Copy of email (lightly edited) sent yesterday to my spiritual director, summarizing what I’ve been trying to do in the past month and suggesting an agenda for our next session.
Jun 19, 2020, 7:44 PM
Hi, Sister —
Just a note to confirm our spiritual direction meeting at 2:30 p.m. and give you a general sense of what I’ve been up in terms of spiritual formation. I thought our telephone session worked out very well last time, and since your schedule is apt to be more hectic than mine, I can be waiting for your phone call on or about the scheduled time. I’m at xxx-xxxx. If that’s not convenient, let me know.
Not much to report since we last talked. As far as my spiritual life is concerned, I’m still trying to find my bearings with all the changes in daily life since COVID-19 came to town: (1) trying to figure out what to do about the sacraments when I can’t safely take communion; and (2) more generally, how to maintain a personal relationship with God in s world that seems more and more like a dystopian novel or the last days of the Roman Empire. Or a combination of both! It all seems overwhelming at times, and when I try to pray the Examen, it seems like I’m coming up with more sins of omission lately. Even though I realize I’ve really been very lucky and I have plenty of blessings to count.
So I’ve been turning to an unlikely source, the old-timers of Alcoholics Anonymous. Possibly the most wearing thing about the “new normal” this pandemic has brought us is the uncertainty, and the AA slogan “one day at a time” works wonders in dealing with uncertainty. So does a summary of the 12 Steps attributed to “Doctor Bob,” one of the founders of AA:
— Trust God.
— Clean House.
— Help Others.
Doctor Bob’s last words to Bill W., his co-founder (who had a tendency, which he acknowledged, to be grandiose at times), also offer guidance: “Remember Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.”
When I get to feeling overwhelmed, the AA slogans get me back on track. (That’s what they’re there for.) They’re simple enough to cut through the chatter in my mind — anybody’s mind — and focus my attention on what needs to be done here and now.
So my reading and thinking has been on two tracks. I think maybe they’d make a useful agenda for our session.
2. Trusting God
This idea of trusting God seems especially appropriate now, between all the uncertainty of coping with a global pandemic and the extreme ugliness of our politics this year. Especially as the pandemic gets increasingly politicized and divisive. I don’t know quite how to go about developing more trust, but I do have a couple of ideas — maybe they’re more like resources — that might be a starting point.
One is some remarkable language in Luther’s “Small Catechism,” in his explanation of the Apostles’ Creed:
The First Article: On Creation
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
What is this? or What does this mean?
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
Another is a prayer sometimes known at the Holden Village Prayer, after an ELCA retreat center in Washington state where it is a beloved expression of faith, and sometimes as the “Prayer of Good Courage”:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures
of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Back in March, I blogged at https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/2020/03/21/daily-prayers/ about the Prayer of Good Courage, which was composed in the 1930s by the Rev. Eric Milner-White, dean of the Church of England cathedral at York, in more detail.
2. The sacraments
Specifically: What to do about them when we can’t physically go to church, and we’re not able to participate in them … at least not in the traditional way. In the Lutheran tradition, the church is there to preach the Word and administer the sacraments. The Word, I’ve got covered. I continue to read biblical scholarship and follow the lectionary readings, most recently through an online Zoom bible study group our congregation has initiated since in-person services were suspended in March.
But what to do about the sacraments? It’s a problem, and one I haven’t solved it yet to my satisfaction.. We’re offering “drive-thru communion” now on Sunday mornings, using the consecrated host from the service that was videotaped for YouTube.
I think it’s a great idea, but I also think it’s too risky for me — not at my age, and not with my medical history.
So the whole issue of how I can be a part of the body of Christ (the church) when I can’t receive the body of Christ (in the sacraments) I haven’t resolved. I’m sure there are good answers, but I haven’t quite found them yet.
I think I’m getting glimmerings, though.
I’ll link you to something I wrote about a prayer by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran author and public intellectual who has attracted quite a following. It was right after we got off the phone in May, and it quoted from her prayer. I’ll link you to my post:
… and to Pastor Nadia’s prayer itself:
I do not know when we can gather together again in worship, Lord.
So, for now I just ask that: …
And she goes through some of the things I think we all miss about corporate worship, asking God’s grace to do common things, like listening to music and watering plants, sacramentally — as outward signs of an inward spirit of grace, including this, praying
… that as I sit at that table in my apartment, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion. [Italicized in the original.]
I think there’s something here that will allow me to reclaim a sacramental approach to life — even though I can’t go to church and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. I haven’t quite found it yet, though.
Something to work on?
Unless I hear otherwise from you, I’ll be waiting for a call around 2:30 p.m. Monday. And, as always, my thoughts and suggestions are only … thoughts and suggestions. If you feel like there’s something else that would be more productive, let’s go for it!