[Christ] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
--Colossians 1:17 NRSV
Are feeling lonely?
If so, I don’t think you are the only person feeling this way. You are in good company.
My sense is that now that the tumultuous (and violent) election season is over the attention of the media and maybe many of us has turned to the pandemic. With the volume of presidential politics turned down, we can hear again the cries of pain—physical, emotional, spiritual—that come from living during this pandemic. We can focus upon the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and the stress that comes with the knowledge that an unseen killer could be anywhere around us at any time. Even if we are healthy and living without great anxiety about the virus, I believe all of us still having it in the back of our minds somewhere like an itch we just can’t quite scratch.
I hoped that the vaccines would begin rolling out around the first of the year and by mid-Spring we would see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am grateful for the people I know who have received vaccinations (at least the first dose), but the news isn’t as good as I thought it would be regarding vaccine distribution. There are a lot of issues at every level of government and issues with production and distribution in the private sector. I have come to realize we have longer to wait for this to be over than I had hoped.
Grappling with this reality means we have to once again dig deeper into our already depleted stores of energy, willpower and faith. If you wonder where that energy and strength is going to come from, because you already used up your stores of it, just know you are not alone. Really, you are not in this alone.
When I struggle with feeling alone and isolated, I try to remember that the separateness I feel is an illusion, a product of my limited senses, a result of a wrongheaded belief that I, myself, am distinct from the world around me. Physicists explain that even our sense of self is a construct of our minds. The cells in our bodies are literally changing every second to the extent that the matter that makes us up is constantly being shed, transformed. The microscopic stuff that makes up our bodies is literally always transferring into the stuff around us including the people around us and ultimately even the people geographically far from us. The very matter of the universe is always connected. No less than Albert Einstein wrote about our limited perception of separateness. He wrote, “We are part of the whole which we call the universe, but it is an optical delusion of our mind that we think we are separate. This separateness is like a prison for us. Our job is to widen the circle of our compassion so we feel connected with all people and situations.”
This interconnected reality is what mystics have always been trying to help us see. The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich said, “We are all one in God's seeing.” This is the truth modern spiritual writers that I resonate with proclaim. Episcopal priest Crystal Hardin writes, “While fear wants us to believe we are alone, faith knows differently.” For me the physicist, the mystic and the minister all are saying the same thing—we are not really alone.
We are interconnected at a physical and spiritual level. This is good news, because when we feel alone, out of energy, like we can’t go on, like we are drained and exhausted, we have the energy, love, faith, hope and all those other good things belonging to a multitude of others near and far to draw upon. This is the process that is happening when we pray for one another. It’s like molecules of energy that pass through the very walls around us—material and spiritual—to connect us one to another. The very love we have for one another is more than just a feeling or interaction of chemicals inside of our brains but a primal force animating the universe.
Christianity calls this primal force of connection in the universe, this energy which connects us one to another, this interconnected network of love which binds us one to another across time and space by the names God, Christ, Holy Spirit and so on. In the letter to the Colossians, there are a few majestic verses that Bible scholars believe was a Christian hymn which the author is quoting. It gets at this amazing truth that all of us is a part of everything because Christ holds all things together and reconciles all things to God. The New Revised Standard Version translates the poetry of this hymn into English as follows:
[Christ] is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers
—all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.
One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, puts it this way about what unites us together. (Please forgive the masculine pronouns.)
Heaven knows terrible things happen to people in this world. The good die young, and the wicked prosper, and in any one town, anywhere, there is grief enough to freeze the blood. But from deep within whatever the hidden spring is that life wells up from, there wells up into our lives, even at their darkest and maybe especially then, a power to heal, to breathe new life into us. And in this regard, I think, every man is a mystic because every man at one time or another experiences in the thick of his joy or his pain the power out of the depths of his life to bless him. I do not believe that it matters greatly what name you call this power—the Spirit of God is only one of its names—but what I think does matter, vastly, is that we open ourselves to receive it; that we address it and let ourselves be addressed by it; that we move in the direction that it seeks to move us, the direction of fuller communion with itself and with one another.
You may feel alone today, but the truth is you are not alone. There is something that is in you but also that is greater than you, something that is in everything else there is, something that connects you with everyone else. We humans, with our limited senses, have moments when we cannot sense this greater reality of being connected to one another. Such moments are frequent in times like the ones we are living in, physically isolated from one another due to this pandemic.
Trust science, trust scripture, trust faith, trust God, trust that you are not alone this day despite whatever it is in you which feels otherwise.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851