March 26, 2020

Working From The "Cloffice"

Over the last two weeks, I have been working from home just like many of you who are fortunate enough to continue working while we practice social distancing. We're doing this, of course, in order to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. I converted a corner of my closet into a makeshift office so that my frequent calls and video conferences would not interrupt the rest of my family who are also at home.

The trouble with the "cloffice," which is what I have donned my now closet/office combo, is that there are no windows. I never realized, until now, how important natural light is to keeping track of time. I have found that with the lack of change of scenery day in and day out, I sometimes forget when I talked to someone about one thing or another. Was it today? Yesterday? 3 days ago? (This is where my teenagers would insert a joke about old age.)

Which brings me to something that I have been thinking about lately, how will we mark time during our quarantine experiences? I have not found that passing the day by binge-watching news updates does anything but increase my anxiety. How will we mark time during this experience?

During the Cold War, C.S. Lewis was asked to write an essay in response to the public fear of a nuclear attack. In his essay he wrote,

"If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds."

What fear tends to do to us is convince us that we are powerless, that there is nothing we can do to respond to whatever impending doom we perceive. Lewis is saying that the best antidote for fear is contribution. Creating something, connecting with others. And I would add that the best way to contribute is by doing this routinely.

If you find yourself, like so many of us, cooped up at home and trying to figure out how to manage, find some routines; movements from one thing to another. Humans are not intended to be sedentary, we need changes. Change is how we mark the passing of time. The movement from one experience, one activity to another is how we know we have moved from moment to another.

It would be easy to despair in a time like this. The worldwide impact of this virus is frightening. The reaction by our government, both state and federal, is enraging. If I want to continue contributing as Lewis encourages,  I have found it critically important to tend to the rituals, rhythms and routines of my life. This has proven true throughout my life but certainly even more so now as, like so many of you, I will be occupying a solitary space for at least a few weeks.

I have found that is important for me to get up in the morning and go for a run. When I get home, I make coffee, pray, write and read. After that I would typically wake everyone up and start getting all of us ready for the day. Not these days. Now everyone else can sleep in and I take a shower, get dressed and start my day. It marks that a new day has started and, somehow, the more consistent I am with the routines I have makes room for others. Rituals, routines and rhythms make room for others.

But there is one routine in particular I want ritual mentioned above that I want to spend some time with. Prayer.

Lewis mentions prayer as a way to contribute. It is a way in which we can contribute too. Prayer may have a bad rep' these days. Anytime a tragedy occurs, you can anticipate someone will express social media outrage at the phrase, "thoughts and prayers." Yet, St. Athanasius of Alexandria (look him up) wrote, "Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer." That is to say, Christians have throughout centuries believed that prayer matters and it is our "work." Certainly, there are Scriptural references to humans changing the mind of God through conversation (I'd call that prayer) but Soren Kierkegaard wrote that prayer has likely more to do with changing us rather than changing God. It changes how we see the world.

The work of prayer has more to do with re-framing how we engage the world; not being bound by how the state or marketplace marks time but instead marking time with periods of prayer. It has less to do with how we feel compelled to say but about signaling to God and others that time, along with all of creation is in the hands of the Creator. In our tradition, prayer is not bound by my will or emotional state but by the shared commitment to prayer with countless Christians around the globe who at the same time stop and pray, often sharing the same words as mine.

When Lewis mentions prayer he is thinking of prayer in this way. He was Anglican, a member of the Church of England. He understood prayer as a routinized activity that was not bound to his own words but the shared utterances of people around the globe that paused in the morning, midday and in the evening to recognize that there are powers greater than those that had recently conducted a global war and threatened each other with nuclear devastation.

Once again, the powers of this world will play into our loneliness due to isolation, our anxiety over economic decline and grief over the ravages of a disease in order to meet their aspirations. Prayer is our work and weapon in these times when we stop and say time does not belong to you or me but to God. A time where we hope that we may see the world as God sees it and confess that we have not.

We will contribute in a variety of ways during this moment but I hope prayer is one of our continued contributions. If you're unfamiliar with the prayer book, what Episcopalians call the Book of Common Prayer, it can be found here. There is not a wrong or right way to use it but be reminded that if you do pray these prayers, you are joined with countless others in praying the same prayers. In other words, you are not alone in prayer.

Here's a visualized reading of Lewis's essay:

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