There really isn’t any question in my mind that this week is the toughest yet for me. I think part of the reason for this could be because we have officially moved past the initial 2-week period of isolation, and as things are getting worse in the USA I am increasingly missing my family and friends. I am still happy with my decision to stay in Paris because I want to be here and I have a good support system. However, I have been struggling a little bit with the content of this post for today because I find myself standing somewhere between looking for hope and sitting with grief. I want to give space for the pain I and many others are experiencing, but at the same time am looking for hope and peace in the midst of it all.
In the first post on this blog I talked about how this quarantine happening in the season on Lent and theologized a little about the significance of these things happening in tandem with one another. Now we are on the cusp of Holy Week and will be celebrating Palm Sunday this week, and Easter Sunday next. This obviously poses some logistical challenges for how to conduct these services in a meaningful way through virtual formats, but even more than that, I have been wondering what it means to walk through Holy Week and Easter during a global pandemic. I don’t have any answers for how this “should” look, but I do have some thoughts about how this last week of lent can be helpful for us even in quarantine.
Lenten practice can be especially helpful in this season by allowing us to use our worship to give space for grief. So often in Christian circles I feel like there is a tendency to use worship as a sort of escape from pain, and sometimes this can be a good thing because our worship functions like a reframing of our spirits and hearts into the goodness of God. However, there is also something to be said for worship that is an expression of how you actually feel, instead of a reflection of what you wish you felt. Not that worship should become depressing or sad, but like how the prayers of the Psalms are often 50% expression of grief and then move into praise or trust in God’s promises. Psalm 74 is a good example of this.
1 O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? 2 Remember your congregation, which you acquired long ago, which you redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage. Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell. 3 Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.
4 Your foes have roared within your holy place; they set up their emblems there. 5 At the upper entrance they hacked the wooden trellis with axes. 6 And then, with hatchets and hammers, they smashed all its carved work. 7 They set your sanctuary on fire; they desecrated the dwelling place of your name, bringing it to the ground. 8 They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
9 We do not see our emblems; there is no longer any prophet, and there is no one among us who knows how long. 10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? 11 Why do you hold back your hand; why do you keep your hand in your bosom?
12 Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the earth. 13 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 15 You cut openings for springs and torrents; you dried up ever-flowing streams. 16 Yours is the day, yours also the night; you established the luminaries and the sun. 17 You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter.
18 Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs, and an impious people reviles your name. 19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals; do not forget the life of your poor forever.
20 Have regard for your covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence. 21 Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame; let the poor and needy praise your name. 22 Rise up, O God, plead your cause; remember how the impious scoff at you all day long. 23 Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of your adversaries that goes up continually.
This passage is attributed to Asaph, the first half of which is a mourning over the destruction of the temple. The author is writing to God, asking questions like “Why do you cast us off forever”, and “Why do you hold back your hand.” Questions that have no real answer or response in this psalm. While the author does shift in the second half to proclaiming the goodness of God, saying that God has “crushed the head of the Leviathan” and that “Yours is the day, yours is also the night.” While these things do offer hope, they are not really answers or even responses to the questions the author posed of God earlier. While this may be frustrating because we want there to be answers to our questions, I think that’s what makes the Psalms such wonderful examples of how to relate to God in times of trouble. The Psalms show us that not only can we, but that we should voice our questions, frustrations, and angers to God. Not because that will somehow fix our problems, but because our doubt, pain, and anger are part of our journeys. They are not sanitized pictures of a “perfect” world where we just have to believe hard enough and everything will be okay, but instead show us that the voicing of pain is just as important as the voicing of praise and in times like this I find that really comforting.
God isn’t looking for us to have “perfect” faith, or to have a response to every question but is looking for people who will bring their full selves, questions, anger, doubt, and all to God. To me that is what Lent in a pandemic is all about, it’s not about pretending that everything is normal or even that we are doing totally fine, but that we trust God with our pain. When we trust God enough to face doubt, and questions, and anger is when the hope offered in our faith can actually be realized.
There is a time and a space for all our emotions, and sometimes maybe we do just need to “enter into God’s courts with praise” because voicing our pain is too hard. And sometimes we just need to write a letter to God where we are angry, worried, doubtful, and just stay in that space. That is what I find so meaningful about Lent, Holy Week, and Easter in a pandemic. The church calendar in this time is inviting us to spend time in each of these emotional spaces. So no matter how you are feeling this week, if its good or bad there is space in the embrace of God for you.
For those of you who need to sit in grief:
1. My friend the Rev. Dr. Cody Sanders is a pastor in Cambridge MA and he gave a wonderful sermon about grief in holy week this past week that I felt really honored the holiness of mourning and sadness. You can find a link to the sermon here.
2. Write your own Psalm. Don’t feel pressured to come to a place of praise but write how you are feelings and trust that whatever you feel (even about God) is okay.
For those that would like some hope:
1. Find a song that ministers to your heart, this could be explicitly religious, or any other song. For me, this week the song Let it Be by The Beatles has been really important to finding hope, I have listened to it over and over and it has actually made a big difference.
2. Read and reflect on Psalm 46. This psalm in particular has been meaningful to me this week because it feels really timely to the type of hope I need right now. And if you didn’t get to it last week (or even if you did) the Meditation and Lectio Divina about Psalm 46 from Martha Hobbs is really good.
Okay, I know many of you were excited about getting recipes and thus far I have not provided any. But that is about to change! I am not a great chef, so I will spare you from a Grant Mongin original, but I am going to cook this Chickpea Harissa Soup later in the week and maybe you could too!
Also, I know when I first started cooking for myself every night the idea of finding recipes was really intimidating and everything about the process scared me. As a result, I was just eating frozen junk food all the time and it was really bad for me. However, I found this app that has been a really great and accessible way for me to get into cooking good food for myself. The app is called Mealime. It’s really easy to use and can accommodate most dietary restrictions. Check it out!
Looking back again to the first week of this blog, I brought to you one part of a project I made for a class at Princeton about Christian conceptions of Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom throughout time. My goal was to help the viewer to connect emotionally with how I thought this philosophical view presented God while attempting to solve the problems associated with God being all-knowing (even of the future) and humans being free. The solution I will present today is called “Open Theism” and was actually only conceived of in the 1980’s, but it is my favorite because I believe it allows for the most believable version of true human freedom and allows for God to be an active agent to who is free to respond to prayer.
Open Theism Artist Statement and Philosophy:
This dance is an exploration of the philosophy of divine omniscience found in open theism. Unlike the Boethian and Schleiermacherian solutions, open theism posits that God is bound by time, in that God cannot know future events that are not “logically possible to know.” God, from this perspective, is still omniscient but Her omniscience is only of things that bear “truth values” meaning that the particulars of the future are not yet real, so they are not yet “true” and thus God cannot know them. The strength of this solution is that it allows for God to remain omniscient (though it is a reimagining of omniscience) while also allowing for true human libertarian free-will and for God’s intervention into the world. When choreographing this piece, I wanted to focus on the open theistic characteristic of God as being highly relational and Her need of us to partner with Her in order for Her plans to be accomplished in the world. This is a God who values humanity and our sits with us in our suffering more than any other God proposed through competing views.
The dancer in this piece represents humanity and God is depicted through the physical space, the costume, the candles, and parts of the movement. I recorded this dance in our classroom with the intention of trying to help the viewer (who is seeing it in that same room) to feel the intimacy of this type of relationship between humanity and God. The candles also helped to take the space from a cold classroom space to an almost romantically intimate one. Further building on the pseudo-romantic feelings, I had the dancer wear the shirt of a man (hoping to evoke feelings of an intimate couple). I also created a motif in the choreography of the dancer holding out her arms as if she were dancing with someone to, again, evoke feelings of intimacy between an unseen God and humanity. Another specific movement seen throughout the piece was the dancer putting her hands on her heart and breathing deeply. This movement intended to draw the viewer into the deep feelings of connectedness and being known, present in this philosophy of God.