Six weeks ago I shared a picture on the socials of a poem I first wrote back in 2015. It’s called “A Sacred Quarantine,” and it’s about the first (and only) time I attended an Ash Wednesday service. I didn’t get a lot of feedback, and I guess it’s kind of a weird poem—or else people don’t know what to say when you share poetry on the internet. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Anyhow, I admitted in the caption that I wasn’t looking forward to entering the season of Lent this year, a season traditionally focused on death, denial, and brokenness. I confessed that it had snuck up on me and I hadn’t made a decision about what to “practice” or “give up” for forty days. A few days later I happened to read a devotional, that challenged me to read Psalm 91 for forty days and I decided that would be my “fast.”
Two weeks later I was on my way to Nashville with a friend for a conference that got canceled while we were driving there. Who knew that in a few short days, people all across this country would begin quarantining themselves in their own homes, during the sacred season of Lent? The images of my poem began to take on a new meaning. I'd hoped the verses I'd written would show the wonder of placing your faith in a God who's not afraid to face death with you, who goes before you to the grave, who provides the only way for you to accept your earthly ending with hope. Now I worried that my metaphors were becoming too real. Would they hold up to this new scrutiny? Would their meaning change according to this latest reality?
When we got the phone call my friend and I decided to go to Chattanooga instead, where we spent the day looking touring the Hunter museum and trying to find restaurants that were still open for business. We laughed at the intricate instructions we saw posted in public restrooms, and rolled our eyes at the makeshift sign hanging from the drive-thru speaker at Dunkin' Donuts. What's going on in this panicky little world, we asked each other. Why all the last minute changes, and unexpected closures; was there something else going on we didn't know about? Surely all this nonsense wasn't the result of a few people with colds on another continent.
The week after that was Spring Break for our kids and we had a family trip planned to Asheville: to see the Biltmore, shop, tour fancy spas, and eat out at hip, local restaurants. The only plan we were able to keep in the end was visiting the Biltmore, on the last day they were open to the public. Other than that we watched movies and played games at our cozy little AirBnB. Oh, and we also found a couple of hikes to some beautiful waterfalls that hadn’t been shut down yet.
I'd packed a lot of books to read on the trip, but I had trouble focusing on the stories. Instead I went back to my psalm, feeling grateful for its promises of protection and the images of comfort it provided during such a tumultuous time.
You will not fear the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, it says. I can rest in the Shadow of the Almighty, it assures me. God will cover me with his feathers, and under his wings I will find refuge. The plague will not come near my tent. I couldn't imagine a more perfect psalm to meditate on at the time, although I found myself wondering how I'd feel about it if anyone in my family actually got sick. Would I still believe God was taking care of me if I contracted the Coronavirus? What if I ended up losing someone I love to this new illness?
More than forty days later and I nearly have the chapter memorized—though I confess to missing a few days here and there—but I still don’t have the answer to those questions. And the longer this being-at-home goes on, and the more time that passes where we still haven't suffered any losses, the less real the threat feels. Of course all I have to do is flip over to the latest news article for those feelings to come back. Or remember the losses that have affected my friends and family, that could still come our way. Like a loss of income, groceries, or transportation.
The end of the psalm promises that God will honor those who love him, that he will deliver them, and be with them in trouble. And despite my frustrations with—or questions about—how he runs things sometimes, I can’t deny that I still do love the Lord. Only time will tell how much. But on this quiet evening before Easter I can’t help but feel thankful for the time I’ve spent with these words, and the beauty of the Spirit who first penned them. Who knows if I’ll still be hopeful in another forty days, but for tonight, dwelling here is enough.