The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1
I am a participant in a Wednesday morning contemplative prayer group at the church where I have been attending. It is a time and space for reading Scripture, for prayer, for quiet reflection and honest discussion. And now that we cannot meet in person, because of social distancing due to the COVID-19 Virus, we are meeting online. I am grateful for the people in this group. I have been able to share my own wilderness experience and to offer my thoughts as they share theirs.
For the Season of Lent, we are using a devotional titled “Wilderness” from A Sanctified Art. We read beautiful poems written about wilderness and reflect on amazing artwork based on Scripture. This week the poem, by Sarah Are, was titled “Poem on Wilderness … The Wilderness is a Place of Disruption.” All of us were struck by the stanza that says “The Wilderness is here to interrupt your previously scheduled programming.”
Most every year of my 23 years of ministry I have used the wilderness metaphor for Lent, but never in all those years has a statement about wilderness been so true as the one above. This year, the Wilderness certainly has interrupted our previously scheduled programming! And I’m pretty sure when that was written, we weren’t even yet dealing with a COVID-19 Virus that has become a global pandemic. Everything in our lives has been interrupted: work, school, church, sports, leisure activities, family gatherings, everything is affected.
Our group leader, Alice, reminded us of Julian of Norwich, who lived between 1342-1416. She lived in the English city of Norwich during the middle ages. Julian was an anchorite, which was like the later monastics. She wrote the earliest known book in the English language by a woman, titled Revelations of Divine Love. Julian devoted her life to God and to prayer and was an encourager in a devastating time during the Black Plague.
In this time of stress and fear, we see that it doesn’t matter if we’re famous or wealthy, or if we are royalty or just plain folks. The Corona Virus isn’t choosy about where it strikes. In this case, all people, all around the world are equal. We are all in the same boat, trying to ride out the storm. If ever there was a time to come together and support one another and our leaders with kindness and prayer, this would be it.
If ever there was a time for drawing from our faith, for remembering the promise that God loves us and is always with us no matter what we face, this is the time. The psalmist, David, wrote:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me
We have this beautiful image of the shepherd out in the fields with his sheep, watching over them, making sure they have green pastures and calm waters, to satisfy their hunger and thirst; a place to lie down and rest. And when one sheep wanders off, that shepherd will go to all lengths to rescue him from dangerous cliffs or wild animals. He uses the rod to fight off his enemies and the crook of his staff to hook around the lamb and draw him up from where he has fallen.
In our times of deep stress, sickness, isolation, fear – even the threat of death – we have the Good Shepherd – Jesus, the Savior – who watches over us, who is with us no matter what happens. He will comfort, give courage, guide us through difficult times, heal, and, when our time comes to leave this world, as it will eventually for all of us, he will lead us home.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:35-39
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the Wilderness poem from our devotional, the author writes:
It never seems appealing to let a bird in the house, but if you do, then you might as well open every window and door.”
This Lent is more of a wilderness for people all over the world than we have seen in a long time. We had no control over this pandemic coming but since it is here and we are asked to participate by social distancing, since it truly is a wilderness that has “interrupted our regularly scheduled programming,” we might as well spend our time practicing the Lenten disciplines – fasting, praying, reading Scripture, reflecting and meditating on God’s Word. Trusting in our Good Shepherd.
Friends in Christ, this too shall pass. Julian of Norwich wrote in a time when people were devastated by a horrible plague: All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
Amen and amen.