May God use these burdens keep us mindful of the holiness we still share between us . . .

Dear Members and Friends,

As most of you know, I enjoy going to the gym almost every day to work out. For years, I (along with everyone else) have been greeted by name by the 80+ year old woman who staffs the desk nearest the entrance. She also remembers the names of spouses and partners!

Along with many other changes wrought by the coronavirus, once the gym opened back up, she was not able to staff the desk due to her age and the attendant risk of COVID-19. Her absence has been surprisingly noticeable.

Last week, she came in to attend to some paperwork, and I was able to greet her through the closed glass door of the office in which she was sitting. When I saw her (for the first time in seven months), she greeted me warmly by name and said to “say ‘hi’ to Beverly for me!” Those few, simple words almost reduced me to tears. Part of it was missing her and her greeting, and part of it was the sudden and unexpected pang of loss: the loss of so much of our way of living during the pandemic. There are things we simply cannot do for safety’s sake, and one of the most painful is not being able to just hang out with so many of the people in our lives who matter deeply, church-wise and otherwise.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis for his part in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. He found himself alone in his cell on Christmas Eve, 1943. He was accustomed to big family gatherings, parties with dear friends, and celebrating the advent of Christ. Reflecting on the sheer weight of all he was missing, he wrote these words from Letters and Papers from Prison:

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain . . . The dearer and richer the memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves.”

We will make it through this, by God’s grace, and our most cherished relationships will survive intact. But the interim time is fraught with loss and uncertainty. May God use these burdens to keep us mindful of the preciousness of our relationships, our calling to live into them as best we can, and of the holiness of the space that is between us.


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