Responding to COVID-19

May 1, 2020

Dear People of St. Paul’s,

I’m writing to you today looking out at the river and at the woods beyond it, where the buds are just beginning to pop. I’ve watched this procession of spring come up from the Norwalk coast — first in the St. Paul’s churchyard, then creeping up the Newtown turnpike mile by mile, day by day toward Wilton, until it is now reaching our house in a slow-moving green Resurrection!

The syncing this year of the liturgical seasons and our life together has been more than visual. Lent ushered us into this wilderness of pandemic and plague. Deep loss, then, like early spring, some new shoots. The latter does not cancel out or supersede the former; they exist together as a whole, breaking and reviving our hearts, over and over. Growing strength in these times means resilience, not brittleness, if we stay open-hearted to what is, and lean toward what is becoming, and keep alive in loving memory what is lost, past, or changed.

In the early church, those who were baptized at Easter began a period of training called mystegogia — not like the rote catechism of some of our bygone confirmation classes, but more of a deep dive into the spiritual life practices so that we do become mature and resilient, rather than brittle — alive and healing and whole in any season. So again our liturgical season matches up this year with the broader work that is called for: learning to live deeply from and toward our center of value and hope as we discover what this intense tsunami of a baptism that hit the whole of humanity really means.

Because what we are experiencing is part of an epochal shift, it’s hard to see too far ahead, so in the meantime anxiety runs high, with good reason. This makes our deep-centered living all the more necessary and fruitful. We have a wonderful opportunity in this moment to become more fully grounded in our spiritual practice, so that our decisions in the days ahead are rooted in what Paul calls the “peace that passes understanding” rather than the anxiety of the moment.

When I say “spiritual practice” I mean something pretty basic that is accessible to us all: starting with some daily ritual that you already do: a morning cup of coffee, a run, yoga. Ideally something where you can simultaneously pay attention to your body, still (or watch) your restless thoughts, and open your heart awareness to whatever arises. That’s it. Make it daily. Call it prayer. And watch what happens. There is of course lots more we can do with and in this “quiet place of being,” but for Eastertide a good parish-wide goal would be the daily habit of daily practice.

The reason I’m emphasizing daily prayer/practice is that this is the “engine” or “portal” or fountain that will source our best and fullest work and life together, and it’s especially reliable during times when other sources of meaning and energy are withering. With the cacophony of voices, inner and outer, clamoring for attention in our current environment we can best listen to the Spirit among us collectively if we have made that listening skill second nature by a daily rhythm of practice. In that way, whatever “programs” that arise in our re-formed life together will be built on that rock of Spirit-listening and community-listening practice.

In the coming weeks we will start organizing the multitude of wonderful suggestions and ideas and possibilities into specific and accessible opportunities, so that the many congregants of our expanding community can participate in outreach, mission, and community care. Thanks to all of you who participated in last Sunday’s Zoom conversation, where we gleaned much from our conversation about what has sustained us in the wilderness, and what we hunger and hope for as we go forward. There will be many more opportunities to keep this flow of conversation going. (This Sunday we will introduce into our after-church “coffee hour” the breakout rooms that worked so successfully in the Sunday Zoom conversation). Everything is an experiment these days, and we keep learning from each iteration of what we try. Thanks for being part of the flow of this evolving process!

My one-time spiritual director would often respond to my litany of spiritual woes and trials with a pointed question: “how many leafy green vegetables are you eating?” A nap and better nutrition was her first line of spiritual advice, and while it irked me then I’m getting it more fully now. Many are writing to me saying that they are discovering that simple, daily, basic, connected practices are lighting up their lives in new power, stability, and growth. Like this slow-explosion of springtime all around us. Like Easter.

So rise up, people of God — Christ has “disappeared among us!” (Luke 24:31). We walk on together in faith, hope and love, and it is a privilege and a joy to be a companion on the Way with you all.

Daniel +


Other messages from Father Daniel