2nd June 2020

The Space Between - Quarantine

(from www.churchofscotland.org.uk)


Jeremiah 29:1,4-7

Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles in Babylon
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

The prophet Jeremiah is given a message to take to the exiles in Babylon - Gods people - driven from their own land, taken into captivity and forced to live in a foreign culture. These were people wondering how to be the people of God in a foreign land, wondering how long they will remain in captivity and how they can ever maintain some sort of identity as the people of God when removed from all that is familiar to them. The message Jeremiah proclaims is one of encouragement to put down some roots where they find themselves:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.
The message to these people is that their business is not to mark time. It's not about holing up and waiting for release, waiting for things to get better. Their business is to LIVE where they are - in the midst of death and destruction.
Although they find themselves in a border land not of their choosing, their task is to discover God in that place with them.
And - To affect the culture in which they find themselves, to make a difference right where they are.
Is it too incredible to imagine that a message written some 2,500 years ago to Gods people in exile has any relevance for the people of God today?
Scattered as we are, locked out of our normal meeting places, devoid of many of the tools with which we normally practice faith, our task, no matter how irrelevant or how marginalised we perceive ourselves to be is to find new ways to positively affect the culture around us.
And to remember and discover anew that it is often in the margins, under stress, that creativity comes to the fore.
I’m not sure that that’s all about taking what we do on a Sunday morning behind sometimes locked doors online. Or about planning how we get everyone safely back into our buildings and what we’ll do there when we emerge. Of course that may be part of it but not at the expense of actually connecting with and impacting the community and the culture around us in the midst of lockdown.

A word I loved to use when I worked in Hospital Chaplaincy is liminal.
For me, that word described perfectly the interface in which I often found myself working - encompassing faith and ritual and tradition and superstition - straddling the chasm that folk often felt when their experience of life and faith to date no longer accommodated the place they found themselves in the landscape of illness - their own or that of a loved one.
That place where there were no easy answers - or any answers at all.
Liminal - a place of transition, a border land.
According to the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia: “During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.“

In the liminal space in which we find ourselves, locally and globally today, how and where are we finding and signposting God in the midst?
And how is the God we glimpse sitting beside us calling us to be authentic people of faith, a people continually on the move - not simply waiting until we can safely get everyone back in the building and continue where we left off, but a people called to practice faith where we are - listening to the voices of those around - those who are thriving through pandemic restrictions and those whose worst nightmares are coming to fruition? Listening so that we can straddle the gaps with all those in very different places.

The natural human response is to resist liminality and to strive backward to the old familiar identity, or forward to the unknown identity. The ambiguity and disorientation are at times so heightened that the very work required to move forward becomes impossible to engage.
Susan Beaumont: How to lead when you don’t know where you are going

That sounds just about right for the church right now.
There are, inevitably, those who are simply waiting, however long it takes, for things to “get back to normal”. And others, who see possibilities to change everything. And still others who are experiencing such disillusionment with the institutional church, along with systems of justice and government that any way beyond the mess we’re in seems impossible.

Perhaps our task is not so much to learn how to be in a new normal or to plan for a changed future but to listen and listen well - to God and to our community - so that we might discern how to engage with those we are called to be alongside now, seeking prosperity in this land in which we are all exiles.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

Posted by liz crumlish (Co-ordinator)

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