Is this what the wilderness feels like?

The last couple of days have been interesting. We started out yesterday morning monitoring the potential effects on our church and personal lives from COVID-19 and we ended today with a resolve to do all we can to decrease the threat for those around us and the people we love.

I’ve been surprised with some of things I’ve felt along the way.

Confession. I’m not really a germophobe at all. My kids have eaten off the floor as well as consumed totally disgusting things that I won't give too much detail about. Yuck. Five second rule is in full effect at our house! We share drinks on the regular. We hug and are affectionate often. We overall live pretty freely when it comes to stuff like this. After all, it builds a good immune system, right?

But there is something about this virus that just feels different. It's a bit perplexing and causes me to err on the side of caution. In some ways, I feel like we are waiting on a hurricane - living in that tough place of making wise decisions and not overreacting while also trying to gather as much information as possible to respond faithfully when it is time to do more. At least with a hurricane you can evacuate. With a pandemic, there's nowhere to go but away from other people. It's tricky to say the least.

On the smallest of levels, we've been disappointed. As pretty big sports fans and lovers of March Madness, it really stinks that we won't get to pull for both of our basketball teams who had a chance to make it pretty far in the tournament. We won't be able to have the fellowship of the bracket challenge group filled with smack talk and camaraderie. We won't have the chance to chew our nails to the quick as Auburn takes us to the final seconds or overtime in every game. It will certainly be better for our blood pressure, but it will be a whole different kind of March Madness. It's truly not important in the grand scheme of things, but when you have a 16 year old who believes basketball is life, it's tough.

There have already been other disappointments in the last couple of days too.

Gatherings that only happen once a month or every year canceled.

Stores selling out of toilet paper. Still dumb-founded by that one.

I went to Wal-Mart today and there were no self-checkout lanes open. That's how you know things are getting serious when there are regular checkout lanes open at Wal-mart!

Starbucks isn't allowing people to bring in their reusable cups.

Hand sanitizer is just gone and can't be found anywhere.

Criticism for people's decisions abound.

"Social distancing" is now a normal part of our speech.

And this is the one that grieves me the most especially as we started to consider what this means for us in the church. The church in it's purest form is the total opposite of social distancing. We are to love one another and that often involves an embrace or handshake. We're called to gather together in the same room. Our goal is to minister to others without fear. To take care of the sick. To lay hands on one another in prayer.

This isn't just a health crisis, it's a theological one. How can we live out our faithful witness as a church with these restrictions? At first, that felt impossible. An incarnate faith to some extent requires physical presence with the people of God. The common cup is a sharing in the blood of Christ. Passing the peace is fundamental to reconciling with our brothers and sisters. Loving on each other, as we Southerners like to say, is church.

When we began to consider stripping those things down to the bare minimum, it physically hurt my heart. I know firsthand how integral these things are to my experience of God and what they mean to others. To consider taking those away, felt like we were denying them the fullness of Christ. Sounds dramatic, but it was painful. So much so that we had to walk away from the conversation, grab a bite to eat, and grieve.

It all felt/feels eerily like the wilderness. Isn't it ironic that our churches and communities are being forced into these conversations during the season of Lent?

The Old Testament lectionary reading for this week is the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering around in the desert. They are thirsty and cranky. They are over this whole wilderness thing and they are letting Moses know. Moses throws his hands in the air. God calms him and tells him to take his staff, press on and water will be found in the most unlikely place, a rock.

The last day has shown me that water can be found even in the midst of the wilderness. I've felt my spirit shift. I've felt God saying church can still happen, it will just look different. Love can take on a lot of forms and for this season in the wilderness, it looks like this...

Elbow bumps and peace signs flashed across the sanctuary.

Extra pre-cautions to limit the amount of touches that offering plates and communion bread get.

Considering the most vulnerable and doing everything in our power to stay well in order to minister to them should the need arise.

Lots and lots of handwashing.

NBA players and owners compensating concession workers.

Government officials considering ways to lessen the financial burden on its citizens.

Younger church members joyfully stepping into roles that older church members usually take on to protect them.

Scientists working around the clock to find a cure.

Live-streaming worship services and staying connected through social media.

Healthcare personnel risking their health to care for others.

Thoughtful, proactive responses in the face of criticism.

It sure feels like the wilderness, but I also know good things can happen there. God provides manna. God provides water. God provides a cloud by day and a fire by night.

My prayer for this season of unknown, doubt and the potential for a lot of us to just be downrigtht cranky is to look for God in the wilderness.

Find the sources of water.

Be still and know the presence of God.