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04.07.20 Pastoral Letter

by on April 7, 2020

Dear Faith Family and Friends,

I am writing you this morning to share with you an observation. In my own soul, and in the souls of others close to me, and perhaps in your own soul too, there has been a movement. A few weeks ago the novel coronavirus began to be recognized as a serious threat to our way of life. We had several responses.

  • Some people denied it
  • Others were shocked and panicked
  • Fear and anxiety engulfed many
  • We felt uncertain and anxious

In the past few days I have observed that a new set of emotions and soul-states has emerged. As we have settled into the new reality of social distancing, home schooling, remote worship, and rationing of products and hours at stores, our souls also are settling.

  • Some are experiencing fatigue
  • Others are feeling agitation
  • Resignation and depression have descended upon us

This is what the ancient spiritual guides called the deadly sin of “sloth.” Today many people hear “sloth” and think “laziness,” but that is not accurate. Sloth is not an unwillingness to maintain the practices of a spiritual life. Sloth is the giving up in the middle of the effort. Sloth is a manifestation of hopelessness, of a faltering faith, of a growing despair. I am writing to counter the spiritual condition of slothfulness, of giving up mid-effort.

One of the ways slothfulness creeps into and overcomes our lives is when we have forgotten to rehearse the promises of God. This is easy to do today as we are overwhelmed with the world-wide, twenty-four hour news cycle which is always bad news because advertisers know that is what holds our attention. The promises of God get crowded out among so many compelling voices of doom. Do not let his happen.

This is Holy Week and Passover, and among the primary texts rehearsed by Jews and Christians are the “Hillel” or Praise Psalms of 113-118. You have already heard of Psalm 118 which set the stage for Palm Sunday (see last Sunday’s sermon summary). I encourage you to read these psalms this week. Psalm 116 is my all-time favorite. (The Eucharistic reference will make it obvious to you why.) Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm. Read, meditate upon, paraphrase, or journal about these psalms this week. This will encourage you to keep journeying and avoid sloth.

Another way sloth creeps into our lives is when our soul-life is overly focused on the spiritual, academic, or textual expressions of our faith. Prayer and the study of Scripture are worthwhile practices, but until we get out and serve others, until we make a concrete sacrifice of our own bodily lives, the spiritual life is restricted to the theoretical.

God’s Word became Incarnate in Jesus Christ who lived among us and died as one of us. This is the definitive proof not only that creation is good, but that the spiritual life has everything to do with the material world. Unless we engage this material world, our spiritual lives are vulnerable to the downward slope of sloth. Do something to help someone else, even if it is simply financially supporting a ministry accompanied by prayer. This concrete sacrifice will keep the spiritual life real.

Finally, sloth more easily threatens our soul-life when we turn to “idols” which we hope will help us manage our emotional discomfort. These idols often appear as coping mechanisms in our lives: A doubling down on efforts to control our environment; the turn to alcohol or other substances; a retreat into isolation; the frantic attempt to prepare for any circumstance; the embrace of busyness that precludes solitude, silence, and listening to Spirit.

I am writing you out of my own struggle with these demons. I desire to retreat into a cave until the storm passes by. But I am reminded of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, who was exhausted by the struggle for righteousness, who was driven by the Spirit to a solitary cave only to be directed to stand at the mouth of that cave as the LORD passed by. It was not in the rock-shattering wind, or the earth-shaking quake, or the traditional fire, that the LORD manifested himself, but in the shear silence of a still small voice.

I have to exit my cave where sloth would have me more comfortably withdraw, and there on the outside wait for the storms to pass. And in that place, enduring what sloth would have me avoid, I listen for and hear God’s Word to me.

We have found ourselves in a lonely and drawn place. Do not lose hope. Do not cease to listen. Take the time. Enter the cave. Emerge to the light. Endure the winds, quakes, and fires. Listen for God’s voice. Follow where God leads.

This is not a crisis that will pass quickly. We cannot simply wait this crisis out. We have to adapt to this crisis. We must take these moments of rest—when sloth would tempt us to retreat—to prepare to adjust our lives to a new reality. The sooner we accept this, the more likely we will hear God’s voice, and the more faithful we will be in our response to the crisis that confronts us.

Follow Elijah’s example. Take your time. Enjoy some rest. Get back up. Listen. Follow the Word of God.

My prayers are with you,

Tom

 

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