Unexpected Blessings During Uncertain Times: Resources to Help You Through
During these uncertain times, we could all use more resources to help us accomplish the work God has placed before us to do. Here, we have included an encouraging article by alumnus Matt Perkins, as well as some resources offered to you by Seedbed.
I’ve long had an uneasy relationship with the way many Christians think about the suffering and evil we see in the world. In the mid-2000s, during the two years I studied theology at Asbury Theological Seminary, my mental and spiritual life was marked by a near-constant and emotionally exhausting struggle of trying to reconcile belief in a good and all-powerful God with a world where there is so much seemingly meaningless suffering. I am grateful for the friends and professors who were able to speak about suffering and evil in ways that were not trite or overly simplistic and who God used to save me from losing my faith and embracing the atheism that beckoned. The desire I had at that time was to find a vindication for divine goodness in the face of horrendous human suffering and evil. We call that theodicy. This blog post is not about that. That is an enormous topic about which thick and very dense books are written by philosophers and theologians. But I felt the need for some prolegomena before writing about the “blessings” I’ve found in the midst of COVID-19. These blessings in no way make the suffering and death people are experiencing during this pandemic justifiable or less problematic for a theist like me. Yet on this day of Easter, this glorious day of Christ’s Resurrection after the deepest, darkest and most painful suffering in Gethsemane and Golgotha I do feel justified in writing about some blessings I’ve experienced in the midst of a difficult time.
One of the hardest things for me and for most Christians has been our inability to gather in fellowship to worship God and to take part in the sacraments where we meet God most tangibly. The Eucharist, consuming bread and wine that is the Body and Blood of Christ, is for me the center of Christian living. While Christians hold many views on what worship should look like and what sacraments like communion mean, in my view and in the view of the vast majority of people who ever called themselves Christians in the history of the world, the Eucharist was central. I have not partaken of the Eucharist now for over a month and it weighs on me.
Many churches, including my own — St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, are holding online services in one way or another. You cannot take communion online so I will admit that I have been somewhat skeptical about worshipping online and calling that church. But thankfully, God has upset my own skepticism and cynicism as he is wont to do. The blessings I write about now are blessings that occurred through the act of worshipping online, either via Zoom or Facebook.
It was a few weeks ago that I first logged in via Zoom to a Mass at St. Alban’s. I was happy to see many familiar faces although as I had just rolled off of my air mattress in my empty apartment I was not exactly prepared to have my visage broadcast so I kept my camera off. I followed along during the Mass though, thankful for the familiar voice and wonderful preaching of our parish priest. What struck me most deeply, though, was something that occurred during the congregational prayers. Our congregation is small and I know the voice of nearly everyone in it. It was during the prayers that, due to the normal functioning of the Zoom app, typically only one voice at a time would come through on the audio. So I would hear one voice which I recognized saying one or a few words during the prayers and then another.
While on a normal Sunday I may look around the sanctuary and see familiar faces, greet many during the passing of the peace and visit with some during the coffee hour, this was a totally new and unique experience of fellowship with my congregation. Hearing one individual’s voice, even briefly, as we corporately lifted our prayers to God was a poignant experience of Christian togetherness, the Communion of the Saints, even while we were physically separated. This is what has remained with me from that first Zoom Mass and I am thankful for it.
Yesterday I spent the majority of my day in the hospital, mostly caring for COVID-19 patients. Afterward I waited in line at one of the few barbershops in town that is still open to get a much-needed haircut. I got home too late to take part in St. Alban’s Easter Vigil service via Zoom as they held their Mass very early. I had planned to go work out before figuring out what I’d do for dinner. As I checked in on Facebook before heading out to exercise I noticed that the Easter Vigil service was just starting at the church in Washington, DC where I had been a member before moving to El Paso. That church, St. Paul’s Parish Episcopal Church, was the most joyous and edifying community that I have ever been part of and I miss it dearly. So I was quite happy to follow their East Vigil service online. Perhaps it was a bit irreverent, but I still went to exercise even while following the service and praying at the appropriate times. Since no gyms are open I went to the large vacant lot next to the apartment complex where I’m currently staying to do burpees, sit-ups and lunges, following the Easter Vigil throughout. It was also wonderful to see the alleluias and amens from dear friends as they commented during the service.
Around the time my workout was completed, Christ’s Resurrection was proclaimed with glorious song and alleluias. As the beautiful sounds of the Mass played on my phone along with the beautiful images of the church itself — the vestments, incense, images of Christ and Mary and the saints, I also was witnessing the enormous West Texas sky, the spectacular setting sun and glorious sunset light on the clouds over the Franklin Mountains. It was an overwhelming amount of beauty to take in all at once, being in a beautiful church while also witnessing the ravishingly beautiful sun and sky, clouds and mountains. And suddenly I had the overwhelming sense of God’s Presence, of his glory and holiness and immanence. I said a quick prayer and perhaps trembled a bit. It is not often that I’ve had such a tangible sense that He is with me although it has sometimes occurred during the Eucharist.
So I’ve experienced some wonderful things in recent weeks that I am very grateful for. With that said, I anticipate greatly being able to be back in church with my brothers and sisters, the body of Christ. God takes care of his people, though, and he certainly always has cared for me. May God bless us all during this season of resurrection and may we all experience the sanctification to enable us to love and care for one another during this difficult time.
April 12, 2020
Seedbed: “The Sow Must Go On”