Planning for the “Un-planable”— An Exercise in Embracing the Gray
Recently some of the clergy and staff met to think about what the year ahead at St. Paul’s will look like. Each year the Rector calls just such a meeting in order to encourage the brainstorming of ideas for events, programs, liturgies, and more. It is usually a time for marking calendars and coordinating calendars. Soon into the meeting it became very apparent that it would be quite difficult to plan for the “un-planable”. The pandemic has, for obvious reasons, encouraged many of us to live day by day and week by week. The uncertainty and strangeness of these last several months have left us all with feelings of frustration, annoyance, and at times isolation. Some of us mark our calendars by what phases the State declares we are in, planning only what is hoped to be possible in these unstable days.
Things that once seemed certain and tried and true (like calendars) are sometimes useless and futile now. Planning this year ahead for you all at St. Paul’s has been a somewhat frustrating prospect. Programs I have brought to this Parish like Public Theology, and Candlelight Nights just cannot happen for the immediate future. The planned year I had in my head for St. Paul’s will now have to look radically different in almost all ways.
While there is all this frustration deep down I am not surprised nor am I deeply shaken. I say that I’m not surprised because I have always made room in my faith for the knowledge that things are not always as the should be, and that its difficult to adhere to constants in life. Some of you in the past have remarked that my sermons can sometimes reflect this, and that my preaching makes space for gray and darker things. Just recently I was in conversation with someone, and we spoke about the gray areas that people of faith should try to live in. So often we want absolutes and answers as believers. What true Christian faith showcases for us is that we can not always have certainty. Hope is always important, but certainty can sometimes be merely an illusion. This pandemic, like other crises in the past, reminds us that at times things are not as they should be, and that God in His sovereign wisdom allows for evils to exist.
With me you do not get the type of priest who says “God is love” full stop. Sure, God is love, but God is also justice, power, and might, and so many other attributes. I feel its irresponsible for any clergy person to choose to only showcase and tell of the light when the shadow is always perceptible.
What this pandemic has showed us, just like racism, death, murder, and all sorts of corruption show us, is that evil is a force, and it is in someway allowed to exist alongside the good of this world by God. As people of faith we should collectively wise up to the knowledge that God in His perfection deals with imperfection, and begin to worry less about the “whys” of things, and instead better focus our hearts on the realities that existence presents us with daily. I hope that in the coming weeks and months of continued uncertainty we will all continue to live into the gray areas we have been dealt. It is in this ambiguity, a place where struggles of faith and doubt live, that we understand the mind of God all the more, and ourselves in the process.
May God bless each of us.
The Rev. Fr. Eric E. Fialho