If a Tree Falls in a Forest...
You might know the next line of this existential riddle...does it make a sound? A similar kind of question has nagged me through COVID. Does a person really have a birthday in the middle of a pandemic? Do we still have anniversaries and graduations and all the good, happy celebrations we're used to? Well, your obvious answer is probably "Duh! Of Course!"
My answer hasn't been so clear. The trees in my forest have fallen in silence on some of these disastrous, viral days. We have been battling against a microscopic power much greater than we are. We have felt paralyzed. How to swim through the molasses of constant adaptive change drowns my energy and saps my strength. What does purposeful, incarnational ministry look like when we cannot be in person?
I suppose I wrestle this way because I like people. You can tell by my office mess that people are more important than any paperwork stacked in my vertical pile filing "system!" People's stories are infinitely interesting to me. Your stories of high school dates, golf games, church steeple painting, cherry pies on George Washington's birthday delight my soul. How you swim against the current of daily challenges is inspiring. It's ever more clear to me that we need each other more these days than in the past days that we're calling "normal."
Here's Chris, Christa's husband and Chloe's dad, our Lay Leader. He's our Youth Guru, Sound Board Guy, Resident Physical Education Expert and Game Master. In the midst of a pandemic, he still gets that little kid excited energy when planning a scavenger hunt for Youth Group. We had a "back to school celebration" this past Sunday. It's February, I know, but some of our kids are returning to in-person school now. It was Chris' birthday last Saturday and I sure am grateful for his life and his ministry among us. We got to celebrate with hamburgers, a cookie cake & candles thanks to Rob and Michaella. Replete with masks, a good time was had by all!
Did it feel normal with masks? No. Did our voices sound the same singing a muffled Happy Birthday? No. This small celebration, like every celebration we try to have these days, is tinged with the awareness of our own mortality and the necessity to be safe. Did we try to be safe? Yes.
We keep going.
As the Pacific blue tang fish, Dory, in the animated movie "Finding Nemo" chants over and over again, "just keep swimming, just keep swimming." A high school graduating class of 2020 chose this phrase as their motto to indicate their fortitude through coronavirus chaos. "Just. Keep. Swimming!" Just keep going. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep celebrating within safe and healthy boundaries. Keep tending to life. After all, this is what Jesus tells us about his purpose on earth. "I came that you might have life, and have it in abundance!" (John 10:10)
So, I think I will choose my answer-- when a tree falls in the forest, it does make a sound, no matter who or what might be listening. God hears it all. The quote from Desiderius Erasmus seems apropos: "Bidden or not bidden God is present." Erasmus was a 16th Century Dutch theologian and Catholic priest who actually began the whole approach of the "via media." The "middle way" as a clear philosophical path between extremes. The clear asset of the middle way in these argumentative times can wait for another time...
Life continues through many difficult, trying and surprising circumstances. We must find and forge our way as people of abundant life through Jesus the Christ. As best we can-- we light the candles and sing a muffled "Happy Birthday." As best we can-- from a distance, we acknowledge the milestone of graduation. As best we can-- behind windows and through the phone line, we celebrate the longevity of sweethearts in marriage. We keep going. The power and inevitable vitality of life prevails. Life is abundant! And every life deserves a cookie cake with candles.
Grace and Peace,