Friday, April 24, 2020


Dear People of Holy Comforter, 

       During this challenging time, we have been asking: what’s the Christian thing to do during and after a pandemic? In times of challenge, we are apt to disintegrate a bit. If we find ourselves falling apart and see each other falling apart, that is not an occasion of judgment but for a bit of tenderness, a basic compassion for ourselves and each other. That disintegration can be an opportunity to grow, to become stronger, better, more fully human. Over the long haul it feels better to be growing toward a greater wholeness than we have known before. All the psychological tools for coping are fine. But we’ll get through this better if we are not just maintaining but growing toward wholeness and that happens through the intentional practice of Christian virtues. Virtues are habits of the heart, disciplined practices that over time become our very characters. 
     We started with the four cardinal virtues: Prudence (facing facts, living in the real world); Fortitude (courage, strength, endurance); Justice (treating everyone as if they matter); and Temperance (serenity, self-control). We started there because that’s where the most down to earth practical action happens. But the four cardinal virtues are intimately related to the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. Their relationship is reciprocal. On one hand, the Cardinal Virtues grow out of and express the Theological Virtues. On the other hand, practicing the Cardinal Virtues flowers in an experience of the Theological Virtues. That is my hope for you (for all of us) in this pandemic. 
     Last week we considered the first theological virtue, Faith, which isn’t an unreasoned assent to doctrines, but giving our heart to God, trusting God to make meaning out of the seemingly chaotic disruptions of life, to bring us through and make us whole.
     This week, we turn our attention to the second theological virtue, Hope, a most important virtue to practice in the face of discouraging news. Hope is the strength to get out of bed in the morning, to take the next step in our journey even when we can’t see – especially when we can’t see – where the journey leads. Hope flows out of faith in the goodness and the faithfulness of God.[i]  The Bible teaches us, “(F)aith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”[ii] Where are we to look for hope when the 24/7 news networks are so grim? No one has answered that question better than Emily Dickinson,

Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

There are two key points in that poem. The first is that Hope isn’t a doctrine laid on us from outside by some authority. It’s already there “perched” in our souls. The reason we are apt to get lost in our anxieties is that we get distracted, we forget to stop and check in with our soul, the serene center, the core of our being. Finding hope starts with getting back in touch with who we are. We name our fears, acknowledge them, but don’t identify with them. We are not our fears. We then take time to be still and present to our deeper selves. God gave each of us a soul, a center, a core self that runs deeper than our fantastical thoughts and panicky feelings. The soul is like a tree with its roots reaching down deep into God. Hope perches in that tree.
     The second point is that Hope is God’s gift to us precisely for times like these.
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea –

Hard times have come and gone before. There have been countless epidemics and at least 20 major plagues in history.[iii] That isn’t to say, “This is no big deal.” It is a big deal. But it has happened before and we have survived. It is to say that God gives us Hope not for the soft times but for these hard times. 

     The early 19th/ late 20th Century Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, echoed Emily Dickinson but also tells us a bit more about hope. “Faith” he said, “is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” Hope sings in the darkness because it feels the light coming. Tagore refers to something we have all heard. At the darkest hour, the birds begin to sing welcoming a dawn that does not yet appear. They “feel the light” coming. Their song of hope is the core of Christian life. Hope is a gift of God. The Bible says:
                 “Blessed be the God and Father 
                  of our Lord Jesus Christ for 
                  by his great mercy we have been born anew
                  to a living hope through the resurrection
                  of Jesus Christ from the dead.”[iv]

I have prayed that prayer every day for decades now. When I first prayed it, encounters with pervasive corruption, duplicity, and violence had led me to wrap myself in a protective cloak of despair. The prayer did not encourage me then. It tore something open in me that exposed me to the vulnerability of life. Hope isn’t a security blanket. It is something far braver. It calls us back to life. 

     Hope is God’s gift, but it is also a discipline, a practice, a decision. The world teaches us despair. Just watch the cable news. But Christians dare to believe God instead of the world. Hope isn’t a naïve optimism that things will go well. It is faith that no matter how bad it gets, God is waiting on the other side, like the dawn waiting just beyond the darkest hour. Choosing to live in hope is how we accept God’s gift. 

     Now look what God is offering us. It isn’t just that things will get back to normal. It’s far bigger than that. The darkness, the ordeal, is the labor and delivery of our larger lives, our fuller being, our new selves. “By his great mercy we have been born anew.” When the old life has disintegrated, the new life is at hand. Our old life is a cocoon that breaks open sot that a more beautiful life can begin. Do we dare to believe that God is even more fully present in that new life? That is the promise we trust. Trusting God’s promise is what faith means. 
     “For I know the plans I have for you, 
      declares the Lord, plans to prosper you 
      and not harm you give youhope and a future. 
     Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,  
      and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me
      when you seek me with all your heart.”[v]

     Brothers and sisters, none of us knows how long this pandemic will last or how great a toll it will take. The same is true of the economic impact. But this is the opportunity for us as individuals and a society to discover grace, the grace that not only heals but transforms. We will not come out of this the same. By God’s grace, which we accept through practice of virtues like Hope, we can become better. We have nothing less than the promise of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead in which to place our trust and invest our Hope. 

Blessings always,
Bishop Dan

[ii] Hebrews 11: 1
[iv] I Peter 1: 3
[v] Jeremiah 29: 11-13