Three weeks ago when I led worship on a Sunday and the choir sang an anthem, I burst into tears within the first few measures of the music. It had been months and months since I’d heard any live choral singing and this, coupled with the usual excitement of a Sunday visitation including a baptism and the confirmation of a clergy person’s granddaughter, just sent me over the edge. I wept quietly through the anthem and got myself back together enough to receive the offering at the altar and continue with the Eucharistic prayer.
Getting back to church in general has been an emotional experience for me- it’s been just about six weeks since my regular schedule of visitations began again, and I find that I am a little rusty- I’m just not that good at balancing miter, crozier, earpiece microphone, and mask. I fumble a little bit in flipping through the pages of the missal, and I’m still getting used to the many creative variations on how to serve up the bread and the wine- muffin cups with wafers for some, tiny plastic glasses of wine in round silver trays for others, wine here, no wine there, all of the ceremony bathed in a liberal dosing of hand sanitizer and the draping of elements with an extra pall.
We’ve come this far through Covid. Those who are vaccinated can opt out of wearing masks in church, the hymnals and prayer books are back in the pew racks, and, for the most part, things look a lot like they used to. I will admit that I am on edge in services, still. I don’t feel comfortable singing. I won’t shake hands. I back up when talking to someone to create a safe(r) distance between us. I’m anxious that while the numbers look “good,” that today’s number in the US of Covid-dead yet exceeds 900,000… and suddenly my anxiety seems to be not all together unreasonable.
I am vaccinated. I am back at the gym on most mornings, and diligent about wiping down the equipment when I am finished. I don’t wear a mask at the gym, but I do at the grocery store, still. What’s that about? In our household we have yet to resume in-person restaurant dining or going to the movies. I prefer hikes in the woods to gathering with others. The unevenness of my practice is a little maddening to me.
Because I am a high-performance oriented person, I have not found my work slipping, but I am experiencing a certain heaviness to my days, a blanket that lies on top of some things that requires a little extra effort, a few more internal pep talks in the bathroom mirror than usual to get me going. And so I’m eating really well, taking exercise, trying to sleep 8 hours per night and not neglecting my prayers. I’m working for that balanced Benedictine lifestyle that offers me the sweet spot of productivity and happiness. It’s just been a little harder to get there, lately.
I wonder how you are doing in this time that we want to call “post-Covid” (but, if we are fully aware, dare not?) What are the rhythms and patterns that have shifted for you in your work, in your relationships, in your avocations? I spent a year at home in my sweatpants working from my leather armchair and attending church on zoom. When I discovered that on some Sundays I could beat the crowds to the store and get my week’s grocery shopping done at 6 AM, I discovered a whole new solitary world of pushing my cart through empty aisles. I burned through series on Netflix, read lots of work-related books, and shamefully had Amazon beating a well-worn path to my door. And now, that’s shifted. But I feel a little bit like the world is moving faster out of this than I am- as though I am the race-pace dog that has suddenly been eclipsed by the pack.
We know that the “side effects” of this pandemic have included increases in anxiety, depression, lethargy, feeling of purposelessness, survivor guilt, delays in learning, increased substance abuse, risky behavior and something called “deaths of despair.” https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/.
The same article cited above notes that: “During the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019 (Figure 1). A KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 also found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.
So, my friends- how are you doing?
Are you taking care of yourself?
What practices have shifted for you? What are you doing intentionally to make your life productive, fruitful, happy?
If you need assistance, please reach out to a friend, a neighbor, a counselor, a priest. Come back to church. Even in its Covid-awkwardness, it is a joy, and the timeless message of hope offered by the Gospel is healing balm and offers strength for our souls.
If you are one who has been sorely beleaguered and need life-saving assistance, please call the PA Support & Referral Helpline 1-855-284-2494 today for critical aid.
I have faith that a brighter day is before us. I believe that in all of our trials that God walks with us, even in the fog.
Blessings to you, this day and always.