Where did the last 16 months go? I can barely believe that the last blog post was in Lent…. 2019. This has been far more than a CoVid-induced hiatus! Many of you reading this know some of the events that contributed to this protracted silence. From mid March through to May 2019 I was battling “something” that drained every spare ounce of energy. I managed preaching, worship, pastoral care, but barely more and I felt like…. (fill in the blank). A few doctors’ visits later, feeling no better, but pressing on anyway, I was driving down Hwy 401 to Toronto to an ecumenical conference at which I was to represent the United Church of Canada, when my cell phone rang in the car. It was pouring rain, so I pulled off the highway, parked by the side of a residential road in some small Ontario town, and returned the call. “Elisabeth? Are you sitting down? Your tests came back. It’s cancer.”
I never made it to that meeting. June through to early September was a blur of more tests, pre-op, surgeries, and recovery. I did laugh at the God-wink in that the two doctors assigned to my surgery and care were Drs. Gotlieb (God-love), and Salvador (Saviour)! But that was almost all I could do. More than once I would come to this blogsite and open a blank post, and stare, utterly bereft of words to render sensible the senseless numbness I felt. Some whisper of wisdom made it through the fog and said “Don’t try. Stop.” Instead, I picked up a camera and began what turned into my “Summer in my Garden” photo journal on Facebook. This simple daily discipline of standing, sitting, strolling in my garden until I could see some sign of life, hope, beauty, wonder became a quotidian gift of tranquility and perception that anchored me to life and its author, and to my fellow transient creatures. I didn’t have profound thoughts, wisdom did not wash over me in waves, I simply became an observer of life’s resilience, its fleeting yet recurrent beauty,and a recipient of its unpredictable grace.
I returned to active ministry again in late September, relishing the time to reconnect and join in the flow of the work of ministry in this place, for barely a month before the the rains came down, the power went off, and the sump pump failed, and the Great Flood of Hallowe’en swamped our church’s basement, displacing the CPE Daycare. I have rarely been more proud than I was when staff, volunteers, Board members, neighbours, all leapt into action to save what we could of the furnishings, move the daycare up into “our space” on the main level, and reconfigure ourselves and our building in radical ways so that we could continue to live our logo, maintain our ministries and programmes, and laugh a lot while we did so. To see such love, faith, in action will remain one of the high-holy moments of my ministry career, and I will forever be grateful to have been Minister in a community with heart and a will and a vision of care so strong and clear.
The mess in the basement was brutal. It took months to fix. The end was in sight….. the daycare was preparing to move back downstairs, the room used by Healing Pathway ministry was about 75% done when…. the word got sick.
On March 11, a global pandemic was declared by the WHO. On March 13, I asked colleagues “what is Facebook Live?” On March 15 with a shaky hand-held smartphone, we worshipped together – sort of – for the first time. Do you remember when we thought we’d sit it out for a couple of weeks, and be back into our Sanctuary in time for Easter? Laughable now. As I write this post, we are now preparing worship in an online format for the 26th week of what I’m calling “CoVid Season.” The new normal is … not so normal is it? Worship spaces cobbled together in kitchens and living rooms, a global hug deficit, muted choirs, and smiling “eyes only”, if we can manage to smile at all. Families hurting in more ways than we could ever have imagined by the fear and reality of sickness, death, grief. And the world seems to be fraying and fracturing and the seeming breakdown of civility and community.
And yet…. have you noticed it, felt it? This protracted resilience that is like a deep basso continuo note underneath this entire post…. the resilience of life in spite of, or perhaps because of its fragility? I’ve noticed it. From the intimate knowledge of the re-knitting of my body after surgery, to the healing laughter of colleagues while knee deep in flood water, to the groundswell of cries for climate, racial and gender justice. Last year’s daily practise of simple observation may have been the gift and talent I needed most to learn in readiness for this CoVid time: to watch for signs of life where cancerous distortions seem at first to have swept life and hope away. Cancerous distortions of our civil society are ugly, and dangerous, threatening and real, and yet, so are the strategies for cure and healing. We have work to do, alongside the Giver of Life, to identify the margins of the cancer, and choose the right methods to excise it from the body of creation’s community; it will hurt, like hell. And after the hurt, we will need to give ourselves the needed time to live intentionally into the recovery. We will never be quite as we were before. Before cancer. Before CoVid. Before global upheavals of injustice. And nor would we want to be. We want to be better, wiser, kinder, more grateful, less addicted to the privileges that blind us to life’s pain, and to life’s gifted, fragile resilience.