A Week in Ashes and Dust

The state of Ohio is nearing total shut-down in its fight to slow the spread of COVID-19. All universities, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools have been shut down. All restaurants, cafes, and bars have switched to carry-out and delivery only. Today’s elections are postponed. Gatherings of 50 people or more are prohibited, and gatherings of 10 or more are strongly discouraged (leading the majority of churches to suspend regular activities). It wouldn’t shock me if we come to the point in the next few days where everyone is asked to shelter in place.

Personally, I respect the way the Governor’s office has been handling things. They share good, consistent information in digestible quantities each day. They’re not robotic — but also not overly-emotional. Every day, we discover new ways that this pandemic disrupts our lives. But still, we carry on.

One week ago, I had a full day of ministry meetings. Our church was still ramping up for three highly-strategic Spring Break trips. There were a lot of outreach initiatives to coordinate. It was an exciting season of ministry.

We had no idea how quickly things would change.

When Kent State University decided to shut down last Tuesday afternoon, however, we jumped into a week of crisis management and contingency planning. From last Tuesday to this Tuesday, I ended up working far more than a typical week. But now that week is over.

Things are getting quiet now. Strangely silent in the shut-down.

Even as an introvert with a value for the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence and simplicity, I’m not personally comfortable with this level of shut-down. I feel like I want to be doing something, keeping busy, fighting against the silence and stillness — lest I feel trapped or buried alive.

That’s why this morning’s reading from the H2O Lenten Devotional was so good for my soul. Even though the H2O part was written five years ago and the Lamentations part was written 2,600 years ago — it feels like it’s speaking directly to this week in history!

2015 Lenten Devotional Cover for Web Usage

We have an opportunity this week. We get to depend on the Lord. He is ready to reach out to those who search for him. “So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” Even where it feels like it’s unfair (like for graduating seniors), it’s good for young people to learn to submit to the Lord in all things. The Book of Lamentations says, “No one is abandoned by the Lord forever.” Consequently, there’s something to be said for sitting alone in silence. As weird or uncomfortable as it may feel, I see wisdom in the words of the ancient prophets: “Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last.”

Last Tuesday to this Tuesday has been a period of intense activity and engagement. I feel like God might be directing this second week — from this Tuesday to next Tuesday — to be a period of intentional inactivity and disengagement. Not in an “every man for himself” way of thinking. In fact, I think we need to be extra-deliberate — especially in a time of intentional isolation — to look out for one another. Still, I want to seize the opportunity presented by our current circumstances to seek God in solitude, stillness, and silence.

It’s not necessarily comfortable to sit in the ashes and dust, like Job did, but it’s all that’s left to us sometimes. And that’s not a bad thing.

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