Text: Genesis 7: 6-16
There are quite a number of 40 days stories in our scriptures. Today and for the next couple of Sundays we’re moving off from where we began with Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, to listen for what some of these other stories have to show us, say to us … how they might inform our own 40 day season of Lent.
So here we are this morning with this short excerpt from the Noah story … where Noah, his family, and all manner of animals are entering the ark as God commanded … and then, as the story goes, we hear, “the Lord shut them in.” Click!!
There’s something about hearing this, isn’t there, in the context of these particular days that can’t help but bring to mind the cruise ship experiences of late, and the growing number of instances of people being quarantined in their homes, in hospital, other isolation units … all manner of people being shut in for a certain length of time …some by choice given their particular vulnerability, and others by the mandate of the health authority. Whatever way it comes, it’s not what we were counting on. Arriving home from a holiday was going to find us resuming our regular routines. Coming into Spring Break meant the arrival of family coming for a visit, or a much anticipated trip away somewhere warm. Quite apart from travel plans, there are these abrupt cancellations of events, or, given the risks, personal decisions to stay home. It’s not what we were counting on … this confinement, this restriction of movement, this limiting of our choices, our options, our desires, our activities, our delights … this sense of being pressed in upon.
How will we be in this time? What will become of us?
Already we’re seeing a whole range of responses … people fearing for their lives, becoming fearful of one another. Others wondering what all the fuss is about. For some it’s way beyond dealing with inconvenience or disappointment … it’s facing job loss and all the fall-out from that. It’s facing the possibility of losing a loved one or one’s own life. For some there’s this heightened awareness of our need to be mindful of one another, caring about each other. How will we be in this time? What will become of us?
What might be there for us as we bring the Noah story alongside our own ark experience at this time -- realizing that for some of us these days it is indeed about being physically enclosed, and for others, it’s at least about abiding by and living within certain limits we’re not ordinarily subjected to. Whatever our circumstance, how might the Noah story speak to us?
The story doesn’t actually take us inside the ark. We’re given instead to see outside …the rain coming down and the water rising up, and the terrible death and destruction that’s unfolding out there. For Noah and company, the ark, it turns out, is a place of safety, of protection, a means of preserving life, not only their own life, but life for future generations. So what if we allowed that perspective into our space … into our physical, our emotional space. Where resentment or agitation or frustration at the loss of our freedom might be the energies rising in us, what might shift for us if our own confinement could be seen, even welcomed for the way it is serving life, even preserving life?
Again, the Noah story doesn’t take us inside the ark … but what if we were to imagine that Noah and all the others were somehow sensing all the death and destruction that’s going on all around them … just as from whatever is our own ark experience these days, we are keenly aware of the death and chaos and the suffering that is happening around the world. And what if we allowed this knowing to register in such a way that moved us to care … to pray for health care workers, for those who are infected, for those who are mourning the death of loved ones. What if our knowing moved us to reach out from where we are with phone calls or emails to others feeling isolated. And for those of us limited but not confined, who needs groceries delivered, or a prescription? From wherever we are, as our compassion is allowed to grow, what creative ways might we find to respond in love, to lend our aid?
Where else might the Noah story take us? It’s not hard to imagine Noah wondering, “how long, O Lord … how long before this is over?” And after days and weeks pass, it’s not hard to imagine him wondering does God even care? Is God even there? Has God abandoned us? These may well be questions that will arise for us as time goes on … these expressions of deep uncertainty … not just about when is this going to be over and where it’s going to leave us … but more unnervingly, is what’s happening, does it even matter to God? Do we matter? It wouldn’t be the first time that people asked those dreaded questions. The Psalms for example are full of what seem to be those experiences, where people have wondered, and waited, and waited and waited. Those same people ultimately find a kind of steadying as they begin to call to mind former times when all seemed lost, and sooner or later, deliverance came. So this practice of recalling … of remembering our own graced history … what if we were deliberate about that practice in the course of this ark experience, these Lenten days?
As it was in the Noah story, so God-willing, the day will come when this particular ark experience will be over and we will emerge into a new reality. What if in and through this time, this strange and frightening time, God is doing a new thing in and through and all around us? How might we allow this time to be a formative and transformative time for us, among us? In the slowing down that is part of this time, in the spaces created because of cancelations, seclusions, how might we build into it contemplative time, reflective time, growing time. What if we didn’t fill it up with distractions that take us away from ourselves but shaped it in ways that allow for deepening connections … with ourselves, with one another, with God. Sounds like the season of Lent to me!! For any of us who may have felt the season slipping away on us … here we are … here it is!
There’s this beautiful poem by Lynn Ungar that’s gone viral in these last few days. You might well have come upon it yourself. In a few poetic lines I hear her doing something of what we’ve been doing with the Noah story … imagining how such a time as this could be reframed allowing us to see in it life-giving possibilities and so to live well in this time. Here’s what she writes:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.