In our congregation this season of Lent, we have a theme: "Again & Again." It's a complete curriculum of sorts produced by Sanctified Art, and includes a devotional, providing us with visual art, poetry, reflective essays with thoughtful questions, and heartfelt, simple prayers compiled by a team of women dedicated to enriching the faithful lives of others and sharing the work of women of color. Honestly, as the faith leader of a congregation, I was delighted to find such a resource, because I'm not sure I had the energy to put something together myself. During the pandemic, my refrain of "again and again" circles around tasks and obligations at work, endless laundry at home, and the constant reminder NOT to do this or that for the safety of self and others. The past year has been a season of sacrifice, a year of Lent, with its constant reminder of our mortality and vulnerability.
Which is probably why I found this Lenten resource so compelling. Looking outside myself, I found a group of others who seemed to say, "We see you. Can you see this?" And they offered reminders and words of hope that are true, invitations that are as gentle and sincere as they are risky and challenging. Instead of focusing on the life-draining, joy-stealing aspects of life in a pandemic, how about we remember whose we are and what has been provided and promised for us? How about we listen deeply to our inner voice, see how much we've grown and what has been transformed, and take a deep breath as we move forward with courage knowing with our whole heart that we are not alone? We are seen. We are loved. We are part of something greater.
As much as I recognize and love the Christian context of this, there's also the broader context of community. We can choose to remain isolated in our homes and turn in on ourselves and toward despair, or we can change the tune of our refrain and find the others who are doing the same. What do we have in common? What are some difficulties that we have that we can overcome together? What am I willing to risk to change what was into what can be?
There are tangible ways we can manifest goodness, even in the face of much that tries our souls. Folks fill pantries and deliver food to the hungry. Others make way to meetings to give voice to those who are either silenced or ignored. An awards banquet tonight celebrates Black excellence. And I hope you've heard about the ongoing Community Medical Debt Relief here in Arkansas, aiming to alleviate $24 million in medical debt among the poor and debt-burdened by raising $172,000. (Please donate if you can!)
During these long months of the pandemic, we've been told again and again to stay safe, to stay away from gatherings, and to restrict ourselves. What I've discovered is that again and again I've found people making ways to be together virtually, strengthening our communities by being creative, learning new skills, and partnering with others whom they might not have met following their old routine. Sometimes we need someone else to help us remember again and again: We're not alone, we are unconditionally loved, and there is hope where two or three are gathered.
The Rev. Sara Milford serves as vicar of All Saint's Episcopal Church in Bentonville. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.