A Time for Silence, A Time for Social Distancing, and a Prayer for Shalom

Labyrinth at Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, NC

On April 17, 2019 I posted some reflections on the practice of silent reflection during holy week. Now, in 2020, social distancing is hindering our ability to do some of the things we did last year.

Typically, during holy week, Olin T Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, NC erects a labyrinth and invites the community to walk the centering path. The use of labyrinths as an aid to reflection has a very long history, even predating Christianity. Evidence for their use in a specifically Christian context begins very early. But walking the labyrinth is not possible now. Visiting the stations that usually surround it at Binkley Church is out of the question in our current time of social distancing.

The practice of silent reflection, however, is not hindered by our current circumstances. If fact, for some this is a great time for just such a practice.

Using pictures from what I posted last year at https://www.michealpalmer.com, I would like to offer some reflections on what we can do now during holy week to deepen our understanding of what it means to pursue justice and peace in the way of Jesus.

Earth Care with Lenten Banner

Living with social distancing I have found time to care for the earth in the small part of the world where I live. My family’s mulch pile—not a very sophisticated approach to mulching, but one we have practiced for several years—has grown as I have pruned a muscadine vine and numerous trees. In a very small way, this care has become a part of my spiritual discipline.

Earth Care Station

This week I intend to nurture the life around me. Prune where necessary. Cultivate and nurture my small part of God’s creation. As I work, I will reflect on the ways in which Jesus cultivated relationships, both nurturing and challenging where necessary.

Intercession Station

Typically, one of the stations around our labyrinth has been an intercession station where we are encouraged to pray for others, even writing brief prayers for those we know or those we do not know, but whose situation needs attention. This week we can all pray for the deep need of our entire world for healing and deliverance from COVID-19.

I will pray for the doctors and other hospital staff who must put their own lives at risk for the rest of us, and for the low wage workers at grocery stores who must show up to work and cannot avoid close contact with the public.

I will also pray for those who are being forgotten as our world turns its attention to solving the current great crisis. Immigrant children and their parents are still in detention, where they are at even greater risk than the rest of us. Many poor people remain in crowed housing and urban communities and cannot exercise social distancing as easily as I can.

Intercessory prayer must be a part of my spiritual discipline this week.

Penitence Station

Last year there was a penitence station in the circuit around our labyrinth. I will have time this week to think about the ways that I have contributed to the brokenness in the world around me and reflect on what I must do to heal that brokenness. Penitence is more than asking for forgiveness. It is the will and the intention and the effort to make right the wrongs we have done. That I can do, even while separated from my church family, from those people who normally give me strength and encouragement.

Mary Station

There was a Mary station last year. The table contained reflections on Mary’s powerful role in the various ways she has been viewed in different Christian traditions. While the tradition with which I grew up has never venerated Mary in the way that our Catholic brothers and sisters do, I can recognize that she demonstrated an acceptance of God’s will and a dedication to the purpose and ministry of Christ that should be a model for me.

I also recognize that the Protestant Reformation’s reduction of Mary’s role in our Christian tradition fits within a larger rejection of the feminine aspects of God in order to justify a heavily male dominated tradition. Gender discrimination continues to contribute to the brokenness in our world and specifically in my religious tradition.

This week I will reflect on my own gender assumptions and how I can view God more holistically, focussing specifically on Creator as a feminine role.

Shalom Station

Last year’s Shalom station featured broken pottery. What a wonderfully graphic image for what we are facing now! “Shalom”, a typical Hebrew greeting, is also the word for peace. Peace is much more than the absence of hostility. It is the result of healing.

This year I will seek peace amid the stress of an uncertain future. At a time of pandemic, peace can seem elusive. Healing is what we need at this moment, a reparation of the brokenness that is growing with the pandemic. My discipline this week will involve reflecting on that brokenness, praying for all who suffer from it, and acting as best I can to bring healing and avoid augmenting the suffering. I will observe social distancing as a means toward this end and view it as a part of my spiritual practice.

Thanksgiving and Praise Station

There was also a thanksgiving and praise station last year. That station was focussed specifically on thankfulness to God and praising God, but this year I will expand my practice of thanksgiving and praise. I will go out of my way to express thanksgiving to those who are putting their lives on the line for the greater community, whether they are doing so out of the goodness within them or because they cannot do otherwise, I am still thankful for them, and I will make it a part of my spiritual practice to say so.

I will also offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise for those who protect me and my family by exercising appropriate distancing, wearing face masks and gloves, and taking other measures to avoid infecting us.

Crosses Over the Labyrinth

I thank the fine arts committee at my church for the beautiful display of crosses found there this year, symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ. This week I will contemplate that sacrifice and what I am personally willing to give up for the greater good of our world.

May you find Shalom as you face the pandemic this week.

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