustain after the pandemic. And take a yellow highlighter and mark what activities you want to re-engage in. This is step one in the exercise of consideration.
2. I want you to consider what will change, whether you want it to or not, as a result of the opening up. Maybe you must now go back into work, or you must go back to school. Maybe you must now see your relatives…I don’t know, but make the list and then ask yourself how you feel about the things on the list.
Consideration step two is owning the reality that you are a needed, necessary, and integral part of society.
Finally, 3. Ask what interests you had prior to the pandemic that you never exercised or participated in. Maybe playing an instrument, or caring for infants, or going on pilgrimage. And then strategize about how you might make room to explore these interests in your post-pandemic life.
- Make a list of what you have missed and what has changed.
- Identify what you must return to
- Ask what new things are you looking forward to trying
These three exercises are steps in the spiritual exercise of consideration, and what you will find is they reveal the possibility of a transfigured life; which, conveniently, ties right into today’s Gospel. What we discover in today’s Gospel is the key, the secret sauce, the yeast, that opens, flavors, and leavens the spiritual exercise of consideration.
Do you want to know what that leaven is? Let’s go up Mount Horeb to find out. There we find Jesus, radiant, his soul magnified beyond the mortal limitations of flesh and blood. Peter sees this and tries to capture the glory of Jesus’ eternal soul by building a house to put him in. He wants to mummify it in time, if you will, Jesus and Moses and Elijah’s eternal nature but he can’t because souls repel temporal limitation.
Then, with a word, we see Peter liberated from this way of thinking. There is a voice that came from a cloud and spoke: “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him.” The word is listen. It is the foundational word upon which the spiritual exercise of consideration is built. Listen. Listening to God is the key, the secret sauce, the leaven within the spiritual exercise of consideration. We listen to the life that we have been living these past 12 months; we listen to the world in which we are being sent back into as we emerge from this pandemic; we listen to our hearts, and what we have enjoyed about our confinement, as well as what we have missed. We’re honest with ourselves because we can be and must be. We listen so to hear, “What is God calling us into as the world opens up?”
As I have said many times before: you and I were providentially set in the world at this time, and what that means is that we are responsible for what the post pandemic world will be like. Right now, we are standing on a bridge between two worlds.: A new world where the virus AND the vaccine coexist is out there in front of us. There is a new world where virtual gatherings will have as much life and vitality and connectedness as in-person gatherings. There is a world where old friendships are renewed on-line but where we also actively attend to the vitality of small talk with people we incarnationally encounter day by day.
We are standing on a bridge right now; it is long and high and narrow, and frankly it is giving me a bit of gephyrophobia so, I don’t look down. I look out into the future and what I see is a bright light off in the distance radiating a world transfigured with you and me transfigured within it.
So, I put one foot in front of the other and walk. I walk this spiritual journey, and as I do so this Lent. I do so practicing the spiritual exercise of consideration. I hope you will join me.
Consider where you have been.
Consider where you are.
Consider what you have liked.
Consider what has been hard.
Consider awkward conversations.
Consider the need for small talk.
Consider what you must do.
Consider what you want to do.
Consider how you are listening to God.
Consider how you are going to walk across this bridge of consideration from that old world to one that is being transfigured in you and in the world around you.