Easter

Lord God,
You loved this world so much,
That you gave your one and only Son,
That we might be called your children too.

Lord, help us to live in the gladness and grace
Of Easter Sunday, everyday.
Let us have hearts of thankfulness
For your sacrifice.

Let us have eyes that look upon
Your grace and rejoice in our salvation.
Help us to walk in that mighty grace
And tell your good news to the world.
All for your glory do we pray, Lord,

Plough: Uncanny Homes – Housebound, We Are Still Wayfarers

Terence Sweeney at Plough writes a bit about spirituality during this pandemic in Uncanny Homes

Last Monday, I watched the crossing guard at the intersection of 47th and Springfield. As with every school day, she stood by the crosswalk ready to keep children safe from speeding cars. There she was with her bright vest, whistle, and stop sign. And there were no children. No one to guard as she kept her lonely vigil. Later in the day, a bus normally filled with employees of the University of Pennsylvania went by that same intersection. The bus was empty, transporting workers who had not left their homes. The bustling bars and cafes on Baltimore Avenue are shuttered just when they should be putting out their sidewalk seating. Rush hour now consists of empty trolley cars; I find myself missing the angry honking of Philadelphians. My parish, St. Francis de Sales, is empty. On Sunday the twenty-five-person choir is at home, the French organ is silent, the ushers have no one to usher, and the pews are bereft. On the sidewalks, people warily pass each other; friends greet each other from a six-foot distance with an awkward wave. And we are all haunted by the knowledge that in hospitals and homes, people are suffering and dying.

Living during a pestilence is living through the experience of the uncanny. The word for uncanny in German is unheimlichkeit. It means not-being-at-home. It doesn’t refer to the experience of being away from home, though. What makes this emotion so disorienting, though, is that one feels not-at-home precisely when one is at home. The ordinary is still there but is just a little off. One feels alienated by the regular. Watching a crossing guard with no one to guard is an experience of the uncanny, of suddenly being estranged by the place that used to make you familiar.

The uncanniness creeps into your house. My home feels less homey; it is the same place but somehow not. In the daytime, it has become an office building: a program coordinator plans programs that won’t happen, an attorney meets with clients on a screen, a housing advocate campaigns for access to homes he cannot visit. I remain at my desk writing or, more often, failing to write. Later I teach a class via video; an experience of an ersatz version of education and connection. My building is an office space, my apartment a classroom. I am homebound in two senses: bound to my home but also not at home and so constantly homeward bound. We are stuck in houses feeling not-at-home.

Perhaps in this Lent – which not only features no alleluias but also no Stations of the Cross at my parish – will be a lesson in being not-at-home. This beautiful world is our pilgrimage because we live here as homo viator, man on the way. We don’t neglect the world; rather, we are to tend to it as our shared path. In the wilderness, people speak of being “keepers of the trail.” We tend to the trail not because it is our home but because we all travel that path. This is wisdom for our whole life. We need to tend to our paths through this world. As Walker Percy puts it, our vocation is to hand each other along.

Perhaps the coronavirus is a reminder that we are on our way together, that undergoing the uncanny speaks to a truth about our life. We are both at home in this world and not at home. Augustine preached often about being on pilgrimage. In a homily for Easter, he told his congregants that when we sing our alleluias here, we sing as wayfarers while our brothers and sisters in heaven sing as those at home. “God praised there; and God praised here. Here by the anxious, there by the carefree . . . here on the way, there at home.” During this Lent and Easter, our sense of not-being-at-home will deepen. It will deepen precisely because we are affixed to our houses that have become our offices. What we are learning is that we must keep traveling in this life to our true home. The psalmist proclaims: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” It is his house that is our true home.

Watching the YouTube clips of Italians singing out of their windows, I think again of Augustine, who tells us to sing “in the way wayfarers are in the habit of singing, sing but keep walking.” Hard labor is lightened by singing, even if that hard labor is being under lockdown. For Augustine, we sing for our true home when we “progress in goodness, in the right faith, in good habits.” We sing when we travel down this weary way towards goodness and when we help each along this way.

We may be trapped in our homes this Lent and Easter and beyond – during this beautiful and haunting springtide. We have to live through the uncanniness of this season of pestilence. We sing despite this anxious feeling of not being at home, because for now our home is the road, until someday our home will be in God’s home. Our task is to keep on the path and to help others on the path. Our task during the uncanny is to sing and to keep walking homeward.

 

Sunday Prayer for Difficult Times

Sovereign Commander of the Universe,
I am sadly harassed by doubts, fears, unbelief, in a felt spiritual darkness.
My heart is full of evil surmisings and disquietude, and I cannot act faith at all.
My heavenly Pilot has disappeared, and I have lost my hold on the Rock of Ages;
I sink in deep mire beneath storms and waves, in horror and distress unutterable.
Help me, O Lord, to throw myself absolutely and wholly on thee, for better, for worse, without comfort, and all but hopeless.
Give me peace of soul, confidence, enlargement of mind, morning joy that comes after night heaviness;
Water my soul richly with divine blessings;
Grant that I may welcome they humbling in private so that I might enjoy thee in public;
Give me a mountain top as high as the valley is low.
Thy grace can melt the worst sinner, and I am as vile as he;
Yet thou hast made me a monument of mercy, a trophy of redeeming power;
In my distress let me not forget this.
All wise God,
They never-failing providence orders every event, sweetens every fear, reveals evil’s presence lurking in seeming good, brings real good out of seeming evil, makes unsatisfactory what I set my heart upon, to show me what a short-sighted creature I am, and to teach me to live by faith upon thy blessed self.
Out of my sorrow and night give me the name Naphtali — ‘satisfied with favor’ — help me to love thee as thy child, and to walk worthy of my heavenly pedigree.

The Valley of Vision