Submitted to Kerrville Daily Times:
Fear punctuates this present time. It is not unfounded.
The avalanche of information crashing over us is confusing, discomforting, and a source of paralyzing anxiety. Social media, which was intended to draw us together, is increasingly becoming the vehicle by which we are driven apart. The 24-hour national news cycle adds to the fear. A new phrase has found its way into our daily talk, one that is disconcerting – “social distancing.” At a time when we need to comfort each other, we are told to stay apart. At a time when those of us from the Christian tradition seek the comfort and hope found in our faith community, we are being told to practice social distancing. I find little comfort in that; yet I am practicing it, sadly. However, a feeling more disconcerting, more troubling, is working its way into my day – loneliness.
Not all the fear and anxiety of these times can be ascribed to the fear of the physical consequences of COVID-19. Physical fear of the disease, political anxieties of a world in flux, economic and social uncertainty: these are the obvious springs of the distress of these times. But for the real source, we must look deeper. The super-fear of our age is the horror of being alone in an impersonal and polarizing world.
At Mo-Ranch, this is the time of year when, like the greening of the grass, we are normally in full preparation for the beginning of our “busy season” – but these are abnormal times. The end of Lent brings us to Holy Week, the culmination of which is Easter Sunday. The community at Mo-Ranch, staff and guests, would gather at the Chapel on the Hill and await the rising of the sun in the east as we celebrate the Risen Son. Children would break after the service and hunt for Easter eggs to gather them in and collect their prizes for finding the special egg or for finding the most. Joy would be their companion. Families would congregate on the porch of King Dining Hall for the Easter Sunday feast that awaited them through the double doors – a buffet of ham and lamb, salmon and shrimp – an abundant cornucopia – first a feast for the eyes followed by a feast for the palate.
The staff at Mo spends weeks preparing for this particular week. It signals the beginning of a new season. Afterward, we would visit with each other, laugh an exhausted laugh, and find joy in having made so many – well, happy.
We are a tight-knit team at Mo, and as I write this I am saddened for our team, our family. Many are working from home – connecting with our larger family of friends and guests. We talk with each other and are learning a new skill called “Zoom”. I am saddened because we are going through these times apart. I am saddened because this Easter as the sun rises it will likely just be me at the Chapel on the Hill – but I will be there. I will be there as I am in the chapel at 10 am each Wednesday because that is our normal chapel time. I will be there because in these times of social distancing it is important to know that our greatest feeling is not fear, but loneliness. Chapel time reminds me that we are connected in ways that are more binding than a physical location. While I am alone on Mo-Ranch I find comfort in the fact that we are keeping our staff, both part-time and full-time, fully paid and with full benefits.
I am not alone, really, I am apart.
You see, the day is coming when we will be back together. We will begin our season in a different place. Guests will come, and we will be prepared for them and will find great joy in serving them. I suspect that we will also come back different, changed somehow. I suspect we will come back knowing that through it all we were apart, but never alone. It will be a time when we learned that the hermit’s existence is incongruous with who are called to be; together, sometimes apart but never alone.
Reverend Dick Powell is the President and CEO of Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly.