COVID19 came to the Peace Center this week; not because of sickness or death, but because we had to close. Last week we kept the center open especially for our after school kids who now had tons of work to do and often needed our computers to do it, but also for the new folks who stopped in because they had just been laid off and now had to fill out applications for SNAP. Completing SNAP applications is no easy task and online is really tough. The work was done and the applications filled out but now we “shelter in place” and pray for all of this to end. Contingency plans now include setting up a schedule for phone calls to our senior adults, some walks around the neighborhood on weekdays when we usually were not able to do so, setting up a neighborhood ambassador who could tell us if someone was in need that we might not know about and could help. Many folks do not have cars so we can offer to go to the store for them.
There are lots of people offering advice and suggestions for how to stay sane during these days, but it is the human presence that suddenly seems so vital. As we walk through the neighborhood, we will stop and say a prayer or greet those sitting on their porches and just let them know we are here and will do what we can and are allowed to do for them.
Let us pray for each other and look for new ways to stay connected that somehow won’t stop just because life might return to normal. Nothing is going to be normal again for a long time so what can we do to bring peace and hope to someone who is anxious and feeling downcast, and how do we prevent ourselves from having those same feelings? So, let’s take a breath, pray a lot and connect with each other as best we can.
Today, I met a man cleaning the street, while on my way over the office, where all of our non-essential staff is working from home. Our Leadership Team continues to work in our offices, meeting to continue our role in preparing and planning, looking out for our sisters, and learning with everyone else, about this pandemic that is changing the way we are in the whole wide world. A virus six times more contagious than ordinary flu.
Yes, on my way over to the office, I met a man who was picking up the trash that always accumulates along Airport Drive. I just don’t get why people think it’s okay to toss bottles and paper and trash out their car window. But they do and every day I walk home from work stepping over litter. And someone cleans it up every few days. I finally found out who. The man was from Davey Tree Company – they have a contract with us to cut the grass at our properties. I didn’t realize they keep our lawns litter free as well.
I said hello to the man picking up the trash, who said he usually works on another site, but that was closed down with this pandemic, and so he was keeping busy, working as he could. A small and thankless job, picking up trash. It made me aware of all the ways people are pitching in during this most unusual time. We see on the news: people helping with school lunches for kids, deep cleaning public transit, people watching out for each other, citizens in Italy singing to each other on balconies.
Not to mention at all the health care workers, doctors, nurses, aides and helpers who are putting their lives on the line, managing the biggest health crisis in one hundred years.
Our own employees are being so creative in working from home, our essential staff members are managing to be sure our sisters are safe, cared for and fed. Generous, compassionate people who rise to the challenge of unusual times. This is what it means to be human. This is what we are made for.
The man I met today was polite, friendly and cheerful. He did not complain or whine about the present state of his circumstances. He did not blame anyone or speak of being afraid.
This pandemic, horrible as it is and as concerning as it is, offers us a way to see each other, not as people hoarding hand sanitizer or toilet paper, but as human beings who care for each other and for the stranger. It is a moment when political leaders can truly lead and set into motion actions that safeguard our citizens. It could be a moment of global transformation.
I am reminded that the Golden Rule can be found in virtually every spiritual tradition on the planet: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)The golden rule is an ethic of reciprocity, a moral code that is basic to all human experience. And since the times we are living in call for acts not only of kindness but of heroism, I hope that we can all be like the man cleaning the street today. Doing our part to keep faith, to keep calm and be at peace. Looking out for someone else, even to pick up the trash, could save us all.
The souls of the just are in the hands of God. Grace and mercy are with God’s faithful ones.
A long time ago Betty offered her hands to God
And God, who cradled her already in divine love–God took those hands and blessed them and made them a blessing for every one she would touch through the years, in family, in the Dominican community, in an ever-changing Clarissa hall community for which she was a cornerstone and a warm hearth, in teaching scores of little second grade girls at the Elms elementary school, in reaching over the miles to get school supplies for needy children in central America,
Betty’s hands became God’s hands–neither of them ever let go. Into your hands, O God, we commend her spirit.
If we have died with Christ we believe we are also to live with him.
Betty died with Christ at Baptism, drowned in a flood of grace and born again into the Christ life.
But to live with Christ, in Christ, means offering one’s self, one’s gifts, one’s love with a willingness to die to oneself—that self that really doesn’t want to face this or do that, or talk to that person, or give up something or someone held very dear…daily carryings of the cross of a kind all of us know. The daily yesses to the needs of the other and the necessary no’s to our own wants and preferences.
And Betty shares the grace and the glory of that resurrection, as she shared the cross, because each self-giving made her heart grow, opened up more space for God to dwell and to love through her. (as T.S. Eliot puts it: a condition of complete simplicitycosting not less than everything.”)
She welcomed God –every day—because she knew as we do that in God we live and move and have our being, and that with God come all kinds of neighbors. And every day in our little dyings Christ Jesus expands our hearts into sacred spaces, offering warmth and acceptance and a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on for all who come to us with their needs and call upon our time and energy. Day after day, year after year, with patience and forbearance and trust and faithfulness and true deep quiet joy.
O God of life and love unending, welcome her into yourself, You our one and forever home, where there awaits us all a warm embrace and a table of plenty.
When the son of man comes in glory, all the nations will stand before him….and will say to those on his right, “Come, you blessed of my Father.….for as often as you did this for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”
The Gospel is a familiar one, and time and again a passage that as the song says: “causes me to tremble…”,
It’s all there: explicit and specific. Here is the way to the kingdom, here is the road to eternal life, here quite simply is what Christian believers do.
So “Whatsoever Betty did” she did it by/in God’s grace, returning God’s love and faithfulness. And today we send on her final journey, our Dominican Sister of Peace, preacher of the Gospel. With God’s hand in hers and God’s heart in hers and joined forever in that abundant life eternally poured out for the life of the world. And here at this Eucharist, we share a foretaste of the feast of the reign of God, with hope and confidence that Betty – along with that great cloud of witnesses, among them not a few Baltrinics and Dominicans who have gone before us—continues to praise and bless and preach and live on in Christ’s resurrection.
And the one seated on the throne is saying, “Come, Betty, faithful servant, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
And I think I hear God saying one thing more to Betty: Now, Betty—there is no set-up or clean-up. Just the Party!
Everyone seems to be looking for signs of hope in this crazy world we call home. Some find it in the face a cat that sits outside the front door every morning in the hope of some food. Some find it during a Mardi Gras parade even when it is raining. Some find it in hearing that Drew Brees will stay with the Saints! Some find it in the last two minutes of NBC Nightly News broadcasts. Some find it in “cake”. Some find it in the rising of the sun each day so that there might be more possibilities of finding something to hope in.
The believing community knows hope is within each and every one of us, and it is our gift from God to share with others. We are the hope every time we volunteer our time and talents in soup kitchens, donate money to charitable organizations, write letters and make phone calls to encourage our elected men and women to do more so that hope can be a part of everyone’s life. We find hope in prayer because that gives us the energy to go on and be the face of hope for those who believe they have none and there is none.
Wear the ashes, OK. Eat less, OK. But more importantly be a sign of the hope that comes from being believers who cannot despair because we believe God is good and passes that goodness through us to all we meet.
An interesting story came my way this weekend that holds up for us the dichotomy of human experience in a fragile balance. The story as I heard it, in shorthand:
A group of our sisters went to a play here in town and met for dinner at a nearby restaurant ahead of time. Parking was tight and time was short, so the two carloads of theater-goers parked under a NO PARKING SIGN, which said violators will be towed. Well…. It was Saturday night, the establishment that owned the parking spaces was closed, the restaurant was right there. It should be okay. They went to the restaurant, ordered their meal, enjoyed each other’s company and along comes a waitress with bad news. Your cars are being towed. OH NO! the drivers rushed out, too late to stop the tow trucks. NOW WHAT? Can you imagine?
Here is where the kindness of strangers comes in. Some restaurant patrons heard the fuss and offered to take the sisters to the theater, about a mile away. Yes! There are thoughtful, generous people in the world. Later that night, other generous sisters came to take the drivers to the tow-away location to retrieve the cars and go home. A happy ending to the story. It was noted, in all the fuss, that the shop owner who also owned the parking places was notorious for watching out the window for violators and calling the tow company. Snaring a $168.00 fee each. Just plain mean.
So what are we to make of this story, and what would Jesus say? The story of the weeds and the wheat in Matthew 13 comes to mind.
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
Let them grow together… so Jesus is asking us to abide the ill will or evil of others in such a way that God will make a proper judgement, not us. Our place in the kingdom is to do good, to extend a kindness to a stranger, even to the business owner whose actions seemed so mean. To be the balance of good in a world with such a capacity for meanness. Small things and large.
Most of us can only add good when we see and hear of evil, we have little power to change the vastness of the world’s problems. We grow up with the weeds, and it may be that we cannot always tell one from the other. So my prayer today is that we would act in the moment when it is right to extend good to the stranger, to the neighbor, the shop owner, our family, our friends, to the world we inhabit.
Lord, help me see the kindness of strangers as a sign of hope and open my heart to be grateful that the balance of weeds and wheat is up to you. Amen.