A Letter From Pastor Anita: Quarantine
Quarantine- noun, period of imposed isolation verb, to impose isolation
Most of us have never been quarantined before. In 2013, we watched from a safe distance as parts of Africa were quarantined and borders of countries closed to prevent the spread of Ebola. The country of Ghana had no Ebola cases that year because they self-isolated, while the neighboring countries were ravaged by the disease. The stories of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic have been told and retold lately, many hoping that past lessons will inform today’s actions. We have heard the comparison of Philadelphia, that was overwhelmed by the disease after holding the Liberty parade, while St. Louis “flattened the curve” isolating in their homes. In San Francisco it was considered “patriotic” to wear a mask, even more to “stay home.”
We have heard the stories and read the news reports. They are all very interesting, but it is another thing to live in the midst of the story that people will read years from now. What we are going through will be the study of college and grad school classes. Scientists and social scientists will write papers about us. In many ways we are like test subjects in a global study for which we did not volunteer. About now, most of us would like to quit the study. We have developed what the social scientists now call “quarantine fatigue.” Many articles have been written about how to help children cope with the current reality. But I think children of all ages are struggling.
The other day a father told me the story of how his 7-year-old son described the current reality. He said, “Dad, this is like a game of Sharks and Minnows. We are the minnows just waiting for the sharks to eat us.” I remember playing sharks and minnows at the community swimming pool. The goal was to swim from one side of the pool to the other without being tagged by the “shark” in the middle. Once tagged the “minnow” would become a “shark.” I could hold my breath, so I would swim along the bottom of the pool and thus escape capture for a long time. But eventually there were more sharks than minnows so there was no escape. Some of us are not sure whether the virus or the economic challenges will get us first; either way we know the feeling of being a minnow in a shark infested pool.
Quarantine fatigue is so much more than just boredom. Many of us are stressed, anxious, frustrated, lonely, overwhelmed, angry… you can add your descriptor to the list. Some are demanding that our leaders create a timeline for the next steps so that we can prepare and look forward to the world beginning to open up again. But our leaders shy away from specifics, because they don’t know when… or what will happen when… So what do we do in the waiting?
In Old Testament times, the people of God struggled with that same question. They were living in exile in Babylon, stolen away from their homeland by the Assyrians. They were not quarantined, but they were forced into a reality not of their own choosing. The Psalmist captures their pain in Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
But sing they must… and they did… St. Augustine once wrote, “To sing is to pray twice.” Throughout the ages, God has blessed his people with the gift of music to give the heart a language beyond words.
The other day I listened to a group of musicians from churches across the United Kingdom who offered a blessing to their nation. I invite you to listen to the beauty of their prayer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUtll3mNj5U . If you cannot click the link to experience the music, imagine over 50 voices creating a heavenly harmony with the lilt of a British accent, singing the ancient blessing from Numbers 6:24:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Every Sunday the Lord’s song rises up from Lenape Valley onto the airways of the internet, inviting people to sing the Lord’s song, even in this foreign reality. Monday through Friday at 7pm, the Lord’s song is raised again during evening prayer on Facebook live. And I would imagine that some of you raise the Lord’s song in your shower, or perhaps you listen to the Lord’s song as you walk or exercise. Sing we must… and sing we do… Invite someone to join you this week in the song!