Living with Fear and Anxiety

Living with fear and anxiety

I’ve been trying and failing to come up with any analogous time period in my life to what we are currently living through. I was twenty-one when September 11th happened, and for a time things felt strange and uncertain, but it seemed that people rapidly got back to normal for the most part, and adjusted to the new normal that was living with constant war that is now stretching into its 19th year. There was fear and speculation the year before that about what would happen at the turn of the century. People were stockpiling for the Y2K breakdown of civilization. I had just turned twenty at that point.

Perhaps it was being a young adult that made all of that seem unlikely. I’ve never really felt invincible per se but I definitely feel more vulnerable now. And while we’ve lived through outbreaks and things before, none of them have in our lifetime approached the scale of what we are dealing with right now.

There’s no road map, no place we can build a web of understanding, no idea of how long it will take for things to go back to normal. I can feel the anxiety in my chest, like a weight around my heart.

Like a good Episcopalian I turned to the prayer book for solace and then remembered there is no prayer for mass sickness, I already looked like last week. My husband was over here last night helping draft responses for our region to the pandemic and he remarked he’d had to look to the 1928 prayer book for a prayer that fits our situation.

That prayer book, or course, was finalized just a decade after the 1918 “spanish” flu pandemic. It seems the drafters of the 1979 prayer book thought we were past pandemics when they left out a version for that.

I was talking with my aunt yesterday about family history. Apparently the women on my grandmother’s side (several of whom were named Anna, yay!), for multiple generations kept family records and as my aunt was going through them, she was struck by how close death had touched all of them. Of course it touches all of us, but not as often as it did. Most of them lost babies. Many of them had mothers who had died in childbirth, husbands who had died young, and so on. We’ve made so many medical advances and progress with vaccines that I think it’s easy to forget just how recently in human progress the mortality rates were much higher just on a regular basis, never mind in a time of great sickness.

Reading history is one thing, living through it with no firm end date is something completely different.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes read spoilers for tense television shows or movies or read the ends of books really fast if I can’t handle the tension of not knowing how the story turns out. I’ve done that less lately, but I’ve definitely not traditionally been good with suspense.

And in this moment we are living in, the suspense is unable to be mitigated and I feel the anxiety rising, I hear the fear that people are masking.

And the temptation is to go pull a verse from the Bible that is comforting. Perhaps a verse like Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

But there’s not much consolation there because we all know people who love God and things haven’t worked out for good no matter how many contortions you pull to try to make it seem so. Taking that verse out of its context is like trying to put a band-aid on a stab wound when it comes to stemming the tide of fear in this moment. Rather I think comfort comes from that context where after describing all manner of hardships: “…distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” the writer goes on to say, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

The call, friends, is to go deeper. Not to try to convince ourselves or anyone else that it will all be “okay” simply because “God is on the throne.” But to go deeper and say even when really terrible things happen, nothing can separate us from the love of God. No matter what happens, God is holding on to you even when you can’t always feel God’s presence.

And if God is promising the gift of presence in our darkest hour, I think we have our marching orders. We are to be present for each other through this. We are to hold on to one another (from our separate quarantines of course), and listen to whatever fear or anxiety needs to be named. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t make it go away nor does trying to carry it all on one’s own.

It’s strange, but even if you and I are both carrying similar loads, helping each other with them makes them both seem lighter.

Perhaps this time too in the middle of Lent we find comfort in the remembrance that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. But we’re dust that’s held in God’s hand. And in this there is comfort.

And remember to breathe. It’s strange, but sometimes we forget. Our shoulders get all hunched up, and our breathing gets shortened. It helps to physically straighten up, relax our shoulders, close our eyes and concentrate on our breath. Feel it going in and out, all the way to the bottom of our lungs. These breaths are all gifts, receive them.

In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality.
O MOST mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 1928)

Capitalism, Supremacies, and COVID-19

Capitalism, supremacy, and COVID-19

Here we are in the thick of what is officially now a pandemic, and I’m writing to you from basically preventative self-quarantine of an indeterminate nature. You see, I have several chronic illnesses, one of which being asthma, as well as a suppressed immune system from years of steroid use for that asthma. So I fall into the category of “at risk” even though at forty I would probably have a positive outcome with treatment, possibly in the hospital. But if the situation here gets like it is in Italy, me being on a respirator in the hospital means someone else is going to be denied that respirator, probably someone elderly, who is less “survivable” than I am, and I don’t want to contribute to that triage scenario. And yes, that is literally what is happening in hospitals in Italy right now.

They ignored the warnings, focused on the economy, and pretended it would go away. Sound familiar? As a result, they didn’t flatten their curve and their health care systems are overloaded and they are making calls on survivability like it’s a war hospital triage center to decide who gets care. And as a forty-year-old mother of young children, I’m sure I would come out well on that ethical conundrum, and I’m not okay with surviving at other people’s expense.

Except, I already live at other people’s expense. It’s just not as visible. I can think of a myriad of examples, but one I tell a lot is how I have my house because of white supremacy.

You see my great-grandfather was an orphan. He was a share-cropper and a prison guard and raised 11 children in a two-bedroom house on the land he worked. My grandfather didn’t tell me many stories of that time in his life. What I do know is that he enlisted to fight in WWII and benefited from the GI bill to go to college at UCLA. He ended up with a doctorate in education and able to be upwardly mobile through a combination of GI benefits and inlaw support, and possibly benefiting from one of those GI-friendly loans that were part of FDR’s New Deal to promote home-ownership.

Those benefits were largely denied to black GI’s of the same age as my grandfather.

Twelve years ago, my grandfather gave me a lump sum of money when my husband and I were looking to buy a house–my inheritance, but early. It enabled us to not only buy a house but build our lovely 2000 square-foot Craftsman-style bungalow.

I had an opportunity that was denied to black families.

I can hear the push back already. But your grandfather worked his butt off! And yes, he did, to the point where he fainted at his job in college because he was working full-time and going to school full-time and not taking care of himself. But so were black GI’s of his same age, and yet they wouldn’t go on to be as upwardly mobile on the whole as white GI’s. Me saying that I have benefited from things that black woman my age haven’t been able to benefit doesn’t detract from my grandfather’s work ethic, it just acknowledges the way things have worked and how all too often they continue to work.

At the end of the post, Holy Obstinance, I referenced the “supremacies of our nation.” That post was long enough, so I didn’t try to unpack what I meant by that, but recent coronavirus stuff has brought that to the fore for me personally again. These supremacies allow us to reassure ourselves that the virus isn’t “that bad” that “only the old or those with underlying conditions” will get serious cases.

Except. Except. When did we decide we were okay with those people dying? And as I am one of those people, when did you all decide my life was worth less?

Because that’s what that narrative promotes. My life is worth less and you shouldn’t have to cancel that trip, stay in your house, take extra precautions because at worst you’ll get a cold or flu like sickness not unlike many others.

That feeling of my life being devalued on a public scale really pissed me off. And then I thought, this is what black people and indiginous people and refugees all experience on a daily basis. Daily. Mine is a situational devaluing, theirs is a systemic devaluing.

Combine that with unregulated capitalism defining human worth based on how much money one can produce and you have the systemic devaluing of people with chronic illness and disabilities.

These are the supremacies of our time: white supremacy, male supremacy, able-bodied supremacy, youth supremacy, wealth supremacy. All of these devalue lives that don’t fit their world-view of worth. And that view of worth is so very narrow and in direct opposition to the greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Too many of us are too busy living our lives without stopping to think what that looks like on a daily basis. Coronavirus threw it all into stark contrast and offers each of us an opportunity to reexamine love of neighbor and to learn about the supremacies in our nation that fight against total human thriving.

Holy Obstinance

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Today in church one of our priests gave a pastoral message in lieu of a sermon in order to address some practical concerns regarding coronavirus and also tornado cleanup. And he went on to recommend that while the chalices would still be available that we receive communion in one kind only, and the chalices were available as it is a requirement in the prayer book and necessary for some people’s personal piety or… and then he stopped, searching for a word, and said, “I don’t know what word to use… I shouldn’t say obstinance,” referring to people who insist on drinking from the chalice anyway. That cracked up many who were listening, and my husband turned to me and said, “holy obstinance,” and as you can imagine, we were among the obstinate few who received from the chalice anyway (wine is anti-viral and silver chalices are non-porous and our mouths are cleaner than our hands, so don’t come at me).

But the phrase “holy obstinance” caught my imagination and I came home pondering what that means for our moment in time that often feels overwhelming as though we can scarcely catch our breath from one thing before something else hits. And what better description is there of hope in this moment then pressing on out of a holy obstinance? To have faith that we can ultimately bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice to paraphrase what Dr. King once said.

Many of my favorite stories, whether it’s Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Doctor Who (yes, I am a big geek and I own it proudly), feature long sections of darkness with very little chance of success. And it’s one thing to read and reread (or watch and re-watch) these sections of darkness knowing how it all turns out. It’s another thing to be trekking through Mordor with enemies all around and your water’s running out, or to crouch by Dumbledore’s body knowing there’s no one left to stand between you and the battle that is to come, or to take a run at blowing up the death star knowing there’s just one chance to get it right and so many ways to get it wrong–to stand in those moments and not know where the story ends, to live into the uncertainty and do the right thing anyway out of hope that if enough people join you in doing the right thing, then it will make a difference. But even if they don’t, you do it anyway, because no matter the outcome, you have chosen to do what’s right. This is holy obstinance.

And no, I’m not equating drinking from the chalice or not as making the right choice in dark times, the phrase just grabbed my attention and I wouldn’t be giving its origin proper references without the story.

The second piece of this is that thinking about the coronavirus (or to be accurate: the novel coronavirus, COVID-19), has me thinking about the nature of interconnectedness. In his address, my priest today also mentioned how preventing the spread of a virus as best we can falls into love of one’s neighbor.

In a time where border-consciousness in the United States is seemingly at an all-time high, here comes a little brand-new virus to remind us that borders are artificial lines drawn on a map. To remind us that we are all global citizens in a world that is more interconnected than ever, bound together in a common destiny for better or worse and the attempts to practice isolationism or pretend that isn’t so are not only wrong but incredibly… naive to put it as charitably as possible.

Today’s gospel lesson contained one of the most memorized verses of all time: “For God so loved the world…” God so loved… not a single country, nor a single people group, but the entire world–which incidentally includes creation itself as the author of Romans put it so eloquently: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now: and not only the creation, but we ourselves…” (Romans 8:22-23 NRSV).

God so loved the entire world–all of creation–that God gave of Godself the ultimate sacrifice in order to put things to right. This reconciliation is both here and now, and an eschatological reality. In other words, the reconciliation offered to us here is not yet complete as we experience it, but in terms of the world to come, it has already been made complete, and indeed, all things have been made new.

But since we live before everything being made new, things like the coronavirus come along and highlight the fact that none of us can “go it alone” on this planet. Tornadoes reveal to us both how fast life can change and how much we need our neighbors. It is a reminder to care for our neighbors at all times, not just in the midst of sickness or disaster because we need them and they need us and all of us are loved equally by a God who demonstrated what love is with the ultimate sacrifice for the whole world.

To stand in the knowledge that we follow the crucified one and to refuse isolationist doctrines that would divide us from members of our human family, to acknowledge that all human life is sacred and created in the image of God and should be treated as such in a time of xenophobia, to resist the supremacies of our nation that seek to oppress and divide us from acknowledging each others’ full humanity, to stand firm in all of this: that is holy obstinance.