August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 11

A pall of white smoke has covered Northern California. While we haven’t evacuated, we packed “go” bags in case, remembering our elderly cat Laddie, his travel cage, his insulin shots.

Living amidst nature is a beautiful experience but does have drawbacks, and grass fires are some of them, as well as annual armies of aunts (the insects), field mice, turkeys, and the occasional wild pig who takes delight in digging up the lawn. I believe, as we age, we come to realize that the natural world is winning against our meager, ineffective attempts at control, yet we do battle as best we can to own the space we have been given.

And now fires and smoke and the expectation of earthquake season. 

I walk through the house, surveying our possessions, accumulations from 70-80 years on this Earth, considering what is important to save and what is not. I sense a parallel with my wandering through time, accumulating ideas and opinions and thoughts, sins and virtues, hates and loves, blessings and bedevilments. One day I will walk on my final journey, hopefully holding our Lord Jesus’ hand and arriving at the pearly gates of fame, carrying these spiritual possessions on the back of my soul. St. Peter will advise what to save and what to leave behind, what to confess, what to celebrate. Or perhaps Our Lord will, or perhaps an angel, like Angel Michael in my recent novel, Angel Mountain, who guides the hermit Abram on his journey through the Woods of the Cross (plot spoiler alert).

My bishop of blessed memory often said he finally understood the phrase, “The good die young.” How can that be right, I wondered. He meant, I have come to see, is that they are released from this life’s suffering earlier than the rest of us. They’ve earned early release. They enter Eternity and into the beloved’s Presence, hear the glorious music and laughter, bathed in His love. They enter bliss, blissfully.

The Chinese flu, which some say is overly hyped for political purposes while others cringe in fear of contagion, has added menace to this already dangerous wildfire season in Northern California. We are under house arrest either by force of the state or by force of society’s judgment upon us should we go out and meet together, see one another’s faces, return their smiles, their hugs, their touch. We stay connected through keyboards and Clouds that somehow carry our messages to loved ones and friends. We wait and we wonder. When will these troubles pass? What will be their cost to each of us, to America?

The Presidential election in November is on our minds as well, as one political party concluded their virtual gathering last week, having nominated their runners in this earthly race. The second political party will begin their Cloud gatherings tomorrow. There was and will be much hand-ringing and accusations, much anger and angst. There is also hope that Americans will cast thoughtful votes, that they will listen and learn before choosing.

The gregarious conventions of the past which became increasingly scripted and violent may be no more. Instead they will be replaced with faces in squares and speeches intoned to an invisible audience through the Cloud into our living rooms, appearing on screens we can remotely turn on and off with a small handheld wand or a tap of the finger or even a few words to Siri, the Cloud servant of all. Conventions will squeeze into phones and tablets and live there forever.

I for one will vote for the peacemakers, the deal-makers, the protectors of life, the defenders of our exceptional country, those who do the job I would like them to do. This is no time for careless complaints. The stakes are serious.

America was always a miracle in the making. Can she continue to make miracles? The odds are not with us, for who believes in miracles? Yet we pray without ceasing that the miracle of America continue to shine a light in the darkness of the world, that the impossible continue to be possible, for the poorest of the poor, for hopeful immigrants, for every race and gender, for the unborn, for every identity. 

Today, as Christians are denied the right to pray together as Our Lord commanded, “When two or three are gathered…,” we still hope and pray and repent our many sins. We repent, so that we may be forgiven. We are forgiven so that we may find the Way to Heaven, to arrive at those pearly gates, to enter the glory that awaits us in the Kingdom. So my husband and I tuned in to virtual services, attending three Masses this morning, overlapping in time. We gave awards: Best Chanting, Fr. Weber, St. Ann Chapel, Stanford. Best Sermon, Canon Dart, Christ Church, AZ. Best Hymns, St. Joseph’s, Berkeley.

As we stood to sing #600, “Ye holy angels bright who sit at God’s right hand…” I smiled. My husband’s marvelous tenor filled the room, and I squeaked along as best I could, making up for talent with enthusiasm. We could hear a few voices in the chapel, living deep inside my laptop, and the organ played by the talented Eugene was magnificent.

A challenging time. Riots and burnings in our cities. Fires and smoke in the hills. A political landscape of triumphant truths and shamefaced lies further dividing us, as if house arrest and natural disasters weren’t enough.

And yet… we overcome these tribulations. We follow the star that leads to the manger in Bethlehem. In this dark time, we follow the light we know—the light of love shone upon us by our Creator, upon all creation. We follow the light to where it leads, and along the way hope to reflect that light, carry that lantern for others to see and follow too. We are not really alone and there is no reason to be lonely, or despairing, not with all we have been given as Christians, not with the overwhelming and saving grace of Christ in His amazing abundance.

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