When I lived in the Himalayas, we had occasional earthquakes. During a Bible study I wondered who was shaking the bench I was sitting on only to realize we were experiencing an earthquake. As we leapt to our feet I realized there was nowhere to go to escape—the very earth under our feet was rumbling, and running away would not change that. It was profoundly unsettling. Where do you seek safety when everything around you is unstable?
We begin a new calendar year with no end of the pandemic in sight, though news of vaccines is encouraging. Every benchmark we have set for gathering for family celebrations has been cancelled: Easter—Thanksgiving—Christmas. Just when things begin to look hopeful, we are plunged back into uncertainty. Where do we find stability?
The only place of stability I know, for this or any other upheaval in our lives, is in God. The Creator of all is our refuge. Psalm 121 records that, though we may look to the solidity of the mountains, when we ask, “Where is my help to come from?” the answer is, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” I have a sense that we are being pruned of our reliance on anything or anyone else through the COVID-19 pandemic. We are being invited to ensure that our foundation is in God first. We hold all else lightly, so that if it is taken away we are not discouraged or defeated, and if we retain it we enjoy it with delight and gratitude.
The practice of this kind of stability is at the core of the monastic life and is central to a grounded, hopeful joy that cannot be destroyed by the ups and downs of daily experiences. It is also a stability that is practiced through prayer and intentional immersion in God. I suspect that is why the opportunities for daily morning or evening prayer or compline have attracted many people during the pandemic.
The dean of Canterbury Cathedral, Robert Willis, spoke to the Anglican Church of Canada’s House of Bishops in October about his experience of moving the daily offices online when the cathedral was locked down. Those daily offices were initially intended for those who lived nearby but could no longer attend services in person. As cathedral staff prayed them online, however, they discovered thousands of people worldwide who were hungry to be in touch with God in the midst of daily life. The ordinariness of praying in the garden with the cat, or while standing in the drizzle, reminded those watching that God is here in the messiness of now. Stability was found in offering each day to God through worship, Scripture reading and prayer.
This is not new. It is foundational to the Anglican understanding of community life: parishes that pray daily and offer to God praise, intercessions, confession, hopes and agonies in the certainty that in God—the stable heartbeat of our lives—these prayers will be sorted and answered as God wills, in God’s time.
We may be weary of the ongoing struggle of COVID-19, tired of remaining isolated, longing for what we have lost. For now, look to the source of stability that will carry us through. Be in touch with God daily. “From where is our help to come? From the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth…. The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in forever more.” (Ps. 121).