In the initial phases of the pandemic, I will admit that I was a little excited about the prospect of attending church online.
Back then—in March, which seems years ago now—the pandemic was something that everyone seemed to imagine would somehow be resolved in the course of a few months. Honestly, it was nice to wake up and “go to church” at a morning time of my choosing, to attend – if I wanted to – in pajamas, and for the cats to purr on our laps while we prayed.
But the experience has long since lost its luster. This is not the fault of my church, which has poured an extensive amount of money and effort into as rich an online experience as they can muster. Nor is this the fault of state policy and our church’s regional policy, which are wise and well-reasoned, and created with the assistance of medical officials. Everything that is keeping me out of the church building is necessary and proper.
But I miss church. I miss church.
And accompanying my missing-of-church is the realization, slow and unfolding over time, that what we have lost we will not have back again for a very long time, if ever. Returning to my church – to any church in my state – when the time comes will mean masks, will mean careful seating, will mean no singing, no gathering. And as surreal as it is to take communion, such as it is, from my couch, I cannot imagine it will be much less so to stand alone with my husband, appropriately distanced from other congregants, when we come to worship God but cannot sing or say hi in the foyer or do anything other, really, than sit, consume, and then leave.
Again, these policies are all right and proper and necessary. But knowing this does not change the realization of the ways in which this pandemic has altered, perhaps for good, the life of my local church body, and my participation in it.
And then, this week, as a strange mirror to my experience with church, WordPress forced a new text editor on me.
It is a disaster. Nothing is where it ought to be. I composed this post not in WordPress, as I usually do, but in Microsoft Word, simply because the act of trying to write more than a paragraph in the new text editor was giving me a headache. And I found myself, typing out this post, feeling much the same way about WordPress as I do about the lack of church: the old way of doing things has disappeared. I’m going to have to adjust, but I miss it. I miss it. I miss it.
Change is inevitable, of course. But the hardest change is the change that is forced upon us without consultation or consent, without anticipation, and without the promise of any relent or relief.
In church – “in church” – today, my pastor spoke briefly on the Israelites in the wilderness and noted that the “Promised Land” was not the land of leisure and pleasure that it was anticipated to be. Wilderness years were followed by war years. And there is a danger, he reminded us, in “Promised Land thinking”: it will all be okay once we get to the Promised Land. It will all be okay once the pandemic ends. It will all be okay once I get married/have children/work out this problem/get over this hump at work. But that’s not the case. Life is a push and pull of seasons: we won’t arrive at the Promised Land, truly, until after we are done here.
And so the answer of God’s grace lives in the present moment.
I miss church. I cannot have back what I had before. And yet there is a church in my area with an open adoration chapel, and they take great care with cleaning and sanitation and scheduling and cautionary measures, and I have learned that if I want to, I can at least go to God’s house to pray, if nothing else.
I miss church. I cannot have back what I had before. And yet my husband and I have a joint spiritual life that is now richer than ever, somehow. My own individual spiritual life is growing, perhaps because in the absence of church I am shoring myself up in every other way I can find.
I miss church. I cannot have back what I had before. And yet in a time of great crisis, when several international students that I supervise and care deeply about have been in danger of deportation, I find myself experiencing the richness of what I imagine the New Testament church knew well: the preternatural calm of knowing that only God can intervene when the state and the government hold sway over the lives of helpless individuals.
As for the WordPress text editor—well, perhaps nothing can help that.
But the truth remains that this is our new normal. That rather than waiting for this season to past it is perhaps better to exercise the radical acceptance of embracing this as the current state for the foreseeable future. To seek blessing where we are right now. To give grace where we are right now. To enjoy the fruit of where we are right now.
I miss church. But God is still good.