How do you decide what is worth keeping? While searching for pictures of a lost loved one, boxes of old tax returns, complete with backup receipts and cancelled checks appeared. Pausing my photo mission momentarily, I began shredding the unneeded documents. The old paperwork, however, was a clear reminder of money spent: contributions and purchases of books, music, and gifts for special people headed the list, but they also raised a series of questions. Had I invested in the right philanthropic and religious organizations? How had the books and music I purchased shaped me over time? Were they the right choices or, rather, evidence of wasted resources? I did finally find the pictures I sought, but they were few and fuzzy. Other pictures in sharp focus of professional colleagues and events no longer seemed to matter so much. I wished for more pictures of someone I cared for, even fuzzy ones.
How do losses in a pandemic cause us to weigh choices and ponder what is truly important in life? Will we be able to return to the traditions we shared and cherished? As we navigate this “new normal” we find worship and music as we knew it turned on its head. For those of us who define worship with congregational singing and music-making in live acoustic spaces, we lament our loss of music just as the writer of Psalm 137:
On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? Ps. 137:1-4 NRSV
It is as if our music has been run through a shredder, our harps are hanging on trees, and our voices yearning to “Sing to the Lord” are lost in a foreign land. Will we simply wait to be found?
Fr. Richard Rohr, in a daily offering from the Center for Action and Contemplation, offers wisdom about the opportunity for change in times of crisis. He says, “The mystery of transformation more often happens not when something new begins, but when something old falls apart.” He says we normally do anything to keep the old from falling apart. It doesn’t feel good. He reminds us of Job’s journey of deepening discomfort and how his friends have correct theory to return Job’s life back to normal but not experience with God for meaning in Job’s present. They have thoughts about God but not love for God. They believe in their theology, but Job knows God and is in relationship with God. We all remember the ending: Job completes the journey a transformed person with a deeper relationship with God.
What is the answer to the Psalmist’s question about how to sing in this “foreign land?” What will we let go and what will we hold more tightly as we remain in our homes, a foreign land for worship to many of us? How will we find new ways to “Sing to the Lord” and even deepen our relationship with God through that song? What resources and tools do we need? (Where is that hymnal/prayerbook that belonged to my mother/grandmother? How can I find the daily lectionary readings? Could I brush up my piano skills and play for my family to sing? Where is online worship that speaks to deep truths?)
If we can begin to answer even a few of these questions, and ask others, perhaps we will find the core of what is most important in deepening our relationship with God. Maybe we will understand better those who were unable to worship in “ideal” circumstances before the pandemic, and whose needs, as leaders of worship, we now will be better able to address. Perhaps like Job, we will move along our journey learning to let go of what we have lost and embrace what we have gained because things fell apart. We will understand with Matthew, Mark, and Luke that by losing the life we knew we will have gained a life better than we ever dreamed could be.
By Charlotte Kroeker