Not too long before the concentric circles of Coronavirus found their way to our part of the world, I read an essay about how the American way of life is killing us. The author said, “In spite of a so-called thriving economy in the land of plenty, a great number of people still feel insecure, lonely, depressed, and suffer from a lack of enthusiasm over the miracle of their own existence…. [We have become] alienated, mindless consumers patting each other on the backs for our worldly success at the expense of wreaking havoc on our inner lives and the entire ecosystem that sustains us.”

Many days in “regular life,” pre-Corona-closures, I’d find myself sighing at the amount of events and tasks I had to manage within a day or week. It was as if I was living someone else’s schedule, not fit for me, like the shepherd boy David wearing King Saul’s armor. I kept reminding myself that I have the ability to loosen everything that entangles me and work with God to shape my life in a different way. But it’s a daunting spiritual exercise to work against a cultural current.

Then, a difficulty at the beginning of the year turned me to the Psalms. I began taking in my daily Psalms like vitamins and water, every morning and night. I kept a Bible by my pillow. I’d read and re-read, resonating with the deep human emotion and assurance of God’s love, care, protection, and justice.

I still had to get up too early every morning and I continued to juggle all-the-things, but I was forming a new rhythm that gave me a better way to approach the demands of life. Those Psalms became my new language, a way to voice both my concern about the way things were and my trust in God. Through my everyday Psalm readings and prayers, I’ve been sensing that God wants me to focus less on what’s happening to me and more on what he has for me in it.

I do not believe that God is a fan of sickness and suffering. We see that in the life of Jesus who healed the sick and prayed in the garden for the cup of suffering to pass. But I do believe God can work within sickness and suffering. As I’ve turned to him in my personal sickness and suffering at various times in my life, I’ve learned to recognize and relax in His presence, and he has grown my character and capacity to serve.

When I find myself in a time of trouble, I’ve learned to ask God, “What do you have for me here?”

This is a strange moment for all of us. Some have had to completely shift the way we work, leading our children through the maze of e-learning while still trying to accomplish professional goals via Zoom calls at home. Some have been furloughed as certain industries are put on pause. Some are wearing masks and gloves and standing behind plexiglass to serve the public. And some, like my nurse friends, find themselves sobbing uncontrollably many days after tending to critically ill COVID-19 patients. It’s hard to fathom that each of us is living a different kind of suffering all in the same crisis.

As I wash my hands,
faucet flowing,
I think of the clear air
above halted cities,
the clear waters
of Venice canals,
how the world looks when
we are quiet and grounded,
how sand and mud and
toxins settle when we
shelter in place.

So, what does God have for us here?

I have an inkling that it goes beyond movie marathons and yard work, though I’ve been doing my share of both. Have you seen the reports of wildlife emerging into human spaces, of the fish that can now be seen swimming in the calmed canals of Venice? In our forced stillness, the whole world is feeling the challenge and renewal of Sabbath. This is a time to pause and notice God at work among us.

In this pause from “normal,” I think God wants to give us a new normal. I think God wants us to see ourselves and the world with all the man-made fanfare peeled away. I think he wants us to explore new rhythms, even if we may still have to sign on for a slew of Zoom calls.

The beauty is, these new rhythms can grow with the simplest shifts. For me, I have begun praying for specific people and requests every time I wash my hands. It’s a simple way to remember and pray in solidarity with the sick and those serving them.

I wither under tight schedules, but I thrive when I build the life of the Spirit into my everyday habits: watering plants, walking the block, serving a meal, laying my head on my pillow, or washing my hands.

In the new collaborative project, Pandemic Prayerbook: A Pray-at-home Guide for the Coronavirus Crisis, we begin the book with, “As I Wash My Hands: A Prayer for Faith and Sanity,” my prayer for all of us.

As I wash my hands, 20 seconds,

I think of the raw, over-sanitized skin 

of hospital staff.

 

Circling soap over knuckles and palms,

I think of the gloved hands 

of grocery clerks and restaurant workers.

 

Cleansing under fingernails and past the wrists,

I think of the aged hands of my grandmothers 

in nursing homes that I hope are free of germs.

 

As I wash my hands, faucet flowing,

I think of the clear air above halted cities,

the clear waters of Venice canals,

how the world looks when we are quiet and grounded,

how sand and mud and toxins settle when we shelter in place.

 

As I wash my hands,

interlacing my fingers in a prayer

I think of the work that is paused

or the work that is increased.

Lather, water, clarity,

Now your work is more visible 

in the world and in me.

 

You desire clean hearts

Right spirits.

Wash us with water

And your Word.

Present us to yourself a radiant Church

A model of holy sanity

As we wash our hands.

As I wash my hands,
interlacing my fingers in a prayer,
I think of the work that is paused
or the work that is increased.
Lather, water, clarity,
now your work is more visible 
in the world and in me.

 

It’s a tough thing when much of life is put on hold or when we are required to keep parts of life going in unfamiliar, inconvenient ways. It’s even tougher when you or people you love end up hospitalized with COVID-19, or when you’re seeing the actual statistics of the virus in the hospital beds on your ICU shift. This is a big deal and it matters in a big way what we do with it.

If this is really our generation’s historic moment, I hope history finds us, as a people of faith, seeking God more intently in our new forced rhythms. I hope this time of retreat will bring to light how our regular way of life may be harming us and how we might realign to live in a way that’s good for the human spirit. Whether our work is paused or increased, as we wash our hands or walk the neighborhood or the hospital hall, God is working to ground us, narrow our focus to the most vital things, and grow our character and capacity to serve.

With all that in mind, some friends and I came together to create a pray-at-home guide for the Coronavirus crisis. These prayers ask God to change the trajectory of the virus, and in the meantime, to change us. Our Pandemic Prayerbook features 30 prayers by 20 different writers and ministry leaders. Written for the daily realities of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, #pandemicprayerbook will give you….

  • words to speak over this crisis when you are stunned and don’t know what to say.
  • a healthy way to enter into our communal suffering and connect with God.
  • a stay-at-home way to support various workers and citizens affected by this crisis.
  • a way to recenter when you’re over-saturated with the daily news or yet another Zoom call.
  • a memento of God’s work in your heart at this historic moment.

I hope this Pandemic Prayerbook will give you a simple yet meaningful way to pray through the big needs of our time. You can pray along with us when you download the book here.

PRAY WITH US

GET YOUR

PANDEMIC

PRAYERBOOK

Blog post photos by Jason Jarrach on Unsplash
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