Through the Depths

So, a shout-out to all the introverts in NYC who used to have alone time but now have family or roommates with them 24/7. I see you. I feel your pain. Everything feels harder, doesn’t it?

I’m starting to really feel the paralysis of all of this getting to me, and the creative/professional/personal goals I was working towards prior to COVID-19 are feeling blurry, nebulous. Like I can’t truly see them anymore. Maybe this is part of the not-knowing that comes with being in a pandemic… the feeling of uncertainty about what comes next starts to infect everything. I wanted to record another album this year; will people still listen to music? Should I bother practicing? I have a book waiting to be sent to the publisher; will my book still speak to people after this? Should I bother continuing to edit?

Rationally, of course, I know the answer to all of these questions is yes, of course. We have to embody hope, we have to keep creating for the future we know is coming, we have to keep working for the world to emerge from this virus because it will. I know it in my head.

But my heart, where my creative work comes from, clearly is a little unsure.

The reading from the daily office today is from the 63rd chapter of Isaiah:

Where is the one who put within them
his holy spirit,
who caused his glorious arm
to march at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
to make for himself an everlasting name,
who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
they did not stumble.
Like cattle that go down into the valley,
the spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
Thus you led your people,
to make for yourself a glorious name.
Look down from heaven and see,
from your holy and glorious habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
The yearning of your heart and your compassion?
They are withheld from me.

What jumped out at me today in this excerpt are the parts that’s I’ve put in bold lettering… especially the line, “who led them through the depths?” This idea, that God leads us through depths and deserts, is one of my favorite themes in the Bible. Often our wish or prayer is that we could find an escape hatch to the hardest experiences in life. And when that’s what we’re after, we often just stall ourselves out in the middle of the storm or the desert or the depths. But there are so many places in the Bible where people describe being accompanied in the depths instead of plucked out of them.

Where are the depths? The places where we lose our mooring, where we feel ungrounded, where few things (if any) feel trustworthy and we don’t know how or when we’re going to see the light of day again. I’d be hard-pressed to describe where I am right now as “the depths” – I mean, I’m actually doing pretty well – but it’s more like, I can feel those depths in and around me. They are present. It’s why I’m struggling to pick up projects I was excited about just a few weeks ago.

Here’s the other thing about how God being with us in the “the depths” is often described  – and we can see it in this excerpt – that God is present but God cannot be perceived, felt, or seen. What’s that about? I don’t know, but I know it’s often true. (Another example of this that I love is in Psalm 77: Your way was through the sea; your path was through the mighty waters, yet your footprints were unseen.)

We live in culture that often wants a how-to, a what-to-do-when. As a pastor, maybe I should be writing, right now, 3 easy steps to follow when you’re in the “depths” and are totally unconvinced that the Holy One is near.

I don’t have that. I think if I were to write anything like that, I’d be standing against most, if not all, of the biblical narrative. Here’s what I’ve got:

1) When we feel that God is farthest away, God is actually intimately close.

2) When we feel like the Spirit is the least active, even abandoning us, the Spirit is working overtime in us.

3) Sometimes being in the depths means looking for the light. Sometimes it means simply sitting in the darkness and letting the darkness work on us. Sometimes it means reaching out to fellow wanderers. Sometimes it means drawing in close to yourself. No one can know your path for you. Your path through the depths is between you and the Spirit. We can support and encourage and love one another, but we cannot know the way of the Spirit, particularly in the depths, because the depths are defined by a sense of unknowing.

So what am I going to do today? The bare minimum for my professions (apologies, students and congregation members). Rest and quiet for me. Shutting the door of my bedroom more often. Taking a long walk – alone – once the rain lets up. Getting out the harp and maybe the banjo. Cooking. Nesting. And making beautiful things, because that’s part of how the Spirit is working with me right now.

Thanks be to God.

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