A Devotion for the Quarantined
During the pandemic, our church has been publishing daily devotionals, sending them out to anyone who wants to be on the email list. The pastors and staff have been writing them, and sure it’s the kind of thing they do as part of their job, but in a way it’s like having to crank out a sermon every day. Besides, it’s nice to read different points of view.
So Pastor Danielle (Dani), our senior pastor, passed along word privately that she was soliciting devotional works from members. Debra got an invitation, because she’s a good writer (Dani has worked with her a lot before) and a faithful (in all senses of the word) member of the church. Excellent!
Then I got an invitation, which… huh?
I was going to decline, because, well, it just seems very disrespectful to God for an agnostic to write inspirational devotionals.¹ But then Deb ghost-wrote a devotional for me,² and I thought it was very good.
So I asked Pastor Dani if I could just use Deb’s devotional that she wrote for me.
I ASKED you because I KNEW Deb would volunteer. And you, dear man, have a lovely, very well written blog… so you have no excuse either!😘🙂
To which my wonderful supportive wife chimed in:
Fine. I turned in Deb’s anyway. Dani likes it.
I showed it to someone else, who commented that it was “calming, nurturing, and affectionate, like a hug… people need that now.” So I suggested to Deb that she publish on Medium under her own name.
After getting shot down, I warned her that I would publish under my name, but tell everyone she wrote it. Since she did not veto that (precisely), here it is:
At the breakfast table recently, Deb was reading devotions from a revolving calendar that my mother gave her years ago. There was a deep sigh. I looked over questioningly, indicating that she could share if she wished.
“I’m not sure whether to laugh or roll my eyes,” she said. It seems that the Scripture was from Ecclesiastes 3. You know the one:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together…”
And… Wait for it…
“a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…”
Like many others, I think the thing that has been hardest for Deb about the pandemic isolation is the inability to hug her family, especially when she knows they are stressed. I can make up for some of that with extra hugs, but it’s not the same as embracing our 5-year-old great-niece or her siblings or her cousins.
There’s something soul-satisfying about a hug… for the giver and the receiver. A hug is evidence of love and affection. It is welcoming and protective. It conveys comfort and transmits strength and support. A hug communicates what words cannot.
I imagine that, when this is all over, none of us will take hugs for granted for a very long time. I think that passing the peace in church will look like one big bear hug, though I don’t think we’ll wait for a pastor’s invitation before embracing each other. Just being able to touch someone lightly on the shoulder, or taking someone’s hand, or giving a handshake instead of an elbow bump, will be a gesture of connection that will fill a void that has been building within us during this time.
An experiment many years ago took orphaned baby monkeys and put them with crude dolls meant to represent adult monkeys. One doll had a baby bottle that supplied formula; the other had soft terrycloth that felt a little like fur. Until they became ferociously hungry, the babies would cling to the cloth doll, trying to simulate that feeling of being held and cuddled. And many of us now are like those orphaned monkeys, spiritually dissatisfied with our life-sustaining takeout food, hoping to regain the touch and the comfort of our fellow primates.
So during this time of social distancing and sheltering-in-place, here’s a virtual hug from the Herlockers. May it be for you evidence of God’s love, protection, comfort, strength, and support. Amen.
Hope that helps!
¹It doesn’t have to make sense. I’m not an Orthodox Agnostic, I’m more Reform.
²One of Deb’s duties at her old job was ghost-writing speeches and articles for her boss. She got pretty good at mastering someone else’s writing and speaking style.