By The Rev’d Canon Keith Nethery
So once again I write the best part of a month before you will read. I am sure the new normal will have changed several times in the 30-day gap between the two. However, I think most of these thoughts should stand the test of “distancing”.
Two things happened on Easter Sunday that were quite moving. We were invited to ring the Church Bells on The Day of Resurrection and, given that St. James Westminster is so equipped with said bells, I was there at 9 am to pull the cord. Rather unexpectedly, I experience a significant flash back in the seconds before I launched the bells to ring. I remembered clearly a lad of maybe ten years old who was allowed to ring the bell in his home church of St. Paul’s in Wingham. A yank downward on the rope set things in motion. What the boy wasn’t ready for was when the rope, which he gripped tightly as instructed, went up, so did he. Memory might not be perfectly accurate too many years later; but it seems the feet left the ground. It was moving to ring the bells on an Easter unlike any other that I have experienced. But the deep contemplation didn’t stop there. Given that I was already in the church, I chose to say the Morning Office. As I sat at the prayer desk looking outward, I could picture people sitting in what were empty pews. I could hear the thunder of the pipe organ and the sweet harmony of the choir! As I read the Scriptures, it was if a full church was hanging on the very description of the scene at the empty tomb. Each time, the thoughts faded and I was again in the glimmer of light through stained glass windows in an empty church. When I finished the prayers, I stayed for a while in silence. Thinking of all the people who have attended Easter Sunday services over the near 150 year history of St. James. It seemed impossible to comprehend an Easter so devoid of people in church; yet all the while feeling the prayers of the congregation rising from their homes as at that same time, they listened to a prerecorded Easter service.
Not all my musings are so spiritual in nature. I have decided the first person I want to see when this physical distancing ends is, Kelly. She cuts my hair. She may need garden shears to begin! Inspired by a Facebook post about the changing elements of importance during isolation, I parked my razor. The wild beard makes the hair look normal! I couldn’t help but remember a long ago conversation with my dad. I was 15 and certain my peach fuzz needed to be shaved. He told me not to be so anxious. There would come a day when you wished you had never had to shave. As always – he was right!
Marty Levesque, when you read this, sit down and hang on before proceeding. I tried Zoom, several times, and I like it!!! Truly it is hard to imagine that an expanded use of social media is not part of our future as we have experimented while unable to meet in person. Wow, it has come to this!!!
I was immensely proud to read an article about Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Who? The Montreal native is a 6 foot 7 inch offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, who just happened to win the Super Bowl this year. (You knew I’d work that in somehow!) After a brief vacation, Larry, as his teammates call him, went back to Montreal. He is just a residency away from being a medical doctor. When the call went out for volunteers with medical training to help in Nursing Homes, Laurent was quick to volunteer, and then thought, “What will the Chiefs say?” Apparently, without a second of hesitation, the Chiefs said go help your community. Duvernay-Tardif joined his new team to battle COVID-19.
As I have shared before; I am a card carrying introvert. Part of me thought this social distancing thing would be easy. No small talk, no having to be outgoing. Perhaps I need people a little more that I realized. I’ve talked to many people who have struggled with being alone, and continue to pray for all those whose mental health is suffering during a time when life seems to be unravelling while the usual human supports are not easily accessible.
Some strange notes. I went the entire month of April without once putting gas in my car. I may have a lot of TV channels, including some bonus ones during the pandemic, but there usually isn’t much on. I was very happy when MSNBC was added to the line up. I have missed watching Rachel Maddow. I do believe I may have set a record for the most games of Solitare played in a single month! I have been surprised how much recording an audio service each week, took me back to my days in radio. I amazed people who have experienced much fewer days than I on this planet, with the fact that we used to use grease pencils and razor blades to edit audio tape. Digitally, three or four clicks of the mouse can do in seconds what used to take 15 or 20 minutes. You always knew how terribly you had performed by the pile of tape left on the floor after editing a show.
As someone who enjoys walking, I have probably walked more kilometres in the last month than I have driven. But it has been amazing to see so much wildlife. For two full weeks the same two Canada Geese noisily welcomed me to the park I walk through each day. It has also been interesting to greet an increasing number of walkers, as we all scramble to distance properly.
I have been reading Richard Rohr during this time. First a reread of the “Divine Dance” and now “The Universal Christ.” It seems appropriate that in a time when all seems a little bit off, I should read words written by someone who has given me new hope for humanity, Christianity and the world. With a new spiritual perspective, perhaps it will seem a little easier to dive into the new normal!
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.