A Silver Lining? Life Is Slower

Priest Barnabas Powell | 13 October 2020

Identifying the silver lining in a dark cloud can be delicate.

You don’t want to minimize anyone’s pain or offer insensitive rationalizations.

My limited exposure to Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in seminary covered a number of well-meaning platitudes that are best avoided.

So I won’t paint a rosy picture of the social isolation, disruption and difficulty we’ve experienced these past few months. But I will acknowledge some “silver linings” among the clouds.

Since resuming services June 7 (Orthodox Pentecost), one cloud has been discovering who’ll not be returning, at least not yet.

I expected our seniors and other at-risk folks to largely keep staying home, and am glad to minister to them individually.

Sadder are the healthy folks who were somewhat peripheral before COVID and have now disappeared, perhaps taking a cue from spiritual gatherings being deemed “non-essential.”

For those who struggle with the place of church in their lives, a slight nudge may be all it takes to cause derailment.

Saddest of all have been those among the more zealous who’ve ghosted because of a distaste for masks, distancing, tracing and compliance with other health directives in church.

Perhaps there was an expectation of exceptionalism. That we’d never close our doors, despite being directed to by state and diocesan authorities. That church would be a mask-and- distance-free zone where none would get too sick, either because of faith or because COVID’s danger is exaggerated.

I’ve lost some dear, fervent souls. And that’s been hard.

Have you remained aloof from church, on protracted spiritual vacation while simultaneously resuming other functions that are less essential? Or, have you separated out of refusal to accept certain policies, effectively becoming more zealous than church? Either choice is questionable.

Dealing with the trauma of closure and feelings of distrust or alienation is challenging.

Orthodox don’t close shop easily, or without repercussions, especially after the Soviet oppression.

On the other hand, a ‘silver lining’ has been seeing the gratefulness of those who have returned – who’ve said they’ll never again take for granted the ability to do so. Most are thankful to worship, receive Communion and see each other again, even at a distance, behind masks.

There’s a humble eagerness to eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.

But perhaps the brightest spot among the clouds is that we’re now able to live each day one at a time and experience the present more fully. I’ve talked with a number of families about this.

Do you remember how crazy life was back in February? Appointments, meetings, social obligations, after-school activities? Some parents were like chauffers, taxiing children around for enrichment opportunities at the expense of sanity.

Some in the professional world, realizing their families needed more time, may have agonized over the risk that asking for accommodation might come at professional cost. As understanding as employers might officially be, could critiques arise behind the back of one whose family orientation means they cannot make “sacrifices?”

Birthdays, special events, vacations all required a degree of planning that made them stressful and nearly defeated their purpose. And who had time to plant a garden or bake bread?

Last week, I took my family to an isolated stretch of beach for a few days. Lo and behold, of all the places to run into someone you know, another family from church was there.

Over a bonfire, we talked about the challenges of this time (what will school look like next month, and how much tech-support will we have to give?).

But we also talked of the blessing of time itself slowing down, and not being able to plan too far ahead, of being given the collective permission to live life at a saner pace than before.

Missing those who’ve disappeared is something I think of daily. That’s my cloud. At the same time, I’m glad to live one, precious day at a time, and wouldn’t want to return to things exactly as they were.

The Rev. Barnabas Powell is a freelance writer who began his career at the Chieftain while pastor of Pueblo’s St.Michael’s Orthodox Church. He now lives in Washington state, and may be reached at barnabaspowell@yahoo.com.

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