Finding Joy

Two years into this isolating pandemic, everyone seems at their wits’ ends. The toll has been high. Even those of us who are surviving seem to be doing so in less than impressive ways. The psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage we have sustained is yet to be fully ascertained. Our ability for civic or political dialogue has disintegrated. Health care workers are overwhelmed. Churches are zoom weary, and confused about how to care for one another. Our impatience and poor mental health has propelled us repeatedly to cry out, “How long? How long, O Lord?”

Compounded by the COVID variants, social distancing, and periodic quarantines, I have also felt mounting isolation from friends moving out of town, out of state, and from changing church homes and social circles. It is not easy to establish roots or navigate new relationships in a time of social distancing. More than any other time in my life, I am struggling to discern how best to remain connected to people. How do I build community, cultivate relationships, or maintain friendships when we are often physically closed off from one another?

The good news in this suffering is that this pain is a glorious indicator that we are still human. We need each other. We still long for companionship. That alone may save us.

I hold on to this truth, because, at times, it seems we have lost our communal identity and have replaced it with a predominantly individualized one. Even in the church, we abandon belonging and vulnerability for vapid words like “fellowship,” as in, “eating in the fellowship hall.” What can a phrase like that possibly mean during the winter of the Omicron variant?

Oh, sure, we recognize the Bible as boldly addressed to listeners in second person plural, but we don’t admit the full implications of what living joined together as the body of Christ means as a people of covenant, of companionship, of the enfleshed body of Jesus. We are not his body alone, or individually. We only belong because we are joined with him. And in being joined, we are not meant to separate. Our devotion to Christ roots us into our devotion to one another. Our allegiance to Christ compels us in our faithfulness to each other.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

If given the choice, I would shrink my world to where only my feet could take me, but maintain the daily connections with people I love. It is the deprivation of deep-seated community, both kindred and casual, that hurts the most.

We are discovering what it means to miss the regularity of human interaction and the rhythms of connecting with even the most casual of acquaintances.

According to the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, joy is not a private emotion in Jewish faith, but a collective celebration. Recently, I read one of his last blog posts before he passed away a little over a year ago. As an introvert, I was challenged by being so inextricably linked to others. Both intuitively and scripturally, however, I know it to be true.

Sacks writes,

“It is easy to speak to God in tears. It is hard to serve God in joy…Joy, happiness, pleasure, and the like are all states of mind, emotions. They belong to the individual. We can feel them alone. Simcha, by contrast, is not a private emotion. It means happiness shared. It is a social state, a predicate of “we,” not “I.” There is no such thing as feeling simcha alone.”

Then, a bit later he discusses the Jewish nation being formed together as one, through both lament and joy.

“The nation was to be brought together not just by crisis…but by collective celebration in the presence of God. The celebration itself was to be deeply moral. Not only was this a religious act of thanksgiving, it was also to be a form of social inclusion. No one was to be left out: not the stranger or the servant, or the lonely (the orphan and widow).”

It is true that we are not able to lament well without community. We need others to see, acknowledge, and share our pain. In the same way, the joys and triumphs of life feel flat without communal celebration. We are unsure who we are without the hard work of living in community.

I am making no attempt at coming up with a national solution. Such a daunting task is well above my pay grade, and perhaps even impossible. My thoughts, and my pain, are deeply local and personal. Nor do I advocate dismissing CDC guidelines, or ignoring the well-being of my neighbor. My family and I are vaccinated; we mask; we will continue to be cautious about our time out in the presence of others.

My family is privileged in so many ways, but I think it is still appropriate to name the loss. We have been bereft of time with family and friends. I know you feel the loss, too. We feel the loneliness, and are unsure how to break out of this isolation. Many days it is difficult for me to accomplish the most rudimentary tasks. Instead, Rabbi Sacks has encouraged me to be braver in my questions, more audacious in my complaints to God.

  • How do we live as community when we are geographically separated?
  • What does practicing life together look like in times of COVID?
  • How can we faithfully pastor and mature one another in isolated situations?
  • What are our spiritual practices that will be life giving for us to share? Creeds? Prayer? Scripture reading? Listening? Transformative use of technology?

I am only beginning to form better questions. I have no answers.


I suspect it will take awhile. I suspect that finding joy may be more frightening and more painful than I initially hoped. I brace myself in case the following may be required:

  • Love lavishly where you can as if you have never been hurt before.
  • Listen carefully as if it is the catalyst for change.
  • Draw people in as if no one is beyond the pale.
  • Live modestly, admitting you cannot take on everything at once.
  • Disagree humbly as if your demeanor matters.
  • Trust God wholly as if there was nothing you needed to achieve.

It is a tall order, but if it leads to greater peace and a better community, and a more joyful way, it is worth the effort.

Please share. What has been the most helpful for you to reconnect with others?

What has been the most difficult?

What has been the most satisfying use of technology or creativity for you during this pandemic?

Zoom Church

Photo by cottonbro on

In the last year much has been written and discussed regarding how the COVID virus and quarantines have impacted how we worship, interact, and live as the community of God. The pandemic has not been the only thing, however, that has altered the way my family worships on Sundays. Church hurt has also contributed. Because of this, our family has been worshipping with a smaller group to maintain spiritual accountability. The pandemic, nevertheless, has certainly made it more problematic in terms of meeting together. Initially, our families met in small groups in homes, then outdoors when the weather warmed up. Later, we moved inside into our living rooms, donning masks and eliminating our Eucharistic meal in favor of the simplified cracker and juice.

The group we are meeting with is a bit of a mixture, but that is the kingdom of God, right? They have been a lifeline to me, providing encouragement, strength, and a reminder that we are bound by elements that transcend this world. They have been a stabilizing force at a time when I could easily have succumbed to debilitating discouragement.

As the weather warms up, some of us may be ready to take some baby steps forward in visiting other churches. Or not. Above all, we pray for our hearts to be protected. We pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us toward people who will minister to us, and to prepare us to minister to others. While I am deeply grateful for the people who have held my head above water, in a spiritual sense, it is difficult to foresee how long our particular version of faith and liturgy practices will continue. For now, zoom church is a solid place holder until we can return more fully into the life together, worshipping and serving in specifically embodied ways.

In the meantime, I am left with ambiguous feelings regarding our connection-disconnection. On the positive side, we have been persistent in meeting together, keeping tabs on one another, helping one another out in ways both small and large. Although it is not ideal, maintaining a connection with like-minded people of faith, with specific people, has been a rock-solid stabilizing force these last several months. On the less positive side, Zoom is awkward. It is difficult to have meaningful dialog with a group of people virtually and simultaneously, that is, living and engaging in the ordinariness of our daily life.While the technology is a blessing, it is also a barrier. The screen often feels to be a barrier to living incarnationally. At least to me. And yet we press on.

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

Jesus promised, “…where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) Virtual church may not be our primary or permanent way of worshipping. But does the Spirit remain with us even through a Zoom link? I believe the answer, beyond any feelings or social sensibilities, is yes! He does. Zoom seems to exacerbate the spiritual and emotional distance we feel from one another. Yet, with a proper theological understanding of God’s immanence, and an emphasis on Jesus’ incarnation and suffering alongside us, we can more readily accept the mutuality of Christian service and leadership. Christ’s presence is the reality we are caught up into each time we participate in the communion. Even if we drink from Dixie cups.

Communion- the bread and the wine- the Eucharist- the body and blood of Christ

Because we have taken a bit of a break from institutionalized church, we have been freer to “try things on for size,” both in our thinking and in our practices. This has allowed some of our group, who may never have been given the opportunity, to find their voice and gain experience in presenting lessons, devotionals, and homilies.

We may soon be facing decisions around whether or not to disband or how to seek out established churches, but for now we are maintaining our current format. It is our basis for spiritual healing. We pray; one family leads us in song, accompanied simply by an acoustic guitar. We read scripture. We keep a rotating volunteer schedule for someone to lead us in our thoughts for the day. Past topics have been our newness in Christ, Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the use of psalms as lament, an imaginative retelling of the demon possessed pigs, and the temptation of Christ in the wilderness for the start of Lent. We participate in communion and prayer with crackers and juice. Then, we circle back around to a discussion time around the devotional or homily.

Christians throughout the ages have survived various trials and challenges in meeting together: catacombs, hiding in homes, prisons, etc. Looking broadly at this will help us retain our hope and our faith in the future as the church. Not the revoking of religious or civil liberties, nor world wars, nor plagues or persecutions have irrevocably destroyed the faith of Christians. Those of us who claim the Resurrection as the historical and theological event around which our lives orbit will not be eradicated by lesser events in human history. If we are clear about why we gather, if our theology informs the weekly practice of the Eucharist, if we pray with an acknowledgement of Christ in our midst, then our hope will not be dependent on our current location, nor will it flounder in our current circumstance.

As individuals we may falter, but God’s church as a whole will continue, and we will meet in cathedrals, sanctuaries, store fronts, living rooms, parking lots and parks, on Facebook Live and Zoom calls until he makes his glorious appearance once again. Persistently, “we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)

An Advent Lament

This week we lit the candle of joy for Advent. However, I am fixed in a season of lament. I am not in despair, nor am I enduring any particular suffering personally, but I know many who are. Among family and friends, there are those who have lost loved ones to COVID. Some are dealing with job loss, divorce, and yet more are spiritually discouraged. The political distractions have weighed us down and we are disheartened by the public discourse so full of vitriol. It is a heavy season.

We are isolated.


Deeply discouraged.

Or maybe it’s just me. But I suspect not.

What does it look like to wait for His glorious appearance as His church while not fully in community? What does it mean to remain faithful while at home, sheltering in place?

Does this resemble your home communion? The Eucharist can take on different forms in different places, but during this season of quarantine, I am interested in how individualized and “homey” the forms of Christ’s body and blood have become.

More of our worship times have gone to Zoom with the colder weather and spikes of COVID cases. While our family’s participation in the Eucharist looks like the photo above, I know the truest story is that we are still being lifted up to the heavens week after week as we take in the body and blood of Christ. The heavens and the earth yet rejoice.

Although it is difficult for me to muster the emotion, my faith knows the hope of joy and peace we will one day experience fully.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Does God feel far away as we are in the midst of a pandemic-induced isolation? Does he seem distant from our political and social strife, or personal sadness?

Because our Creator created us for community, it hurts when we are without the physical presence of others. In truth, we are created in his own communal, trinitarian image. We most often experience God through others.

This beautiful commemorative 2020 ornament of the Holy Family is the artwork of Clarey ClayWorks in Carmel, Indiana.

How did Mary, the mother of the Christ, endure? Did she feel God was far away with every sideways glance at her growing belly? She was likely shunned. Her life had changed drastically. And yet, when she may have felt the loneliest, there were Elizabeth and faithful Joseph, and God drawing closer to her, growing inside her, the closest he had ever been.

So he is with us, just as he promised.

He doesn’t necessarily carry us out of our grief and hardships, but sits with us in them. Entangled with our moments of sadness, we also have the joy of hope. We have Christ Himself.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;

he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Psalms 34:18 (NLT)

But we were hoping

Hope is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

– opening stanza of poem by Emily Dickinson

“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23, CSB)

In my last post we imagined what it might have been like for the women visiting Jesus’ grave early in the morning. Before the world was turned upside down, when death still held irreversible sway, the angels proclaimed a disquieting message. “He is not here.”

Sometime later that day, two different friends, traveling a country road, quietly conversed and struggled through all the “what-could-have-beens.”

Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus himself came near and began to walk along with them. But they were prevented from recognizing him. Then he asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.

The one named Cleopas answered him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked them.

So they said to him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they cruciifed him. But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:13-21)

These followers shared loyalty to the Nazarene. Had one of them been healed by Jesus? What did that matter now since he had been executed? Were they awaiting the retaking of Jerusalem, the Roman dispersion? Could a prophet be defeated? Did they belong anywhere anymore? How to make sense of a world in which your hopes had been utterly destroyed?

“But we were hoping…”

We all have disappointments, either personal or collective, either recent or suppressed deep in our past, that have shaken us and our beliefs. On that road to Emmaus, Jesus’ friends were devastated and lacking in confidence. At this point in the narrative they grappled with what to do. Not only had the Passover ended, but their plans for a new future. I wonder how you feel this morning? this evening? Have we lost hope? With so much brokenness and disillusionment around us it is difficult to see where that country road might lead. Obviously things are not happening as we might have expected. The way seems discouraging and we quietly talk with one another (or is it resentfully) about how things were supposed to be different.

Have we forgotten the promises of Jesus, that he will always be with us? Are we tempted to throw away the narrative in exchange for a harsher, grittier, more jaded one? Or can we stick with him to allow the Christ to redefine for us what it means to “redeem Israel?”

Unemployment, COVID, sickness, spiritual and social isolation, political strife, racially-based and economically-based injustices. Our world is hurting and desperate for hope. How could Jesus redeem our situation?

Can we hope in something we don’t understand? We may not be able to retell the story’s climax or predict the resolution, but the reason for our hope has been told to us once before. Two friends on the road to Emmaus held on to a ragged hope. We don’t understand where we are in our story, but we hold firmly onto the one in whom we have placed our hope, our confession, our beautiful inheritance.

Lord, you are my portion

and my cup of blessing;

you hold my future.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)