It’s been so long since I have seen all of you; and although this present experience of “seeing” you, of being with you through these words is far from fully satisfying (for me), this process delights me. At the outset, though, I must offer a fair warning: I may just babble. Gretchen, my dog, has been my primary companion all these months, and I must say that I have found her to be an immensely forgiving and generous listener. That is to say for her almost anything goes. She thinks all of my theological insights are brilliant, and, perhaps more importantly, she totally agrees with all my rantings. I can’t expect that of you but won’t complain should you follow her lead.
It’s Lent. Lord, have mercy. A huge part of me on Ash Wednesday wanted to scream, “Lent? You’ve got to be kidding me. Like we haven’t had enough Lent since March 2020 to last a lifetime?” And, yet I know that what is true for me is likely true for many of you: one of the truths that has comforted me during this long siege has been the quiet permanence of our church rhythm, lived as differently this year from what we have known as we can imagine.
As I began to write this note, which is more intentionally “religious” than anything I’ve written in a while, an encounter in the life of Jesus came to my mind. Scripture tells us that the ‘good thief’, hanging on a nearby cross, implores, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In just a few weeks we shall be reminded of the context of this tender request amidst all the cacophonous horror of Golgatha. I am struck by how non-aspirational his entreaty is, how little, on first hearing, he seems to ask: “Remember me,” he says. “Not get me out of this mess,” not offering a quickly assembled list of sins or excuses, not even a request to be forgiven, just these two simple, life-affirming words: “remember me.”
Remembrance. It’s huge; it keeps us—and those we love—alive.
In my own grief over the last two years, remembering has not been a trick or a slight of hand to make something unreal seem real. It has been a lifeline, a line, which embodies and gives life to the one not present and, indeed, to me. A moment recalled, sometimes hilarious or tender or even very sad, can be so alive and present that the absence of literally touching and seeing is not just bearable but replete with joy and life.
Like almost every other Christian in the world, Lent always directs my thinking to my prayer life. My words about it are utterly boring and trite: “my prayer is not what it should be, it’s scattered, it’s not expansive enough, it’s all about me.” When I start that litany, it would surprise me if Jesus does not feel, as Anne Lamott once suggested he might, “like drinking gin straight out of the cat dish.” Who could blame him? Whine, whine, whine.
Amazingly, though, the pandemic has given me a new perspective on intercessory prayer, obviously just one kind of prayer but one with which I usually begin and sometimes end. The only thing about intercessory prayer about which I am 100% certain is that its practice brings me closer to the persons on whose behalf I am interceding. I have a literal list of those I remember in prayer each morning. I truly don’t know how it works, don’t know how or if God is physically interventional, and frankly suspect not; but oh my Lord, how it comforts ME to remember those on my list and to know that I am on some of theirs. I freely associate about what I hope for them. Sometimes it is as simple as the Buddhist notion, “I hope that he or she lives with ease;” sometimes it is more specific, “I hope this one about whom I care can be as healthy today as possible.” And on and on I go, remembering and hoping.
Some have lost the one most loved; some are sick, some feel lost and may be, some are frightfully anxious, many are alone and most are sometimes lonely. God remembers; you remember, I remember.
And somehow it makes all the difference in the world.