Nothing Going On: A Pandemic Prayer

Mark 1:9-15

Desert Storks-Bill:
A flower in the Judean desert,
which opens in the morning,
for hours decorating bare slopes
and dropping petals before noon.

Attuned to the weather,
this perennial plant produces
storage sacs – or tubers – on its roots,
so it can flower in rainy years,
and remain underground in dry years.

In the forty days that Jesus trekked the desert,
did Jesus see the flower? Or was it a dry year?
Was it a dry year in more ways than one?

Did Jesus feel dry after forty days
searching for water and for eats,
living without company
except for wild beasts?

Did Jesus feel bored in the desert
having followed that same line
for the 100th time, ducking under
that same rock for the 1000th shine
of the hot overhead sun beating down?

In my sacred imagination,
I see Jesus in the desert walking ‘round
the year that the flowers remained underground.

That flowerless desert feels like 2020
which is now 2021, where we remain
underground in the desert,
away from the crowds.

What will future generations say about the year
that we could not spread our petals
and bloom and breathe in the fresh air?

The year we went underground.
The dry year. The empty year.
The lack of touch year.
The stay-at-home year.
The year where we stared at the wall.
The year where we weren’t bored at all,
because parents became teachers,
daycare workers,
and were always on-call;
because medical workers worked around the clock
as grocery workers risked their lives
to keep shelves stocked.

Whether our lives overflow,
or slow to a trickle,
we remain desperate
for something to fill us.

Something to replace the nothing,
the nothingness on repeat
that seems to have no end
or sign that it will concede.

There is nothing going on.
It feels like there is nothing going on.

Dear Jesus, is something going on?
Jesus, what did you do for forty days straight?
Did those forty days feel like forty years?
Were you bored to tears?
At the sight of a desert horned viper,
did you find yourself awash in fears?
Or was it regret?

After all, at the outset, a voice said
that you were beloved. And you felt beloved;
you felt like a million dollars.
Now, you feel like a staller, instead of stalwart,
because all that fills your empty heart
is annoying sand blowing again.
What once was magical, now feels like a trap.

The desert hems you in on that one loop
you find safe, until tedium
chafes you into oblivion.

Jesus, you said the angels came to find you.
Do they come in the form of ibexes
which lead you to water?
Or a playful sand cat that brings you a smile?
Or the sweet taste of dates
flooding your mouth?

Jesus, you said you spent time with the wild beasts.
Do you see the strut of a red-necked ostrich,
the scuttle of a golden spiny mouse,
or the quiet stalking of the big cat, the caracal?
Do you lie still, unsure if they are friend or foe?

There is nothing, nothing going on.
There is everything going on.

The crusty sand tempts you to take
the desert at face value,
not to see the tubers of the storks-bill,
which wait.

Maybe this will be the year the flowers will rise,
but if not this year, next year, will come the surprise.
Fragile petals that blossom in the rain
as we remember a time of refrain
from water and from our community,
as we awaited global immunity.

In this time of waiting,
suddenly we know, like you,
life is frail; this is all we have.

Now is the time to change,
to return, to give it all away,
so that there will be a world
where the next generation can stay.

Even in deserts, life finds a way.

Just take my jade plant, which has done a turn-about!
As I underwatered it, it lived through a drought,
staying the same size for over year, about.

Now that I am at home with nothing to do,
it grows leaps and bounds
as I water it when I am supposed to.

A plant flourishes in the
desert of my nothingness.

God, how can you use us, our stories,
our lives when nothing, nothing is going on?

Speaking of which, dear Jesus,
how do you find life in the desert?
How does the desert require your best creativity?
How does it gift you with mercy –
like the sweet shade of a palm tree?

In the nothingness,
life finds a way.

I don’t know how.

It finds a way in how
the church finds new ways to worship
people find new ways to connect with love ones,
and we take on new practices to
protect the safety of others.

Life finds a way,

That’s the promise of this passage.
The promise of the storks-bill.
The promise of even the dry years
when we tempted to look only at the crusty sand.

So much waits to grow.

Help us, O Jesus, to look below.

Amen.

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