October 30, 2020
We are over seven months into the pandemic lockdown. This is the longest I have gone in my life without entering a church building. I suspect that this is true of many of us.
We have kept on worshipping, but in different ways. The electronic tools we have today have given us options. Worship has been possible. Community has continued… and sometimes even grown. Those of us not back in our church buildings look forward to being back, but maybe we will see our buildings in new ways too. Maybe we will broaden our view of what church looks like.
Many people are speaking these days of discovering anew, the beauty of the world outside our doors. When I am out with the dogs or on my runs, I find that the landscapes (and I am back in the landscape familiar from my childhood) let me shift away from focused thoughts and open up to a sense of deeper connection.
I love the Celtic concept of “thin places”, the idea that there are places where the earthly setting – whether so majestic or so bare – lets us feel closer to the Eternal. Sometimes they are described as places where the space between earth and heaven collapses. You don’t have to be on a Scottish moor or a mountain top to be in a thin place. I believe that thin places can be found where each of us lives, wherever we can set aside the things that distract us from the God’s presence.
I have been thinking recently of a conversation that my sister and I had many years ago, one that I have thought of many times since. She was excited about a workshop she had taken, and shared with me what she had learned. The way I have always remembered it is that when you are in a time of turmoil or uncertainty or just a time that is overly busy, you can find peace by going, in your mind, to a place you have been where you felt at peace. Take the time to let your mind take you to that place, that cathedral, that sanctuary, where you felt the grandeur of God or felt at one with the earth, and rest there for a bit.
You might be in the middle of a big city but you can go in your mind to that place in the forest where the trees grow so tall and where you sat amongst the flickering shadows of the light filtering through the branches. You might be in the midst of an impossibly frustrating piece of work, but you can take a moment to go to that place by the river where you watched the water flow past and felt your spirit renewed. Or maybe the place your mind takes you to is that moment on the lake just at sunset when you set down your paddle to lose yourself in the shimmering colour of sky and water.
During these days of pandemic church closures, maybe you will go in your mind to the actual cathedral, the sanctuary, the church that you call home, and feel yourself sitting in the pew, your head bowed as you remember the sense of being part of a congregation joining together in prayer to the eternal and mysterious one that we call God.
We will be back in our buildings, and we will be so happy to worship there some day without restrictions. But we can be grateful for being reminded in this pandemic time that we can feel the presence of God wherever we are.
God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
[Photo credits: Nora Sanders]
This is Nora Sanders' final blog post as General Secretary. Best wishes on her retirement!