A Few Weeks Awayby The Rev. Daniel P. Strandlund on June 23, 2021
Maybe six weeks after the snowstorm, Lucy sat me down and in no uncertain terms told me I needed to take a break this summer. “Not a week or two either,” she said. “More like a month.” She was right to say what she said, and here we are: I’m going to be away for a few weeks.
This coming week I’ll be doing some diocesan work as a chaplain for a senior high youth event at Duncan Park in Colorado. Rock climbing, hiking, rafting, morning temperatures of 58 degrees—it’s going to be good work. After that, I’m going to take a combination of vacation and continuing education time. I’ll be gone through July.
I plan to goof off, climb, play Dungeons and Dragons with my nerd friends, see my nieces, drive around in the Jeep, hang out on the beach with Lucy, and regularly enjoy the ever-fabled lunch beer. During my continuing education weeks, I’ll be writing an essay on Dante’s Divine Comedy as part of the MA in Systematic and Philosophical Theology I’m doing through the University of Nottingham. I’ve been looking forward to this Dante module, and it’s my final bit of coursework before starting my thesis next year.
This will easily be the longest I’ve been away from St. Liz in the four years I’ve served here so far. I’m grateful to be able to take time away like this, and I’m grateful to your Bishop’s Committee for their support, particularly to Krista Piferrer, who immediately affirmed the idea when I first brought it up. “It’ll be good for you and good for St. Liz,” she said. It’s been a long year, and a break like this seems necessary both to recover and to be ready for what’s next.
While I’m gone, The Rev. Martha McKee will be leading Sunday services and will be on call for pastoral emergencies. Wanda will be here for most of the time I’m away, as well, though later in the summer she and Mark are going to take some well-deserved vacation time. I’m grateful for their support, both of our congregation and of me.
Last fall, when we were online half the time and outside the other half, the lectionary had us reading Exodus for a while—the story of God’s people wandering in the wilderness. It was an apt narrative. It’s easy to get lost in the desert. The wind blows and the landscape shifts under your feet as the dunes roll like slow waves across the horizon. When God’s people finally reached their Promised Land and crossed the Jordan River, they paused and built an altar out of the river stones. It’s how they marked the boundary between what was and what was yet to be.
It feels like that’s where we are. After 64 long weeks of worshipping either online or outside, we’re finally arriving back at our own altar, the place God gave us for a home. It’s time to mark this change, time to put a pin in the map of where we’ve been during Coronatide. It’s been a long trek. There are likely still griefs we’ve not yet grieved, and yet now there are also joys and comforts to welcome and to be regained.
For me, marking this boundary crossing means rest, play with friends and family, and reading a great poet and theologian. That’s my pin in the map. That’s how I’m honoring what has been and getting ready to welcome what is next for us.
This isn’t the first pin in my own map of Coronatide, though. There have been others. Moments of significant change or significant meaning in my memory of what these 16 months or so have been like. As I’ve been preparing to be away, I’ve thought about those moments and written some of them down, starting my own kind of chronicle of Coronatide. It’s been a helpful exercise, one I’ll likely continue, and one I think might be helpful for us both as a congregation and as individuals to pursue in the coming months. Going back and putting pins in the map of where we’ve been is a good way to get a hold on where we are today. It’s also a way of honoring the past and preparing to greet what is next. I don’t just mean objective events, but also our subjective emotional experiences of those events.
For example, for me the snowstorm in February was the worst week of the past year or so. The worst of my anxiety for our congregation, the most paralyzing sense of helplessness, the least sense of personal agency. On my map, there’s a pin in the snowstorm because it marks the beginning of my low point. But for you, there might be a pin for a very different reason. Maybe your pin is mostly about fear for your parents. Or maybe it’s a pin for the sheer novelty of playing in the snow for a few days.
The point is that when we talk about the pandemic, we aren’t just talking about coronavirus anymore, but this whole epoch. “Coronatide” is a way of capturing this whole hard season. Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, economic distress, a summer of protests and violence, racial conflict, a vicious election, the sack of the Capitol, the snowstorm, and all of that on top of our own more private struggles and shifts in family systems. Oddly, there have been blessings in all this, too. Those can be easy to overlook in the midst of the rest.
We’ve all been in survival mode for a long time, whether we know it or not. Some still are. If we ever want to get back to living again, we’re going to have to be deliberate in telling these stories. It’s how we unpack the bags we’ve forgotten we’re carrying. When I look forward to this next year, I think that’s part of what God wants for us as he brings us back together—to help us unpack. Unpacking is just what we do when we come home again, regardless of where we’ve been. I look forward to that.
It’ll be good to come home together.
God’s Peace, and see you soon.