“He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.Psalm 23:2b-3a
There are breathless moments – many of them quite tiny, really – when even the decision to move has not registered yet. I sat in my older van in the church parking lot for the first time in more than a year. This was going to be the first Sunday in that long span that we would gather in person in the beautiful sanctuary that is home. It was Mother’s Day, too.
I had turned off the ignition, but hadn’t yet made a move to get out and make my way there.
The sun was shining brightly, as if in celebration of the special nature of this momentous occasion. Nature itself could not bring itself to put any roadblock in this day.
The pandemic has created first-time hesitancies that still have staying power. I should have been jumping out and running to the front doors! Of course, actual running is no longer a viable choice at 80, but figuratively speaking, my heart was already ahead of my body.
My heart, though, was also calm – and centered – expectant. It was well able to greet my return with a preference for “slow.”
My gentle walk across the quiet street was full of the memories of this place where I had worshiped and worked and played and sung for seven and a half years, until the pandemic shut us down.
We were masked and socially distanced with grace. Many did not recognize me until they noticed the very short grey hair that has just begun to emerge after my cancer journey. Most had not known that I was in remission. We celebrated. We laughed. I was home. There were a few careful hugs between us old folks.
There were also reminders of our other frailties this past year: a new cancer diagnosis with a long treatment regimen beginning soon; a death of a sister in a tornado, her body found a mile and a half away after a six hour search. Three strokes in the last year. Reminders to live life’s every moment as fully as we can.
Hearing the organ “live” as I sat in the third row began to break my heart open. Our beloved pastor’s joy was infectious as she greeted us. We sang hymns that had been denied to us during pandemic: “Joy to the World,” missed at Christmas.
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” the iconic Easter hymn that we hadn’t sung, became even more glorious!
“I was There to Hear Your Borning Cry,” the beloved contemporary hymn that takes us through a lifetime of God’s presence and joy in our unfolding, reminded us of our lifetimes here.
For the first time in four years, my voice – usually cracking with age and with a tremulo a mile wide – came out of this throat as if I’d never lost it. It was flowing free: deep and beautiful again! I sang my heart out. For this one day. It was enough.
The tears that were so close by began to fall. I had to contain myself, I knew. Masked noses tend to unattractively drip when the tear ducts open, you know? This is not what a mask is for. So I sniffled as best I could and simply threw my heart into it all. And it was more than enough.
I began to recognize that “slow” and “still” allow any experience to show itself more deeply, more completely, more expansively.
I learned again that holding back did not diminish the experience of joy. Instead, it allowed its full measure to rise up and fill me with all the grace that was all around and moving through me.
This is the time of my life when explosive joy is lovely, and it still can – and does – happen. But deep, wide, expansive joy more often arrives when the now-quiet, attentive spirit recognizes it. This joy is the gently moving Spirit that carries us along in the slow, still time.
It lasts. It is part of the breathless moment.
There is no coming down from a peak; instead, there is constancy. There is the graceful, gentle dance of the Spirit, restoring the soul, again and again.
And that is oh, so very, very good.