Y’all already know that I caught Covid, the end of July. Some of you have heard me talk about it more than you’d like! Now, four weeks out, I still feel draggy and sort of inflamed, although there’s no question that I’m getting better, little by little, for which I am very grateful.
The reason I bring it up again is to reflect on the impact this illness has had on my thinking and perception of the world around me. It’s been an echo of what I experienced on chemotherapy in 2006. Call it chemo brain, or Covid brain, or maybe for some of us even pregnancy brain—there are times when the body is using its energy doing something really important, and the brain has to use the energy left over. Not to draw too bright a line between mind and body, but apparently not all the parts can have all the energy at once.
One effect of this limitation has been a narrowing of my field of vision. Not literally, maybe, but in terms of focus. When I was on chemo, and then again with Covid, I found myself able to focus only on what was right in front of me. That’s a shift from my normal way of being, when I have 14 things bouncing around in my head at any one time, from both legitimate tasks and to-do list items unrelated to the moment, to worries and incessant internal critique. But these illnesses have slowed everything down, and I have no choice but to think about whatever—or whoever—is directly in front of me.
You probably know where this is going. The question is, how might I tap that particular kind of focus, even when I’m not sick? Why should it take getting smacked that hard to focus intently on my life? I will say that it was 16 years ago, during my chemo journey, when I learned how to sit and just look at a tree. I still observe my start to the morning next to a window whenever possible. While I do practice a brain dump into a journal most days, focusing on one thing, especially something natural and beautiful, is an important part of my spiritual practice. But the challenge is to let that perspective infuse my life, all day long.
We are in a very challenging spot, as a church and as a culture, and it’s a challenge that is just not letting up. I was reminded of Psalm 46 this week:
1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice; the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
The Psalmist speaks of the earth heaving and changing, and war raging, while the power of God to save and redeem remains unchanged. And we have this gift of verse 10, which has held deep meaning for generations of God’s people. “Be still,” it says, which in the Hebrew can mean, “let your hands drop.” Stop your doing in the midst of the chaos, or perhaps, your thinking. It might be too much of a stretch to line up the difficulties of our day and the body stress caused by Covid. Maybe the stress of this moment causes more of the brain buzz and less of the pinpointed focus. But in any case, this week I’m carrying with me a two-part word.
One part is that tending to the people right in front of us will be an important part of our way through the mess. Eyes and hearts, narrowed to take in the presence of family members, co-workers, neighbors, or strangers—our connection with these people will be a place where we find the Lord of hosts, with us. It will be the way our churches find and share life and justice in the world and an important way each of us receives the gifts of God.
And the second part of the word is that we truly must stay rooted in the love and power of God as central to our identity. In the midst of the fight or the storm, now and then you have to let your hands drop. Shake off the tension, and let it flow from your fingers. Stand in the presence, and stare at a tree. Remember who you are and in whom you can take refuge.
The stresses on our minds and bodies may not lift any time soon. So it is up to us to make our choices about how we will live and where we will place our focus and our hope. Thanks be to God, though the mountains shake and the waters roar, the opportunity for life and love is all around us and right in front of us.
Grace and peace,