We are in a global pandemic in which approximately 792,000 people worldwide have died from COVID-19. Our country is in the middle of an unbelievable Presidential election season and we are dealing with the rising awareness of systemic racism on a national scale. In my home state of California, we are in our sixth month of shelter-in-place and there is no clear sense of when it will end.
Earlier this week, we had an insane lightening storm which sparked several wildfires and more thunderstorms are in the forecast. As of today, over 7700,000 acres of Northern and Central California are burning, smoke is filling the air, and just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse—it is literally raining ashes.
Some days I feel like I can barely catch my breath before I receive another notification on my phone about a breaking news story, the death of a friend, or an unexpected diagnosis—all of these happened in the past 7 days. This is not normal. Honestly, I don’t think I would bat an eye if I saw the silhouette of Godzilla on the horizon. It might actually feel normal—like “Of course Godzilla is here! What else was I expecting?”
Maybe the better question is this—“Who else was I expecting?” Am I expecting God to show up or am I really expecting Godzilla?
Some days I wonder where God is in all of this chaos. It’s easy to forget that God is in control, especially when things seem to be spiraling into unfamiliar territory. It’s just as easy to forget to pray. Not just for healing, wisdom, patience, endurance, rain, reconciliation, or even just a moment to breathe, because I do pray for those things—but to pray for a constant awareness of God’s very real presence with us.
When I catch myself only praying for things, circumstances, and people, I realize I am trying to control the situation. It’s all well-intended and it isn’t wrong to pray for any of those things, in fact prayer is the means by which God invites us into the holy and mysterious work of restoration and reconciliation. The question I have to ask myself is whether things go my way or not, whether God intervenes in the way I ask Him to or not, do I believe that God is with me right now and do I believe that He is good.
We cannot forget that in the midst of all of it, God is very near and God is very good.
As I mentioned, it’s been a challenging week. Things have felt heavy. I text my friend that I just felt sad, to which she responded “It’s the right reaction to what’s going on in the world.” I thought about that for about 30 minutes and replied, “Is there a wrong response?” She sent me a gif (because she’s my friend and she knows me so so well). The gif pictured Emmet from the LEGO Movie jumping around with the caption “Everything is AWESOME” and said “Maybe this???”
She is right and everything is not awesome right now, but the reality of my circumstances doesn’t change the reality of God. Tuesday morning, right in the middle of the hardest day, during our normal staff meeting, I got a sweet reminder.
My friend Lauren walked us through a Jesuit spiritual practice, which originated with St. Ignatius. The practice was called Looking at God Looking at You. I’d never heard of it before, but I had just learned about St. Ignatius in a History class, so I was surprisingly open to participating. We spent 15 minutes imagining ourselves looking at God, who is in fact looking at us. It’s an intriguing concept to imagine and focus on—God looking at us.
I won’t share everything from that 15 minutes of peaceful reflection and contemplation, but if you promise not to tease me, I will share a poem I wrote during that short space. It doesn’t rhyme, but it resonated in my spirit.
I look up in awe
There you are
Here you are
There you are
In wonder, I behold you
Even before my gaze turned up
You delighted in me
You delight in me still
In your gaze I know
I am loved
When I look away I know
I am loved
Even when I go
I remain in awe that You would love and delight in me
Whether I looked up at you in wonder
I share this because I know when things are heavy and chaotic, I sometimes forget that God is near, that God is good, and that God loves me. Everything doesn’t have to be awesome for us to focus on the truth of God’s presence, love, and grace. We can feel sad in God’s presence. We can mourn with our friends who are hurting. We can ask God to heal those who are sick. It’s called lamenting and it is the right reaction to what’s going on in the world—the world God created and cares for deeply.
As we allow ourselves space to lament, grieve, doubt, and cry out—let us also allow ourselves space to hope and trust that God is with us in it all. God sees us and cares for us. Even as it is raining ashes, God is making all things new.