Lent is here again, and Covid-19 remains the reality in our lives. Usually during Lent, we think about what we are giving up as our fast during this season leading to Easter, and often it is something like meat, wine, chocolate, or sex that people choose to eschew. Perhaps this year is different due to the ongoing pandemic which has seen many of us confined to our homes the vast majority of the time and has seen so many give up so much in the last year. People who take this public health crisis seriously have given up family vacations, holiday gatherings, in-person worship, in-person classes, leisure activities, exercise at the gym, going out to eat, or getting together for the big game on TV among much else. We have also had to adjust to working from home, most of us for the first time, which brings its own set of unique challenges as people deal with pets, children, virtual meetings, and how to navigate being at one’s home while trying to maintain professionalism and focusing on work tasks rather than the growing pile of laundry, or any other household and family duty. Then there are those for whom the pandemic has meant a loss of employment, housing, or both, and those for whom the pandemic has meant an increase in mental health issues related to stress, depression, and isolation. Far too many have dealt with the loss of one or more loved ones, or have long standing symptoms related to lingering affects from Covid. In short, Covid has been a lot to deal with for almost everyone in a variety of ways both small and annoying, as well as devastatingly life altering.
In addition to Covid, we in the United States have been experiencing the type of violent political upheaval here at home that the CIA and U.S. military usually foment abroad in a bid for territory, resources, or geographic hegemony. Fascists intent on helping the former president achieve his dictatorial ambitions stormed the US capital, tried to run an opposing candidate’s bus off of a Texas highway, and have generally threatened violence and mayhem in the name of Trump because of what historian Timothy Snyder dubbed, “the big lie.” Those kinds of monstrous untruths, repeated over and over ad infinitum are common to authoritarians and fascists the world over. This violent transfer of power too has taken a toll on people mentally, emotionally, and spiritually which has added to the aforementioned pandemic related stress, fatigue, and overall sense of being spread too thin by too many crises happening at the same time.
During this season of pandemic, social and political upheaval, and the various ways it has impacted our lives, I too have had my struggles. Recently, a wonderful rabbi that I follow on Twitter, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, tweeted about the need for people to pay particular care and attention to the spiritual practices that are meaningful and life giving to them. That made me pause, because the pandemic has affected me in such a way that I experienced an uptick in symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety, depression, and being hyper-reactive, which has at times made focusing on routine work tasks difficult, insomnia more frequent, and my mental energy sapped to precariously low levels. All of the spiritual practices that I had cultivated in recent years – daily contemplative prayer, going to worship, and reading scripture, had almost entirely by the wayside as a result at a time when I needed them very badly.
This brings me back to this year’s season of Lent. Instead of thinking about giving up something else that might bring a bit of joy, like a steak, or a nice robust stout, I decided to take Rabbi Ruttenberg’s wise advice and reinvigorate my spiritual practices. Beginning this week, I started to do my contemplative prayer practice again. After letting it lapse, I noticed immediately that I am rusty and in need of practice. This basically means that I feel fidgety and distracted as I sit with my eyes closed in meditation, and definitely have to repeat the word ‘grace’ with great frequency when my mind begins to wander. This morning I fought through what is being termed “Zoom fatigue” that I feel from staff meetings and virtual court hearings that are a part of my weekly work life, and attended virtual worship. During her sermon, our pastor, Rev. Dr. Anabel Profitt, reminded us that over and over again, God shows up and shows us that we are unconditionally loved, even when we are navigating a wilderness like Jesus – be it metaphorical or post-modern. That was a helpful reminder that motivates me to start to also get back to scripture and theology, so that tonight I will begin again to routinely engage the scriptures, as well as the writings of theologians and scholars that anchor me in my imperfect attempt to practice the Christian faith in ways that lead me towards loving my neighbors, and hopefully my enemies as well as Christ said we ought.
This last brings me to the idea of giving up something for Lent. I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling for years with feeling angry about injustice, which is so often fed by greed and malfeasance, ecological degradation, and bold face lying from those in power in order to prop up the systems of oppression that creates such horrific disparities in quality of life around the world. My prayer is that God will help me to more readily see joy, to more often feel the peace that passes all understanding, to be more conscious of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and to let go of any anger that is toxic. In short, I want to give up being perpetually angry, without losing my motivation to work to end injustice, and build a more equitable, sustainable world. It is of course a tall order, and one that I will over and over again have to pray for God’s grace and provision to help me on the way. May this season of Lent help me on my way and may you the reader also be fed and spiritually invigorated at this time too as we move towards Easter and the hope of resurrection.
Dillon Naber Cruz