Some Place to Go
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | March 26, 2020Some Place to Go
It’s confession time: this past Monday I went to the church office, and there wasn’t any reason for me to go. Everything I needed to do (and was able to do) could have been done from our apartment. I knew other church members were taking care of the garden; I had been in touch with both the Scouts and Meals on Wheels; Wanda was checking the mail; all our onsite meetings and services are suspended for now. St. Liz’s physical campus didn’t need me to go. But on Monday, I showered, trimmed my beard, put on a nice shirt, and drove to Buda anyway.
As I’m writing this, it’s day ten (I think?) of going nowhere but the grocery store. On Monday when I went to the office, Mayor Adler had not yet issued Austin’s shelter-in-place order, so my drive to Buda was technically aboveboard. But the truth of the matter is that I just wanted some place to go. I wanted to go to a place where I had to get ready to go beforehand. I wanted some place to go that was somehow mine. A place that asks of me that I have my shirt tucked in and a clean handkerchief in my pocket.
Many of us are missing the usual places we go. Work (for some), to be sure, but also to friends’ houses, to visit family, to school for kids, to the nursing home to see our loved one, to gather as Church. Some of us are having to miss being at a family member’s final bedside right now.
Each of us has within us a kind of homing instinct towards community, good work, places and people that feel like ours in some way. When we are thwarted in our attempts to act on that instinct, we get restless, irritable, even depressed. It’s the feeling of not being where we should be, as though we know that we are called to live and move and have our being elsewhere, but are unable to identify what that elsewhere is. Or maybe we do know what that elsewhere is, but we are unable to pursue it tangibly, as so many of us are unable to do now. Love wants to move and to be unhindered in its movement.
Of the thousands of pages St. Augustine wrote, perhaps his most famous line is from early on in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
At the deepest level, each of us wants some place to go, some place that demands our careful preparation, some place to go that is ours to go to. And we are restless until we abide there.
For Christians, that place has a name: Jesus Christ. What a human life looks like when his or her heart reposes in God is Jesus. A particular person, in a particular place and time, always and only living from the heart’s deep and loving repose in God.
The restlessness that we feel now, the sense of being cooped up, the longing to return to our usual orbits of work and nurture and relationship—whatever the particulars are for us, each is an icon of the human soul’s deep search for oneness with God in Jesus, that unshakeable repose for which we always search and to which we are always called. Invited, even.
Right now, many of us simply feel out of place. Our rhythms are disrupted. We are lonely; our efforts at rest or productivity seem thwarted before they even begin; we feel unable to be still because the future remains unrelentingly insecure.
Maybe our task, then, is to discern how this time of feeling out of place can become a season of preparation to return more fully to the places we miss. In other words, at best this time of being dispersed is a chance for so much beard trimming and folding of handkerchiefs. At best, perhaps, we can try and get our hearts ready to go some place and call it ours.
Maybe. At best. Perhaps. I use these words deliberately. This is a pandemic, after all. While it may present us with certain opportunities for growth and the revaluation of priorities which we may not otherwise undertake, at its most basic this is a time of self-isolation (for many, though not all) so as to prevent the spread of disease and to safeguard human life. Economic, emotional, and relational distress are part of this picture even for those who are at no serious risk of life-threatening infection.
The world for which we are restless is not a world where pandemics happen. In a world where pandemics do happen, however, faithfulness might look like nothing more heroic or gratifying than staying home and trying to befriend our restlessness.
Faithfulness today is what our responsibility is in this. What happens after that is God’s prerogative. I’ve talked to many of you these past couple weeks. Many of us are a bit bored but otherwise doing fine. Some of us, though, have anxieties of various kinds, not the least of which are job security, isolation, and a nagging sense that the normal world we love is gone. Or at least that it’s far more fragile than we believed it to be.
I’m not sure that I believe ‘normal’ is actually gone in any permanent sense, but it can certainly feel that way. Sometimes, if we commit to befriending our restlessness, we discover that what presents as restlessness is actually grief, the wound of having lost something. Big or small, each of us is experiencing loss right now, even if those losses are temporary. Relationships we rely on disrupted. Money we need in jeopardy. A long-awaited surgery yet again delayed. Trying to hug our grandson through yet another Zoom meeting.
Maybe faithfulness looks like naming honestly what we have lost.
Our particular losses are also icons of the human soul. We each have a dim memory of Eden, which we have lost. Each of us has an intuitive knowledge of what unfallen life with God is like, even though we’ve never experienced it. When we see greed at work in the HEB line, or the fear driving us to purchase all the ammunition at Cabela’s, or the suggestion that something called “the economy” is more important than human life, we are confronted again with the fundamental loss—the fundamental fall—with which humanity lives: we do not live in the world for which we were made.
Grief is an appropriate response.
That’s the kind of sentence after which one might try to turn towards something else. A new image or idea or theological chestnut, maybe. But the thing about grief in my experience is that the only way out is through. Even if what is lost is only temporarily so.
So: what have you lost? Maybe naming it is the first step towards that Some Place To Go we’re always looking for.