This week for this blog I wanted to share a bit of a devotional on belonging in the Corona era I received from President Barnes of Princeton Theological Seminary where I am enrolled in the Master of Divinity program. His comments were directed toward the Seminary community, but I have modified several sections so that it speaks to our community at ACP because I think his thoughts are really beautiful and helpful for us to reflect on as a church community as well. He writes,
The longer we shelter in place, the more I think about belonging.
In aspiring to be a [church] community, [we are] claiming that we want to belong to each other as we belong to the God who has made covenants of love, grace, and commitment with us. [The American Church in Paris] has long stressed our devotion to being a [Christian] community of [connection and journeying together]. So staying at home to [worship and commune with one another] not something that comes naturally to us, but we’re now sheltering because that is what loving our neighbors looks like, at least for today. Still, it makes us yearn for the future when we can return to being physically together again with the people to whom we belong.
But the pandemic has also revealed how much we belong to people we don’t even know. It has exposed our radical dependence on one another and our created relatedness with all humanity, a vision that God has always seen but we too often miss. People working on the frontlines in hospitals and grocery stores and delivery trucks understand that we belong to one another, and so they put themselves in harm’s way to serve others. Their example calls all of us to see in new ways the breadth of those to whom we belong, as siblings in the human family.
We belong to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, who are most vulnerable to this virus. That’s the primary reason we are sheltering in place – to protect the vulnerable.
[We belong to refugees and those who find themselves without homes or means and have relied on the charity of others to eat and sleep in safety. That’s why we at the American Church in Paris have continued our sandwich ministry to help bridge the gap of resources in order to care for our human siblings to whom we belong.] That is also what loving our neighbors looks like today.
We belong to Asians and Asian Americans who continue to experience prejudicial hate rhetoric, and hate crimes, because they are falsely blamed for the pandemic. Looking for someone to accuse when we experience hardship has long been one of humanity’s great vices, and it is rearing its ugly head again.
We belong to the [African and] African-American communities that are dying from this virus at vastly disproportionate levels. The systemic injustice that makes some communities more vulnerable to this public health crisis is a sin. To love these neighbors means committing ourselves to ensure that all people have access to the medical care, job security, and opportunities they need to flourish as well as anyone else in our society.
We also belong to the nations of the world that are facing this crisis on unequal footing, without the medical equipment and resources to combat the rapid spread of the virus, which leaves entire populations vulnerable to devastating loss. These are also our siblings in the family of God.
All of us will certainly come out of this pandemic differently than we entered it. My prayer is that one difference will be that we at the American Church in Paris will have a renewed sense of our duty to love each other with our hearts, with our finances, and with our efforts not because we feel that we need to, but because we want to extend ourselves and our care to all of humanity to whom we belong. This means both serving and learning from all people because belonging is not a one-way street but is reciprocal.
I hope that short devotional on belong was as much a blessing to you as it was to me. I, like many of you, have gone through the full range of emotions in this time and have sometimes gotten frustrated with the quarantine rules in place here in Paris. However, I want to encourage you to stay strong, and remember that these orders are not only for your safety, but for the safety of those within and beyond our community who are most vulnerable. If we believe that we belong one another, we will continue to do what experts tell us is best even though it comes at great personal cost.
If you’re like me, you have been sitting a lot more than normal, and according to my iPhone I took a total of 900 steps yesterday which was a new low for me. So to help us to fight stiffness and the aches and pains of not being able to move I am going to recommend a 20-minute vinyasa flow yoga session from lulu lemon. It’s a really pretty simple session that can be good for people of all levels.
One of my favorite things to do every day is tune into one or two of my favorite podcasts. I generally try to listen to one current events podcast to stay informed on what is going on in the world (I like The Daily from the NYTimes which is usually around 20-minutes long focusing on American news), and one that is story or poetry based because it because it helps me connect to others and myself in a unique way, and provides a bit of an escape. Two of my favorites in that category are Poetry Unbound which is a podcast where a professor of poetry reads a poem, explains some aspects of it, and then reads it again. This one is usually less than ten minutes long and I have found it to be a wonderful way to start the day. Another podcast in this category that I regularly enjoy is called The Moth and is a collection of note-free live stories from people of ALL walks of life. These stories have an ability to make me think, laugh, and cry and I have been a wonderful thing to listen to especially before bed (they are usually 2-4 stories per episode and each episode is around an hour long).
This week I would like to use the “soul” section to remind us that our spiritual live shouldn’t be bound to activities like prayer, worship, meditation, etc. but should pervade throughout every aspect of our lives. I often see myself and others pigeon-holing faith to this really narrow set of activities, but I believe that one of the biggest things Jesus taught us is that our spiritual activities cannot be contained within any set of specific activities (which lead to many of his clashes with the religious establishment at the time). So today, see how you can make even the simple, repetitive, daily tasks like cooking, or washing up, or going to the store a spiritual activity by setting your attention on God. Not praying while you are doing those things, but simply being present in them with your attention set on God, or on connection with others, or on belonging.
 This is an American problem more than a European one, but as the American Church in Paris I believe it is still important for us to consider.