Hemmed In: Thoughts on the Current Crisis

by: Rev. Alex Molozaiy, Pastor

This has been a difficult day among many. This afternoon, the Governor of Illinois announced a “Stay-at-Home” order for the entire state. Shortly before that I was on a conference call with our Representative in Congress who could offer few answers to the clergy gathered on the call, but was able to give us a sense of solidarity and community that we have been craving so much over the past week. The magnitude of our situation was conveyed in unrelenting terms: our already tight restrictions would become even tighter and, for the good of the most vulnerable among us, we would need to remain isolated within our households or in limited outdoor activities. It seems like my world keeps getting smaller; this week has me feeling claustrophobic.

Psalm 139 reminds me that God has “searched me and known me” and is “acquainted with all my ways.” God knows our disappointments, our frustrations, and our grief. Even though we may be confused, concerned, afraid, lonely, or a little stir-crazy because the walls are closing in, God is right here with us, sheltering-in-place alongside us, and has hemmed us in, behind and before, and lays a hand upon us. There is nowhere we can go where God is not with us.

If you read the psalm through (and I encourage you to do so) you’ll see that after some of the most beautiful poetry in scripture, the tone shifts in verse 19 to a howl of raw emotion and rage. “O that you would kill the wicked, O God…” When we read this psalm in worship we usually omit that part and pretend it’s not there; as if there are some feelings that are not church-appropriate. I appreciate that these few lines are included in the psalm. To me they are a reminder that we don’t have to hide our feelings from God and pretend they’re not there. No matter what we are feeling, God is with us. We can cry. We can yell. We can let it all out. God will not withdraw from us because of our perceived failures or shortcomings. God loves and accepts all of us, including our messy emotions. 

We will get through this. While getting some last minute supplies, I picked up this Guardian Angel candle like the ones we typically use at the beginning of our meetings. Some might see these as superstitious (I know that I have on occasion), but for me in this moment it serves as a reminder.  Even as we stay-at-home, God will be there, hemming us in, comforting us with the touch of a steady hand that has seen us through times even more difficult than the ones in which we now find ourselves. I imagine that the psalmist began writing at verse 19 with a full-blown, no-holds-barred lament. Prayer doesn’t have to be fancy, pretty, or nice. I imagine that prayer of the psalmist being answered by the movement of God’s Spirit and the promise of unrelenting presence amid life’s most difficult times. And I imagine the psalmist being moved to go back and write these words to bring us hope and encouragement. Thanks be to the God who welcomes us as we are, comforts us, and encourages us to hold fast to what is good. Thanks be to the God who hems us in.

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