I have been blessed to be staying in Long Beach, LI, during most of this pandemic, popping back into Manhattan for couple of days here and there. We have a beautiful boardwalk and I walk on it most mornings, usually 3 miles, but occasionally I can do the whole thing back and forth for 4.4 miles. I love my time on the boardwalk but this summer I’ve spent a bit too much time face down on the boardwalk.
As I’ve said often, it’s the safest place to walk. That is, until it isn’t. Couple of weeks ago, I took a bad fall during my walk, when the wind blew something which should not have been there, in my way. I tripped and went down, hard. Okay, stuff happens, right? I was relieved I did not land on the arm where I had surgery back in December (The cast! The brace!). Then just five days later, again enjoying my walk and reveling in my continued healing after the fall, I was hit by a bicycle from behind. Splat. This was a bad one. And I landed hard on the boo boo arm.
So now let me fast forward… EMT called, nothing broken, horrific bruising and contusions, and then the “PTSD”. Waking up with a start thinking I was hit again, overwhelming anxiety about going out, especially on the beloved “safest place to walk” boardwalk. The fear hung over me like a great blob, a beast, immobilizing me. Fear of being mowed down again…Fear that I have now lost the ability to take my walks. Please don’t take this away, I prayed.
What I know from other life lessons over my many years of being knocked down (physically and other ways), is that I can pray all I want but the bottom line is the prayer needs to morph from “please make this okay” to “please give me what I need to fix this”. It’s on me to take a step towards recovery.
I knew I needed to poke the beast that is my fear, and so shakily and grasping the handrail (with the good arm) I made my way up the ramp to the boardwalk. This first venture out was short and not pretty. I still wasn’t walking great and I panicked whenever a bicyclist passed from behind me. But one step leads to another, and another. And none of this would be happening without that first faltering step.
I’d love to say that’s all it took and I “got over it” in that first walk. But no, this is 2020 after all and nothing is easy! I’m now several walks later, and doing just a bit over a mile most mornings, and feeling less scared most of the time, then suddenly more scared. It will get better. But not without that first tentative step, that first poke of the beast, whatever our beast – fear, pain, anger, anxiety - are there others….?
At some point, different for each of us, we will be indoors with many people again, we will be on public transportation again, we will be challenged in new ways. One step, my friends, just one step.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay wrapped in the loving embrace of God’s Most Holy Spirit.
Note: No actual living beasts were harmed in the writing of this reflection.
(Note from Christine: I swear that I did not pay Nate to say this!)
Beloved in Christ,
I (Nate) have always had one rule: do whatever Christine Lee says, whenever she says it, as soon as she says it. That’s not for no reason. Christine walks closely in step with the Holy Spirit, and has great spiritual intuition. So, when she approached me with the idea for this collaborative project for our two parishes, I was already predisposed to say: “yes.” Once I heard what the project was, it was that much more clear this was something God was calling us to do.
We find ourselves in an extraordinary moment in the history of our world. We are, quite literally, living in history--a moment we will look back on for lifetimes to come. Everything has been turned upside down. The loss has been staggering. Grief, anxiety and despair are high. We walk the streets of our beloved city, mourning what once was. We wonder: What will become of it? What will become of...us?
And yet, by some miracle of grace, this moment has also brought strange gifts: connection, compassion, courage, creativity, sacrifice, service, laughter. So here we stand, holding two impossibilities side by side. Joy, sorrow, gifts, loss, community, isolation, need and gratitude, all converging upon us at the same time.
What are we called to do in a moment like this? When we look back on this moment, how will we hope to have lived through it? Since the beginning of the church, followers of Jesus have gathered at times like this to pray. No matter what was happening in their world--whether persecution, wars, plagues, social and political unrest--prayer has helped the people of God orient themselves to the one who is seated on the throne of the universe.
And so, in these ten days between Ascension and Pentecost, we will come before God and pray. In fact, we will return to the central prayer of the Christian faith, the prayer our Lord taught us to pray. Every week, when we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are acknowledging that God’s kingdom has come in Jesus but not yet in its fullness. And so we wait and pray and love and act in this in-between time of the already not yet of God’s kingdom.
Both All Angels' and St. Peter’s Chelsea are committed to God’s dream for the world--to make all things new in Christ. We pray with that hope for our city, our loved ones, for the church and for the world. May God give us the grace to be the answer to our prayers, that the gospel would go forth in power through our lives and through the Church of Jesus Christ.
Christine & Nate
The Rev. Christine Lee. The Rev. Nathaniel Jung-Chul Lee
Priest-in-Charge, St. Peter's Chelsea Rector, All Angels' Church
That's me in my mother's lap and my big sister Grace on the left (sadly my middle sister Eunice got cut out of this shot... sorry Eunice!), circa 1975. I wish I had a better photo of her from my childhood. My parents were poor immigrants from Korea and my mom barely spoke English when they arrived in the U.S. She studied at one of the top universities in Korea and left everything, her family, her friends, her native language and culture behind to come to the States with my father and build a new life for our family.
My sisters and I had no idea how poor we were growing up because she made our home feel so abundant with her creativity, resourcefulness and sacrifice. I remember her collecting every penny, nickel and dime in a big jar, sewing our clothes with patterns from McCall's or buying them from garage sales, working in a flower shop to help support the family. We had no idea at the time how lonely she must have felt, giving birth to and raising three daughters in a foreign land.
Now she is 80, more frail each time I see her. Many of you had the chance to meet her at the Celebration of a New Journey service back in January. My heart is full of gratitude for the life she has lived, the love she gave, her sincere faith in God that she deposited in me.
Our lives have been shaped by the presence (or absence) of our parents and the lives they have lived, their gifts and their weaknesses. Lisha shared this poem "Bless My Mother's Body" by Marie Howe, read by Padrig O'Tauma here. He writes, "I think the poet here is speaking about all the ways that we carry people who have tried to love us; and maybe the person succeeded, or maybe they didn’t, but nonetheless, we carry their story into our own surviving."
This morning, I'm thinking about the prayers and hopes and fears and sorrow from our intercessions during service on Mother's Day yesterday that revolved around our parents: giving thanks to God for mothers, praying for new and expectant parents as they bring a child into the world in this time, grieving the loss of mothers, fathers and grandparents, praying for parents with cancer and elderly parents who do not have long in this world.
There is a Love that is so wide and long and high and deep that it surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18) and encompasses each and every one of us and those we hold most dear. It is that Love that holds us in this vulnerable and uncertain moment, like my mother is holding me in that photo. I pray that you may feel it holding you and your loved ones, whatever today may hold for you.
On days when it’s sunny, I take my old dog-eared copy of Gilead into the park. It’s been years since I’ve read Marilynne Robinson’s novel about a fictional pastor living in a dusty Iowa backwater, writing to his young son as he reflects on life and his own mortality. The book was a huge part of my spiritual formation when I was in college, but I’ve been afraid to pick it up during the pandemic. I used to be so moved by John Ames’ musings on the beauty of the world: “The sprinkler is a magnificent invention because it exposes raindrops to sunshine,” or “Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes–old hands, old eyes, a very diminished Adam altogether, and still it is just remarkable.”
What if they sound trite, or ring hollow, in this new and frightening world? What if this book, which has always been a source of hope and comfort for me, isn’t enough anymore?
What I found instead is that I never before fully appreciated the backdrop of hardship that John Ames is writing into. He reflects on his experience of living through 1918 in terms that sound eerily familiar: “People don’t talk much now about the Spanish influenza, but that was a terrible thing. …. We lost so many of the young people. And we got off pretty lightly. People came to church wearing masks, if they came at all. They’d sit as far away from each other as they could. There was talk that the Germans had caused it with some sort of secret weapon, and I think people wanted to believe that, because it saved them from reflecting on what other meaning it might have... It was just like a biblical plague, just exactly.”
And of course, there is Ames’ purpose for writing in the first place: he knows that he is dying, and that his young son will grow up with very few memories of his father. John Ames is intimately familiar with sorrow and fear and loneliness and all the things that I’ve been feeling over the last few months, and it’s from this knowledge that he still tells his son: “Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.” Knowing this makes his affirmation of life, his delight in God’s small and everyday gifts, seem richer and more full-throated–more meaningful to me than they ever were before.
We want to say a big THANK YOU to Christine's older sister Grace Shim, Executive Director of Cornerstone Counseling Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand and her colleague Kevin Hamp, Psychotherapist who specializes in resilience for joining us on our Zoom call last night. They gave us a simple framework for understanding resilience, the "Resilience Donut" for children & youth and adults that helps us draw from resources we already have access to.
You can download their PDF below, chock full of great resources and links to what they referred to in their presentation.
Sofia is with her mom Martha in upstate New York and we caught up with her to ask a few questions.
Sofia, what have been the gifts of this time of quarantine? What have you enjoyed about it?
It’s nice to have time to do things. Like art projects or bake or really anything you want. And your school day ends when your work is done. It’s amazing how you have time on a Wednesday night when I’d usually have violin practice from 3-5. We’re rushing home, eating dinner, really quickly taking a shower. I don’t have time like this.
I have more time to hang out to my dog Steve. Steve is a totally different dog here. He doesn’t want to snuggle in NY and now he just wants to love you and it’s just amazing. I have class during the week and enrichment activities. I made this car, it was fun. I figured out how to make it on my own. My teachers are really nice.
I see a lot of flowers outside and they’re so beautiful. I pick them all the time because they’re so pretty and so my mom and aunt got me some vases and I started collecting flowers to put in the vases. These are the ones I have right now.
Last Wednesday I made pretzels with my mom. I asked her, “Why don’t we do this at home?” And she said, “Well, we don’t usually have time on a Wednesday night. We’re rushing around and now we have time do that.”
My mom is fun. She lets me do a lot of things. She’s nice, loving and takes care of me.
I miss my dad. He’s not here with me. He’s in NYC and I can only FaceTime chat with him. And it’s hard.
So what do you do when you feel sad?
Sometimes I ask my mom to call my dad. Sometimes I don’t really write but draw my feelings. Sometimes I scribble because I’m angry. I draw a sad person because I’m sad. It’s according to my emotions. Sometimes it makes me feel better but sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone about it. It makes me feel better, to have someone pray for me and I feel like I’m embraced in God and that makes me feel better, like I’m loved.
Living in East Harlem, one of the hotspots for the Covid-19 virus, we don’t venture out often, but when we do - it’s to the park we go. It’s where God meets me, where God whispers words I need to hear. In the park I know nature’s insistence on life. Its demand for spring, after a long winter, is evidenced in the stubborn and glorious emergence of the bud turned blossom. The explosive energy and activity of a new season are nature’s way of telling me life goes on. Lush green foliage and stately trees reaching toward the sky are the sermon song I need to hear when I feel fatigued and overburdened. In a life sheltered in place - knowing the park as sanctuary and refuge is a grace, a sweet and meaningful gift. In so many ways, the park tells me what I need to know. Nature speaks boldly of shifts and turns - of movement and change. It's the message I need to hear again and again - this too shall pass … this too shall pass.
Central Park holds personal significance for my family. Rodney and I were married under a crabapple tree in the South Garden of the Conservatory Garden in 1996. In Central Park, I played with the children of friends when I desperately wanted to be a mother myself. It’s there I found a quiet bench to cry after the news of yet another friend's pregnancy. After making it to the mother hood, I had the pleasure of taking my children for their first swimming lessons at Lasker Pool and the Great Hill near 108th Street, is a fondly remembered meeting place for day-long gatherings with fellow homeschoolers. I trained for my first and only 5k race on the bridle path of the reservoir and in summer, a shady spot on the East Meadow is still our preferred location for early evening dinners. Rodney and I make our way back to that tree regularly, to tune our hearts and minds to a higher frequency when the work of marriage feels too much. It seems I’ve walked out my prayers in Central Park. In the park, God is my companion.
Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
This is perhaps the very first prayer I’d ever learned as a child, kneeling beside my bed, aged six or seven or so. This evening prayer, a Vespers of sorts, was meant to instill a habit of reflecting on the events of the day and building my personal relationship with God. All of this was fine until the one evening I dwelled a little too long on the third line of the rhyming prayer: “If I should die before I ‘wake.” Yikes! All of a sudden the temporary nature of life became a heavy thought for my young brain to process. Understandably, I then had nights of insomnia, afraid to fall asleep for fear that perhaps that night would be the night I die during my slumber. I’m sure at that time I asked mom or dad about death and dying. I’m sure my young brain couldn’t comprehend whatever explanation was given to me. Thankfully that phase of fear passed. Perhaps that’s when I first learned to trust that God would do what’s best to take care of me in both life and death. Perhaps that was what the prayer was meant to do in the first place; comfort my soul, then startle my senses, then reassure me that prayer is a helpful way to grow in spirit and connect with God.
Today, in this uncertain time of quarantine, isolation, and staying home, I’ve had a little too much time to think about that startling childhood question; what if I die? Will I be ready to meet Jesus? What would happen to the people and things I would leave behind? It’s a time of universal uncertainty and I find myself looking for a connection with God in everyday activities like preparing meals, reading or research, spending time with my spouse, learning a new hobby or walking our dog. I’ll admit, around bedtime, my heart has a subtle ache for those in the world who suffer, either from a lack of health, a lack of home, or a lack of happiness. As an adult I rely on that basic childhood evening prayer, (and the improvised “God bless” prayer list that always follows) to help me contemplate the events of the day, give a moment of gratitude, and comfort me for a good night’s sleep.
In researching this traditional bedtime prayer I learned of an additional stanza of the prayer:
If I should live for other days,
I pray thee, Lord, will guide my ways.