|As I write this, I am sitting in a house in (very) rural Selmer, Tennessee. I am here with my Doctor of Ministry Cohort, for our first in-person gathering. Yesterday I got on a plane for the first time since February 2020. On Monday, before leaving, I was filled with worry and anxiety. What would happen if one of those mid-air incidents with a passenger screaming at the stewardess happened on the plane? Would I be safe from a variant of Covid-19? What would it be like to be in a crowded airport changing planes? Would I like the people I have come to know the last year only over the Zoom screen?
Pre-Covid, I travelled all the time. I have been flying cross-country since I was a baby, growing up in the Northeast, but with grandparents in southern California. Half our family today lives on another continent. I am more than used to being around difference, and crowds, and potential health issues and travel.
This past year we have been focused nearly entirely on fear. Fear of the virus. Fear of the political divide. Fear of the other. And on and on it goes. So much of our world(s) have changed since February 2020. So much will never go back to the “way it was.” And also, so much is the same.
When I landed in Memphis yesterday, I was on one of those moving walkways that took you to baggage claim. I noticed that there was a huge bank of floor to ceiling windows to my right and to the left of the moving walkway there was a crowd of people looking outside. Coming into that corridor you couldn’t see what everyone was looking at. As the walkway moved and the windows came into view I realized there was a crew that was very slowly, solemnly, bringing a casket draped in an American flag out of the cargo hold of a plane. A grieving, young woman was standing with an older man on the tarmac, you could see her shaking and crying, as the older man tried to comfort her. There were police and soldiers standing at attention. The Delta Airlines crew was lovingly, carefully, bringing the casket out, making sure to keep the flag from getting entangled in the conveyor belt the whole way down. The corridor was silent. Some people were lowering their heads praying, others had their hand over their heart, others had taken off their hat. Everyone was silent. It was a beautiful, terrible and shared moment. I started out my day so self-abosorbed, so worried about me, and then at the end of my trip I saw this.
For all the disunity, for all the anger, for all the missed connections we have in this country, it was strangely gratifying to be a part of this shared worship and prayer experience, that was spontaneous and drew total strangers into a community of prayer. I don’t know what traditions anyone came from that I was with for that moment yesterday. But I felt that we were together. The silence was sacred. I felt close to these people I was with. It was unexpected. I found myself focusing visually on the woman, praying for her, asking God’s love to surround and hold her at that moment.
It was holy moment in such an ordinary space, the moving walkway in a busy airport. We were gathered and honoring someone’s grief, someone’s loss. I realized at that moment that I haven’t been with people physically to mourn in a very long time, even though there have been so many losses during these pandemic months. Being with others, community is so terribly important. I knew no one in that corridor, and they did not know me, but for those few moments, it felt like a deep, sacred community, something I have missed so much in this season.
One of the women in my cohort last night shared that as she was driving to meet us, she stopped and picked up some things on the way. She had a bottle of wine in the car from home, she bought bread at a bakery where she stopped for a snack. When she went to bring things in, she realized she brought communion without even thinking about it. She said, “I realized I brought the thing I was most craving with me, connection in worship with others. I have missed that so much.”
My prayer for you in this season of returning is that you have these ordinary, holy spaces that pop up and the Spirit breaks into your life. When you realize you are suddenly back in community and remember how safe and how sacred that is. When Jesus shows up and is in the midst of the crowd and you were not even looking for him. Where the Creation bursts forth in front of you as a reminder of God’s diverse and beautiful love for all.
May this season be a returning to all that you have longed for in this time of separation. May healing and grace abound. May joy flourish. May connections fit back the way they need to. May you sense the Spirit dancing around you and this world, bringing hope, justice and peace.