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Reflections on six months of sheltering in place

Lynne Baab • Wednesday September 2 2020

Reflections on six months of sheltering in place

On March 2, an epidemiologist friend contacted my husband Dave and me to say that we needed to start staying at home because of this new virus and Dave’s chronic lung disease. I spent a three days out and about doing a few last things, so the exact six month anniversary varies between Dave and me.

I stayed home almost completely for 4 months except for bicycle rides. In the past two months, since masks have been required in Washington State, I’ve been to the grocery store about six times and the big-box home improvement store about four times. We’ve sat outside with friends and family members talking once or twice a week. In early July our outdoor pool finally opened, with rigid sign-ups one week in advance and spaces marked out at the pool. Going to the pool three times a week has been a HUGE joy.

To my surprise, I’ve enjoyed church online, especially the chat feature in zoom where people write greetings and prayer requests. My two support/prayer groups meet weekly on zoom. I have had countless conversations with people by zoom and other forms of video calls, as well as traditional phone calls.

None of what I’ve just written captures the emotions of the past six months. The first three weeks involved incredulity and figuring out what we needed to get for our house. The next two and a half months for me were full of sadness and terror, having the deep conviction that the virus would last a long time and many people would suffer economically. My emotions shifted a bit after George Floyd’s death. The terror diminished and the deep sadness continued.

In March, I started a series of blog posts called “Spiritual diary of self-isolation,” and after a few weeks I changed its name to “Spiritual diary of sheltering in place” when I realized I did not feel isolated. That series turned out to be the all time most popular series of posts on my blog. (See below for a list of all posts in that series, with links.) I wrote that series so I could survive emotionally and spiritually. Then I moved onto a series on creativity, again for my own emotional and spiritual health. (The first post is here.)

The series of blog posts I wrote at the end of last year on holding grief in one hand and thankfulness in the other was prescient. My grief throughout the pandemic has been huge, but I have worked hard to find small and big things to be thankful for. And I’ve been pondering the patterns I have been observing in These Strange Times. Here are four of them:

1. God’s call to affirm both grief and gratitude is relevant, helpful, and oh so challenging. I have been working on this for almost a year, and I know I will be growing in this area for the rest of my life. (The first post in my series on grief and thankfulness is here, and my book on that topic is now available in audiobook, kindle and paperback.)

2. Small things really do matter. In many instances, when we are grieving big things, small things bring moments of joy, however brief. And then we realize those small things are not really so small. My home office looks out over our back yard, and the trees right outside my window makes my heart sing. The closest tree has new spring leaves that are red. Its mature leaves are feathery, glowing when the sun hits them. The tree has enough gaps to see the tree behind it, which has orange berries and darker green leaves than the tree in the foreground. The contrast of the orange berries and dark green leaves with the lighter green leaves in the foreground is gorgeous. I could go on and on about the two trees. Then there’s the cedar tree I can also see. . . 

3. Nature really does matter. See #2! In addition to trees, God gives us joy and sense of connection to our Creator through so many beautiful gifts, including flowers, clouds, mountains, lakes, streams, oceans, pets and other animals. I have heard from so many friends about the importance of staying connected with nature during the pandemic.

4. People are unrelentingly social. This fourth point explains so much about pandemic behavior. Some years ago I wrote a chapter for an edited book called “Toward a Theology of the Internet.” One of my three points is that the internet started out as a way for scientists to exchange research, but it quickly became a place where the scientists connected personally because that’s what people do. We are made in the image of a relational God. When I explored theologians who focus on the social Trinity in order to write that chapter, when I gather with friends on our back deck with six foot distance between us, when I attend zoom small group meetings, and when I read about people packing into bars despite covid-19, I realize over and over that humans need connection with others because that is how we are made. When I read about seniors in nursing homes who have to be alone all the time, my heart weeps.

God of hope, Creator God, we struggle to hold in tension all your gifts and all the things we are grieving right now. Come near to us with your peace that passes all understanding.

(Next week: the first of three posts on the sweetness of Psalm 84, including a few more reflections on the pattern of these six months of pandemic. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

The posts in my "spiritual diary" series, written in the first three months of the pandemic:

Weeks 1 and 2: What does love require?
God’s grace as a lifeline
The lifeline of limits on thoughts
Wrestling with God for a blessing
Responding to terror by listening to God’s voice
The lifeline of God’s constancy
The lifeline of accepting my place as a clay jar
The lifeline of memories
The lifeline of “good” in “Good Friday”
The lifeline of “easier does not mean easy”
The lifeline of nature
The lifeline of God’s voice through the Bible
The lifeline of separating thoughts from feelings
The lifeline of welcoming prayer
A kite string as a lifeline
The lifeline of God’s distant future

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