Tuesday, June 23, 2020

a darkness that can be felt

[NB: This was included in an online Hour of Prayer hosted by the Hingham Hull Interfaith Religious Leaders Association last night.  Many thanks to all who participated.]

a darkness that can be felt
Then the Lord said to Moses,
“Stretch out your hand toward heaven
so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt,
a darkness that can be felt.” – Exodus 10:21

A darkness ‘that can be felt’ is not your usual type of darkness.

As you might imagine, there are many possible reasons for this Biblical ninth plague.  One is that the darkness came when a sandstorm blew across Egypt.  In such storms, the wind becomes electrically charged, and it stings against your skin.  It’s a hot, violent wind.  This kind of darkness can certainly be felt, and you might think it is truly the end of the world.

Another explanation says there may have been an eclipse of the sun, but this darkness lasted three days.  Would an eclipse last that long?  Would that be a darkness one could feel?  The Egyptians were unable to move from where they were.  Would an eclipse incapacitate you?

Abraham Ibn Ezra wrote that the darkness ‘was so thick that light from a fire or candle would not ignite.’  Clearly, this darkness was something different.

Maybe this darkness was a form of collective, transient blindness, leaving the people able only to grope about, to feel their way around.

Isaac Abravanel speculated that the blindness of the ninth plague was not an illness unto itself.  He wrote that ‘God brings this upon the people due to the fear of the enemy who wreak havoc that they see with their own eyes…their mind doesn’t think clearly and their sight is distorted.’

So, a threat or fear can bring on blindness to a group of people.  A continually anxiety-driven atmosphere can cause us to regress to the point where we.stop.seeing.

Much like the Egyptians suffering the ninth plague, this may be where we are today as a result of months of pandemic-induced fear and anxiety.  Maybe we have seen too much of it and can see no end.  Maybe too many deferred funerals and weddings and celebrations have left us blind to all the wonders of life that continue to surround us.  Maybe the worries about how we’ll be able to teach our children or visit our loved ones as we move forward have crowded out our ability to see the light within.

Let us pray:

Holy One,
We lift up our hearts to you in thanks and praise.
Help us in this time of trouble.  Dispel the darkness that we feel all around us.
As you created both light and dark, still the storm within and by your grace, clear our minds, remind us to remain good and helpful neighbors, and fill us with your peace.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

One If By Land

Two hundred and forty-five years ago, the American Revolution began on this day, which happened to be a Wednesday that year.  It all started at sunrise on Lexington's town green:

The Battle of Lexington, 19 April 1775, Oil on canvas by William Barns Wollen, 1910. 
National Army Museum, London

The rest, as they say, is history.  But history is quirky.  As the story of how we got here, history is often mis-remembered, mis-quoted, rewritten to suit the current audience, or simply forgotten until someone stumbles over it in the dark.
It was quite by chance that this story appeared in my e-mail this morning, from the New England Historical SocietySix Fun Facts About Paul Revere’s Ride.
We have a friend who is a member of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, and I thought of him as I read the article.  He's the type of person who would have known all of this and THEN joined the association.
The first 'fun fact' for me was to learn that Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride, was really about fighting slavery.  Follow the link to find out how, and you will learn about Longfellow too.  In my generation, this poem was simply something one knew; I can't tell you when I learned it but I'll have to read it again now.
Another item, #6, reminds us of the relative impact that Revere's ride had on him, his family, and anyone not living in Boston at the time: his obituary in 1818 doesn't mention the ride at all.  But in hindsight, it became a big deal for us.
Notice, too, that the painting above resides in the National Army Museum in London.  History may be written by the winners, but everyone can learn from it.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Going Viral

By now, most of us in range of this blog know about the Covid-19 virus.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 'COVID-19 is a new respiratory disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed COVID-19 cases.'
Compared to the common flu, it looks like this:

So far, it has made a mess of globalization, our economy, not to mention our anxiety levels.
We are all, to some degree, practicing social distancing, which is hard for a lot of people to deal with.
Who hasn't seen a bubble graph like this lately:

(Confirmed cases in the Sargasso Sea?)
Businesses, such as automobile manufacturers, have very quickly adjusted their television advertising to remind us that they will deliver your new car to your driveway without you having to interact with anyone.  Restaurants that have never offered takeout meals now do so, just to survive.  Our roadways and town squares are mostly deserted or closed.  Even beaches are empty of human life and activity.
Some good news: pollution levels in some parts of China have dropped considerably.  The canals in Venice are showing clear water too.
Then it hit me: I've seen this before, here:

The cats have been batting this thing around for years and I never noticed how much it resembles a disease.  Check the video here:

We will get through this.  In the meantime, enjoy the downtime.  God loves you.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Some Change

The hand of the LORD came upon me,
and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD
and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 
He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley,
and they were very dry.
He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel 37:1-3

At the moment, we are in the midst of what Confucius called 'interesting times.'

We are being challenged in ways we never imagined even a few months ago.  Many people are now working from home, to limit their exposure to co-workers who might be sick with the CoVid-19 virus and vice-versa.  Supermarket shelves have been strafed by hoarders, especially those who seem to need a lot of toilet paper and paper towels (not to mention sanitizing wipes, chicken, beans, and Coca-Cola).  Plenty of eggs but no shredded cheese.  It varies, depending on where you live and where you shop:

And we all must now leave a six-foot gap between ourselves and our neighbors, like it or not:

Fortunately, and despite all of this, we haven't yet lost our sense of humor.  Some of the more clever meme-makers have been working overtime, for example, here:

In his song, Some Change, Boz Scaggs points out what should be obvious to everyone now:
Some change comes down for the better
You feel it move
Then some come around like the weather
You take that in too
But like some change in your pocket
Sometimes it seems to be too little too late

As a pastor serving a small church, these are indeed challenging, interesting times.  Most of the pastors I know have been forced to find new ways to offer Sunday worship services, to reach congregants without actually being with them, to visit patients in the hospital in a new way, and so on.  Even funeral services have become problematic.  So what do you do when your congregation needs community but the state says you can't gather in the sanctuary as you usually do?

Like Noah said you'd better wake up
You don't want to get stuck in this zoo
Cause when he leaves the dock
He ain't waiting round for you
Be prepared to change some too

Yes, we have to change some.  Like it or not, it's raining.  So many pastors, including yours truly, are learning to become the IT guy and the camera operator all at the same time.  For some, it's exciting; for others, it is a daunting task.

We now record a stripped-down version of the worship service, upload it to YouTube, and then post it to Facebook.  Next week is Palm Sunday and we hope to experiment with Facebook Live as we distribute palms and Communion on-the-go.  It'll be fun, if it works.

Bottom line: We will get through this.  God has our back.  These bones can live.
Hang loose.
And may peace be with you.