One year ago this week, the pandemic became real to most of us as dramatic changes to our daily routines began. The last diocesan gathering was the ordination of Deacons on March 7, 2020. The last Sunday that we gathered in person for worship in our accustomed way was March 8. It has been a year, a full year of loss, of longing and of learning. How do we mark this anniversary? I invite us to do it by naming before God what we have experienced, because naming has power.
In the second biblical story of creation in the book of Genesis, we read:
"So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name." Genesis 2:19
Naming has power because naming something, as the first human in the story did, gives us a measure of control over it. My husband Tom and I named our dog Georgia. All we have to do is call that name and the tall ears of our pup lift and her head turns toward us with eager expectancy. She responds when we whisper her name caressingly and when shout it sharply. Knowing her name gives us some power over her although, given her willfulness, that power is far from complete.
Naming has power because naming things we fear strips away some of the control those fears have over us. Many years ago, I wanted to go sky diving. I imagined the freedom, the grace, the wonder of seeing the world from a higher view. When I told my father about my desire, he urged me not even to consider it. As we talked, he named his life-long fear of heights and he named what he witnessed in his years of military service in the South Pacific during World War II. I named my fear that if I didn't sky dive, I might always be afraid to try new things and my fear that if I did, I might not live to try new things. Naming fears with my father robbed those fears of power. I never did sky dive (not yet, anyway) and I've not been afraid to face new challenges and try new things.
Naming has power because naming something leads to deep compassion. Our neighborhood is full of birds, especially this time of year. Early each morning and again each evening we enjoy a concert of songs and calls. The glorious cacophony often stops me in my tracks and fills me with delight. As I learn to identify and name more and more birds by their songs and by their appearance, I cannot take them for granted. They are no longer nameless objects, but robins and mockingbirds and wood thrushes that share this fragile and beautiful world with me. They are friends that I care about as loss of habitat threatens them.
As we complete one year of life in pandemic, I invite us all to name our experiences, trusting that the powerful act of naming gives us strength, takes away some of the sting, and deepens our compassion for ourselves and for the world. In prayer, in reflection, perhaps in journaling or in conversation with a trusted other:
Name what you have lost in the past year.
Name what you long for now.
Name what you have learned and what you are learning.
Name the fears that deplete you and the hopes that enliven you.
Name them all before God.
Don't be afraid.
God will give you strength, courage and compassion.
And God who loves you fiercely will never let you go.