Like many of you, I haven’t left my house in over a month at this point. Unlike many of you, this isn’t the first time. Chronic illness as it turns out is fabulous mental preparation for quarantine and social distancing. It’s funny how the things you most wish hadn’t happened are the things that shape you the most.
We wait this Holy Saturday in a world that is holding its breath in a way that has never happened in my lifetime. Too many things are buried and it’s far easier to identify with the grave right now than with the resurrection to come. We Christians walk through this reenactment each year, but we know the ending. We sit with the loss, but we know exactly how long we have to wait for Easter Sunday. But not this year. This year, Easter arrives and we all stay inside. This year the weight of those lost presses on us and the unknown of when this will end is ever-present as though the smog that has lifted from so many of our cities has moved into our collective psyche.
“I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:4-5).
All of our souls are watching and waiting but unlike the morning, there is no predetermined time that will lift us out of the dangers of this night and start a new day. More like the plague of darkness that came onto Egypt that for the average citizen came from nowhere and must have felt interminable, this night is not an ordinary night. If in the order of things the night stands for chaos and the light for order, this plague of darkness represented a “reversal of creation” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). And even though night and day are coming with their normal regularity, in so many ways we are experiencing a collective unmaking.
For some of us this is a completely new experience. For others, it’s another round in a series of unmaking. When one has experienced chronic illness, disability, mental illness, and/or dark nights of the soul, the only way to survive is to sit with the unmaking. The unbecoming.
You see, I haven’t always been sick. Once I was healthy and energetic, but a combination of things gradually chipped away at who I thought I was and what I thought mattered. Chronic illness that came with mental health struggles and a series of crises of faith has given me a lot of practice at unbecoming.
I’m not sure if it gets any easier, but it does become recognizable, and it helps to put a name on the season at the very least. In seminary, one of my Old Testament professors, John Goldingay, led us on a journey through the Psalms, looking at each of them as either a Psalm of orientation, disorientation, or reorientation. This cycle was imprinted in my mind in my early twenties and has helped me remember that our lives–individually and collectively–often match this pattern.
“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord” (Psalm 130:1a BCP)
Psalm 130 is a Psalm of disorientation that moves towards a positive declaration of hope “With him is plenteous redemption.” Not all the Psalms do. Psalm 88 is a notable example ending with “darkness is my only companion.” We humans are always searching for meaning, plugging in answers so that the story is complete. We need a narrative to hold onto and to fit our lives into so that we can tell ourselves that our stories make sense. This can be thought of as orientation. When we are oriented, our narratives fit into the metanarrative, we can make sense of our lives and the world.
But then something happens. Usually it’s not on this scale. Usually the disorientation is personal and limited to a small sphere of influence. In many ways, that makes it ever so much harder. Our world gets turned on its head through a death, a diagnosis, or a loss: of a job, a home, a marriage, our faith. And the world keeps puttering on around us even as our personal world comes to a grinding halt.
It’s like the sunshine that hit Nashville after the flood and after the tornado. The days had no business being that bright and beautiful after such heart-wrenching tragedies had just been wrought by the weather. The least nature could do was look ashamed of itself for a while.
We move through the disorientation that hits our lives and eventually we find a new orientation, a new way to process and make sense. We rejoin the world and shape a new narrative for ourselves about how we fit into everything.
This time it’s different. We are experiencing a collective disorientation. We have been plunged into darkness and we don’t know how long it will last. My hope this holy Saturday is that we sit with our collective unmaking, and as we move toward re-orientation in the days and weeks to come we will make something new of our world. May we make a place where there is justice and space for everyone to thrive.