November 19, 2020

One of the gifts of this time we are in is the ability to travel to far off places, to conferences and lectures across the nation, to enjoy a front row seat at concerts, to take classes from the good people at Grace University. Last week I zoomed over to Austin, Texas to hear New Testament theologian Beverly Gaventa’s lecture on Romans 5: 1-5. She talked about resilience, persistence and endurance. 

We are eight months into physical distancing, we have grown used to wearing masks, and some of us are kind of amazed we are navigating technology with a bit of ease. We settle into worship in our domestic sanctuaries, we have suspended travels and outings, celebrations and long-range planning. We are propelled to attend to the present moment. And we are adapting. Health is adapting. Kindness and compassion invites adapting. 

When my dad was in his last weeks of life, he said this: I am held in love and suspended by grace. He had lots of time to ponder these kinds of thoughts, and came by it naturally. Most of us, I would guess, would rather not be suspended or left hanging. It’s a difficult and scary state to be in. 
Webster Dictionary defines suspension as the “temporary prevention of something from continuing or being in force or effect”. Take a moment to read its synonyms. Does this list resonate in our present moment? 
      adjournment, interruption, postponement, delay, deferral, deferment, shelving, stay, moratorium, arrest, intermission, interlude, prorogation, tabling, abeyance, rescheduling, hiatus, lacuna, lull, rest, break, pause, respite, armistice, cessation, end, halt, stoppage, cutting short, dissolution, disbandment, termination, exclusion, debarment, removal, temporary removal, elimination, rejection, expulsion, ejection, eviction, rustication

This list describes so much of what humanity has been facing around the globe. None of us has been exempted from the challenges and disruption of Covid19. Tragically, many experience its devastation in unequal measure. The pandemic reveals the injustices in our systems of health, employment, education and housing. We are appalled at the abdication of our national leaders, and their inability to forge a united front for the health of all citizens.

Back to the lecture from the state of Texas. Professor Gaventa reflected on Paul’s words in Romans: affliction/suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope. Years ago in another lecture given in NYC after 9-11, she read these same words. A pastor hotly contested Paul’s premise by asserting, No, it doesn’t. 

Many are struggling and suffering and grieving. Many are just hanging on. Hospital staffs are pushed to the brink as the number of cases explodes. Counselors are overwhelmed, teachers are trying to keep up, and those already struggling are in impossible straits. 

We are being held in suspension, and it’s for the long haul. We have come this far, and we will come through this together. We don’t know yet when we will have access to a vaccine, but it is on its way; it’s not far off. For the sake of the future, of feasts to come, choirs to sing, gatherings to celebrate, classrooms to fill, we need to continue this race of waiting, postponing, and enduring. Whether it produces character or endurance, we will find out. But hope is not mine to create, or have, or find. William James Jennings, a professor at Yale Divinity School writes, “Joining with those struggling against despair I do not just have hope, I find myself in hope, rooted in the shared confession in the goodness of creation.”
We don’t have hope, we live in hope. We swim in it, like a fish in the sea. What does it look like to live in hope, be in hope, at such a time as this? It may be that we allow ourselves to be suspended. Because we are held. We are not alone. God is with us.

As a musician, I am drawn to another kind of suspension, “a discord made by prolonging a note of a chord into the following chord”.  The chord will resolve. It will be beautiful and haunting; it will be music to our ears. But for now, we must live with the discord. For the sake of each other, and the whole world. The call to be people in hope, for the sake of the world, has never been more pronounced. 
Pastor Mary
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