On a recent Sunday morning, I played my song, "The World’s On Fire (And We Still Fall in Love)" for a church in Hobart, Indiana. They were in their living rooms, and I was on my laptop in Austin, preaching from my daughter’s bedroom because it has the best Wi-Fi.
This is 2020.
When I wrote the song two years ago, I never imagined the world would be so literally and figuratively burning now.
My spirit was tired getting ready for church that Sunday — drained from dragging my kids through distance learning all week; from losing my day job to a pandemic; from trying to connect with my communities over screens when I long to be together in person. (Please, God, I think sometimes. No more Zoom.)
Music works miracles, again and again. Even with everyone muted, communal singing often brings tears to my eyes. That Sunday with the congregation from Indiana, I found myself twirling during a favorite hymn.
"Dance with me,
Dance with me,
oh my soul"
By the time the hour was over, I was fully back to life.
Black liberation theologian Howard Thurman wrote: "Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
It can be a tough question — what makes you come alive? — when simply trying to survive a pandemic. We might feel most alive with people we cannot see in person — faraway family members, friends who are quarantined, loved ones who have died from or during COVID-19. We might feel most alive in sanctuaries or countries that are closed to us now.
Without the usual people and places that bring us life, where will we find our joy? And how will we share it?
We can ask a very 2020 version of Dr. Thurman’s question: What ways can we come alive now that weren’t possible before?
My family is coming alive on walks with the rescue dog we never would’ve adopted if I hadn’t been laid off. My kids are coming alive on bike rides we didn’t have time for before.
After that Zoom service, I came alive realizing there was a way for me — a musician and minister desperately missing live music — to get on the road again. When else but in this era of Zoom could I visit congregations in Alaska or Hawaii, Seattle or South Dakota, without the cost or environmental impact of a plane flight? My heart still feels a whoosh remembering that "a ha!" moment — "A virtual tour! If not now, when?"
I spent a week reaching out to colleagues and scheduling virtual visits to Unitarian Universalist churches across the country. Even in mundane tasks like answering e-mails and color-coding a spreadsheet of tour details, I felt invigorated by purpose.
Then a second "a ha!" hit me: I could’ve been Zoom-touring all summer. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?
The answer, of course, is grief. Like many, I’ve spent much of the pandemic grieving. I’ve wept over Zoom — in work meetings, family gatherings, virtual happy hours — more than I care to recall. Without long hugs and real funerals, it has been hard to fully mourn the people we’ve lost to COVID-19 and the way of life we can’t quite live anymore. Grieving takes time and energy.
But I recently came across these words from Vaclav Havel, an imprisoned dissident who became president of the Czech Republic. Havel wrote: "Someone who cannot move and live a normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone who is not trapped in this way."
Have you felt pinned under the heaviness of this time? You are not alone. Perhaps you can begin to name whatever you hope is on the other side.
For all the ways the world is on fire in 2020, there are also powerful, accessible ways to make a difference — for ourselves and others — while sheltering in place. We can testify to the city council by phone, show up for anti-racism activism online, and get out the vote by text. We can see a therapist or attend an AA meeting from home.
And if a minister can take a tour, so can you. Most faith communities are virtual this year, so if you have longed for spiritual support and greater connection, why not go exploring? You can visit new communities by Zoom and sing all the hymns in your pajamas. Twirl around like nobody’s watching. Share what makes you come alive.
The Rev. Erin Walter is a community minister with Wildflower Church and a musician in bands Parker Woodland and Butch County. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.