Here we are sitting at home, just watched our Sunday service on Facebook Live, singing to an empty building, preaching to hundreds of empty chairs. It is Palm Sunday and the streets are empty of Hosannas, palm branches, and children dressed in festive clothes. St. Peter’s Square is vacant as the Pope preaches. Around the world, the epidemic has changed everything.
Churches are trying to keep people together through media. There are live streams, websites, TV broadcasts, and personal notes. Some pastors and churches are scrambling to learn new techniques as they are forced to do something to care for the flock. Computers, smartphones, and tablets are the connections to the flock in this moment. Education is forced into new territory as well. Students are now attending class via Zoom or some app similar. Google classroom has become, not the aid, but the mainstream for education. Teachers and parents are forced into a new paradigm. The church is forced into a new paradigm. The change is one from ancillary to primary. It is not just the “cool” thing anymore, it is the necessity.
Even this genre is fragile. If the grid were to go down, our system of communication would last as long as your battery, or maybe less. I have for a long time considered our modern and excellent forms of communication to be only as good as the infrastructure of the nation and world. One apocalypse of some sort would end or severely limit our communications worldwide.
I have pondered what affect does this have on our faith? Much of what we hold as the Christian faith is connected to relationships and interaction. Church is a lot more than the worship and preaching hour. It has a lot to do with the conversations before and after church. It has to do with the small group interactions that take place as service is being accomplished. It, too, has to do with the friendships that are developed and the non church get togethers that happen. With all or most of these interactions being canceled, where are we?
We have been reduced to core values. Your faith has to stand pretty much on your own initiative. You can sit in your pajamas and not interact electronically. You can veg out on the couch, sit silent, or run around screaming. No one knows or cares. (make sure your kids don’t see you) Essentially, our faith is being tested to see how real, deep, alive it is. We have no props to hold our faith up or, at least, they are very limited. We are challenged individually to maintain the faith and particularly the vitality of our faith.
To maintain in these times of isolation, we must develop regimes of spiritual discipline. They do not have to be over the top, but they have to be there. Reading the Bible regularly is a must. It can be as small as a paragraph, a chapter, or a book regularly, as in daily. Devotional books are great, but nothing replaces the exercise of reading the Bible in context. Prayer is necessary in whatever form suits you. It can be extended, isolated times of prayer, or conversational prayer that runs through the day. It can be table blessings to include the whole family or even family times of prayer depending on your approach. Add to these, reading good books, or listening to good books if you are not an avid reader, but the idea is to continue to challenge and inspire yourself spiritually. The books do not have to be tomes by theologians. They can be even secular in nature, but inspire the soul. There are great spiritual lessons in many of the good authors of novels, biographies, and history.
In some ways, we have been forced back into simplicity. I have seen more families out walking than in a long, long time. There are families engaging their children and rather than only having the 37 minutes a day with their kids as the national average indicates, many are spending hours each day with their children. The kids are probably going to miss that when they go back to school.
Our faith has been forced into simplicity as well. Once again, a walk gives time for worship of the creator. Time with family underlines the importance of those memories made with parents and children. The kids are going to always remember these weeks. For them, it will be their Pearl Harbor, their Kennedy Assassination, their 911. It will be like the blizzard of ’78, it will be the pandemic of 2020. Likewise, my hope is the church will simplify as well. It will be reinvigorated by these days. The church will rise to the challenge and not only survive, but see an amazing harvest.
The times, they are a changin’ -Bob Dylan