A Reflections After One Year of Dealing With COVID
~ submitted by Deacon Douglas Argue
I’ve been lurking lately – lurking on the edges of life passively watching others as they make their way. Lurking on Facebook to see what others might be saying; waiting to see if posted, inspiring, wise words give me some hope. Lurking around the neighborhood, observing – at a safe distance – what others are doing or may need help doing. Lurking within the diocesan groups I am expected to participate in as a full and active member. Lurking, as if waiting to pounce at the right moment. And now it’s Lent and I get to wait even longer for something to happen. In my lurking and waiting I have been reflecting on my experiences of the last year as the funk of winter doldrums itself lurks around my spirit expecting me to give in and hide completely under the covers. So far, I’ve been able to muster a “Not today, Satan” and reach for another cup of coffee to get me through the day. I must admit, however, that my mental health is waning and burn out is close at hand.
It’s been a year since I personally had to start dealing with the thing called COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that lingers in our lives like an irritating cough. It was Feb 14th, 2020 that I was in New York City and began to seriously wonder about contracting “the virus” that was itself lurking around the coasts of our country. On March 8th I had my first potential exposure to the virus while attending a national church meeting in Florida – one of the attendees I was in close proximity to for three days was told the priest she serves with in Texas had tested positive after his exposure at a different national church meeting just a week earlier. On March 12th, I would be forced to work from home as COHHIO closed its offices in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our 19-person staff – not because of me but because the virus had become that much of a threat. Collectively as a community, we all experienced what came next with the lock downs and isolation/quarantine protocols put in place to protect the public safety. Life changed for me and others dramatically from that point forward. And now, it’s Lent…again.
There are many things that I could expound on here – as any of us could – regarding the changes that life has brought us as a result of COVID. I want to use this space to focus on the diaconal struggle faced during the pandemic.
When everyone is expected to “stay away” and at a distance, how do I respond to God’s command to feed, clothe, water, visit, house and love? When keeping people safe means spreading them out more over already unavailable spaces in our cities, what does it mean to live in community? When my eyes sustain increased damaged because I spend 300% more time in front of a computer screen, what does it mean to keep a sabbath and focus on my own health? When volunteers stop serving in their local neighborhood, how do we care for the orphans and widows? When churches close their doors and are unable to serve communion, how do you and I meet the command of “do this in remembrance of me”? When our political leaders can’t even find a path to civil discourse, what does it mean to speak truth to power? It truly is a diaconal conundrum. I’ve heard many of my diaconal colleagues talk about struggles serving in the midst of the pandemic. Honestly, my empathy runs short at times and I wonder why God has given me so much more to do when others are doing seemingly nothing. Then I remember that I was never promised fairness or equality – only that God would be with me. Always.
God is with me during the exhaustion I experience dealing with our state officials who only want to give aid in the most convenient and efficient way not considering equity and access. God is with me during the early mornings when my anxiety dreams wake me up and don’t allow me to return to restful sleep. God is with me when I am angered by people who disregard public safety by speeding down the street or not wearing a mask or needlessly parking in spots not designated for them or crowding me in the ice cream isle at Kroger. Yes, God is with me in the smallest, dumbest situations as well as the deepest, holiest moments of my life. God. Is. With. Me. Always.
It is here that I know no matter what I am not able to do as a result of COVID I am always able to talk to God and share my prayers. Indeed, praying is a diaconal service. As a deacon, I am called to lift up the needs of the world to the church – that’s why deacons bid and/or lead the prayers of the people. The most primal way of loving God and loving others is to pray with and for them – “pray without ceasing.”
So, during Lent and my times of lurking, I will keep praying. In my waiting for the vaccine and the end of homelessness, I will keep praying. In my anger, exhaustion and ice-cream-isle-irritation, I will pray. In my struggle to maintain a sense of sabbath and well-being, I will pray. And, God willing, I will know that The Divine is with me and pleased with my diaconal service of prayer. Because, some days, prayer is all I can do. Even when it’s just to say, “Not today, Satan.”