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Slamming on the Brakes

By Jo Tsamaidis

For the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Fr. Bill shared his sermon We Are in this Together, where he asked several parishioners to share a brief encounter, an image, or a feeling that relates to the following passage: I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. (John 14:15-20).

As a mother of three children, I have often found myself searching for answers to satisfy curious, young, minds. Taking that daily dive down the rabbit hole of quarantine life, I was reminded of a question that my son James asked me a few years ago. “Mom, why can’t I feel the earth spinning?” I immediately felt the need to consult a higher power to answer that one! I quickly grabbed my phone and called upon that great god of information – Google. Here is what I came up with:

“The earth spins on its axis once in every 24-hour day. You cannot feel it because you and everything else – including Earth’s oceans and atmosphere – are spinning along with the Earth at the same constant speed. It is only if Earth stopped spinning, suddenly, that we would feel it. Then it would be a feeling like riding along in a fast car and having someone slam on the brakes!”

When I reflect on how the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, I cannot help but think we all have experienced that sensation of having someone “slam on the brakes”. In John 14:15, we hear that God will not leave us as orphans, and yet often, following traumatic events, we feel a sense of loss so keenly that we wonder indeed whether God is with us and the world is still spinning. History has taught us that we will often remember and retell the story of exactly what we were doing when we heard the news of a national or international tragedy. The gravity of this pandemic became very real for me when I heard that countries were closing their borders. My husband Harry and I moved to America six weeks after we married, twenty years ago. While we have built our life and raised our own family here, eventually becoming citizens, our parents and extended family are all in Australia. Never in our lives have we experienced closed borders. It magnifies the sense of loss we feel in the physical separation from our loved ones.

In the early days of this crisis, my curiosity for all things COVID-19 grew daily. All manner of helpful information appeared in the 24-hour news cycle and online to support and explain this new reality. The pressure to “know” what was going on was overwhelming but the god of information was failing to deliver. Increasingly, I needed to face the essential truth embodied in the words of John 14:19 – Because I live, you also will live. Specifically, I wondered:

  • How can I live through this pandemic, love through it, hope through it, especially in the face of widespread death and suffering?
  • Where can I find peace when the world is mired in confusion and discord, self-absorption, and hoarding?
  • How can I be helpful to others when I am not considered essential? Does that mean I should sit at home, bake banana bread, and binge watch Netflix or was I being called to relate in new ways?

Once again, I felt the full weight of the breaks slamming on the comfortable routines of my life. For me, it was in that moment, Jesus showed up, miraculously popping his head out of the Holy Trinity.  I realized that this global pandemic It is not something “out there” to merely acknowledge or understand like some distant or unknown god. It is a new world and I needed to be in it, working through it. This could only happen in relationship with others although we would be limited by that strange paradox that supports social distancing; we must keep our distance to show how much we care. I needed to get creative in adopting new structures that would support my family, my friendships, my church, and my community. I realized that this new pace of life, required all new, “love God, love your neighbor routines” that Jesus advocated and lived by. That gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, would also play a role in this new reality. I was reminded recently as I reflected on John 14:17, that the Holy Spirit is a kind of “backup generator” that dwells in us and is with us. Even in those times when we feel overwhelmed or weak, like our power supply has been cut, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to kick-in, accomplishing more that we could have imagined. What a gift!

On the home front, I could finally fall in with a new pace of life without the pressure of having to “know” what was coming next. Rather than strangle my relationships with strict rules or color-coded schedules, I encourage space, grace, and flexibility in our family’s daily routines. We fulfill our obligations, but we make time for sleep-ins, family walks, books, and movie marathons. My husband Harry is providing for us financially often working up to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week preparing his workplace for people to re-enter it safely. We are asked to stay home but this reminds me of all those essential workers who are leaving the safety of their home every day to provide for our basic needs; to save lives and livelihoods. My daughter Sophie studies the pandemic statistics daily. As a person gifted in noticing the small details of life that others often overlook, she enjoys studying the trends and details of the pandemic.  I am thankful that there are likeminded people taking care over small details when it comes to the study of symptoms, treatments, and vaccines.  My son James has developed a love of baking and he likes to share it with the neighbors, leaving it on their doorstep. He makes us laugh with his warm nature and sense of fun. I am thankful for those on the front lines who have that gift of mercy, for those who can care for others when they cannot care for themselves and for those who can bring levity and light to dark places. My daughter Victoria sings, plays, and brings her gifts of joy and compassion to our home. I am in awe of those who bring joy through their gifts of music whether it be in worship right here at CCC or in communion virtually across the nation and the world. As for me, I try to find time every day to text and call my family in Australia and my friends locally, checking in with them in meaningful personal ways, offering the hospitality of listening and prayer.

In our community, here at Christ Church Cranbrook, I have been amazed to see the clergy and ministry leaders, continue to grow our mission especially by reaching into the wider community. They have fostered new lay ministries and the fellowship of the members, all while offering new and creative ways to worship. “Pajama Church” with Fr Bill, Claire and family has been a treat for my family. While we miss the in person gathering, we enjoy the change of pace. We have savored the joy of virtual choirs. My children are engaged several times a week in wonderful zoom gatherings. I am thankful for both Kellie Herdade and Kate Bell who adopted and adapted with love and good spirit, the technology which has inspired such events as “Cooking with Kellie”, “Win it Wednesday”, and Friday Sunday School. These are genuine “I love you” routines that make a difference, soothing the confusion and uncertainty of their disrupted lives.  I am also personally thankful for the Lectionary Bible Study that I participate in most days and lead on Thursdays. It has been a constant and a comfort; a place where fellow members study, laugh, debate, and support one another. That is a little glimpse of heaven right there!

As I think about all that has changed and I celebrate God’s presence in the middle of it, I think perhaps I appreciate in a new way that God does not leave us as orphans. Our world not only spins but grows in love and compassion. We survive and thrive. While we do see dark places, we need not suffer alone. I realize that it is possible to emerge from suffering changed; more loving, more compassionate, less concerned with whether the world is spinning and more concerned with the pace at which it is making its way around the Son- God’s son, Jesus Christ.   I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite authors, J.R.R Tolkien. I share them in closing: “The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps the greater.”