There is a lesson to be learned from these nurses that can be brought into our homes over the next few weeks as we are advised to mark this Christmas season in a manner different from any other due to the coronavirus and the restrictions it demands.
Let us be patient with each other and the situation we find ourselves in. It will pass. Let us be willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt rather than jumping to conclusions that only bring angst. Let us employ good natured humor and let us treat each other with kindness. Let us take the words we hear today about comfort deep into our hearts.
Martha Barajas is a member of the Ignatians West team. Her appreciation of our mission along with her administrative skills and technological knowledge have moved us forward over the past year. She shares her thoughts with you today.
Writing in the Margins: Hope is unnecessary in a perfect world . . .
Written at the time of the Babylonian Exile, today’s reading from Isaiah, presents an image of a wilderness, a wasteland through which a path will be cut for the coming arrival of God (Isa 40:3). Imagine for a moment a people held in captivity, fearful of losing their identity, and longing for home. Even in their misery, the prophet challenges the people to offer comfort, to share the good news of their imminent deliverance, while at the same time calling them wilted flowers and withered grass (40:7). The prophet calls it as it really is, but also as it can be. He proclaims a God who will gather the people in his arms and feed them because they are his people, just as the shepherd sees the survival of his treasured flock as sufficient reward and recompense for his investment of love and care (40:10).
Both the pandemic and the political climate through which we now live have been described as “unprecedented,” “extraordinary,” or even “inconceivable.” Nonetheless, experts in various fields cautioned that such events could happen, and will most likely happen again if we do not acknowledge the conditions and the choices that got us to this distressing, deadly point. How many times have we, collectively as a society and ourselves privately, voiced something akin to “this wasn't supposed to happen!” It calls to mind the common adage about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Apparently, we’d convinced ourselves those particular shoes were not our size to try on, much less walk a mile in.
On a personal level, this year has been more than transformative. It has been humbling. In the past 16 months, I began a graduate program to which I hang on by the thinnest of threads, changed housing three times, had recurrent bouts of poor health while navigating the loss of my health insurance twice, and had a mental breakdown thinking, believing that only if I was strong enough, what I most wanted would happen. My recovery has been slower than I care for it to be, being reluctant to accept that once I’ve done what I can to mitigate my circumstances, still it is God who dictates when recovery will come. It will come. And, not necessarily as I desire it to look like. I still must find stable, affordable housing. I still have to sort out bureaucratic errors having to do with my health coverage with hours-long waits on the phone. I still have to take my medications and attend to my wellbeing.
In the past week, for the first time in months, I awake in the morning not only with ideas swimming in my head, but also with the wherewithal to put them down on paper. Throughout all this, I’ve been privileged to encounter people who’ve believed in my abilities, who could see the home that I so long for and who believe me to be up to the challenge of the journey, even when I genuinely couldn’t imagine the land beyond the water’s horizon and doubted my ability to keep my head above water. Very kind and giving people have given me sustenance, both spiritual and material, driving me at night to the emergency room at risk to their own health in this Covid-laden environment, and then picking me up on Thanksgiving Day to sleep on their couch, because my electronic key would not work when I finally made it home from the hospital at 4:00 in the morning.
Do not lose hope.
Yes, presently, we are travelling through a seemingly desolate land, but we are called to be a people of hope, secure in the knowledge that “the Lord will grant his bounty” (Psa 85:13), as we fulfill the divine mandate to walk in love, truth, justice, and peace (85:11). God’s bounty is made manifest in the kindness* of the world we inhabit and in the people who share it with us. This kindness may not be as we imagined, just as this time we live through is most certainly not what any of us imagined. Nourishment will be provided, even in the lowly form of "locusts and wild honey" (Mar 1:6). God will give us what we need to proceed with the journey, even when we realize that we’ve neglected to put on our shoes.
Our work is not over.
Our lives are not over.
We have not yet arrived home.
On our way, let us not be selfish, concerned only with our own feeding and care, but as the crucified Christ, let us give ourselves in the desire that none should perish (2 Pet 3:9). Even in our misery, let us continue to work for a world where righteousness can dwell (3:13), because “the Lord will not delay his promise” (3:9) to his people.
Yes, let us prepare the way for the coming of Christ, unafraid to be the voice crying out from the wasteland (Mar 1:3), bringing comfort to the sorrowful, feeding the hungry, freeing those held in captivity, being as God would have his people be, by always speaking Gospel truth to earthly power!
*This piece had its genesis not only in today’s scripture, but also in the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye. Please click on this link to have a listen to her reading: "Kindness."