At our district professionals meeting this week, Bishop Schnase shared a description of our collective responses to traumatic events, a description that some of us heard last year from Rev. John Thornburg of TMF. These apply to events like hurricanes and 9-11, as well as to our more extended pandemic. The stages of response or reaction are: Heroism, when we do whatever is necessary to help out in the initial crisis, solving a ton of problems, all at once. Disillusionment, characterized by fatigue and a sense that none of that heroic effort has actually made a lasting difference. And Turning, or a gradual ability to look ahead, based on having found rest, distance from anxiety, and new and unexpected forms of support.
We noted in our conversation with the bishop that it can provoke a big old eye-roll to talk about “rest” or “distance from anxiety” right now. But we also noted that it’s not about getting rid of anxiety; it’s about finding space in the midst of it. Still hard, but more doable, and maybe something many of us are doing without realizing it.
For me, one of the unexpected joys in my life has been the birdbath in my back yard. I brought it with me from San Antonio, where I hauled it out from behind the bushes when I heard the bishop (an expert birder) say that during much of the year, birds need access to water way more than food. I had always thought of birdbaths as only good for breeding mosquitoes. But now I keep mine filled with fresh water, scrubbing it out now and then, and it’s become a beautiful spot in my life. One morning last weekend, no fewer than 7 kinds of birds and one squirrel visited, all drinking in different ways, some getting in the water and fluffing around. They don’t always come, but I love waiting for them to do so, and I feel like I’m watching a miracle when it happens.
Does the birdbath protect me from all anxiousness? Not exactly. But it does give me a respite, and the nature of that time can change the rest of my day. This isn’t one more prescription, one more thing to add to an already-burdened day. It can be, though, an invitation to look around, seeking the gifts of grace God is seeking to give us, to help us through. The other thing I think of is the privilege that allows me to sit and be still. Part of the life of faith must be to work for struggling, hurting people to have room for those moments as well. How can we and our churches be the new or unexpected support somebody might desperately need for their own turning?
I’m glad to be in this with you. It matters deeply that we are not alone.