February 10th, almost a month and a half ago, I lost my job due to budget cuts.
I was the Communications Director at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). I was told my job was now deemed non-essential. Farmers are having a hard go of it, which trickles down to migrant workers, and then to me. Migrant farmworkers, most of whom are from Mexico, help pay the staff through their union dues. I have never been fired from a job. And I had never been laid off from a job, until now. I knew times were hard, but I didn’t see it coming.
What’s more, I left my previous job at our church when FLOC recruited me away. I had a wonderful job as the director of discipleship at my church; I didn’t leave because I disliked it. I left because I felt called to do my part to come alongside migrant workers by letting the world know about their plight. They are our agricultural industry here in the United States and around the world. Farmers know this. But they and other Latino/Latinas are scapegoated—called and treated as enemies when they and other workers are the backbone of our agricultural sector. Farmworkers put the food on our tables and yet we abuse and oppress them. They feed us, but can barely feed their own families. The whole immigration debacle is tied to their livelihood, too. Some are undocumented. For over a decade, I have worked for immigration reform. I saw this as one more opportunity to work concretely towards reform. And I did for almost two years.
An Extraordinarily Heavy Lent
I had a job interview at the end of February. I made it to the second round of interviews. However, my second interview was postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank God that a friend took it upon herself to collect a love offering for us. I was worried we’d lose our house and our cars. Like so many families, we cannot survive on just one income. This is the background and context of Lent 2020 in my house and in my life in conjunction with the global pandemic.
Ohio, where I live, is regarded by many as a model for the nation in the prevention of the spread of the virus. At the time of this writing, our three girls have been home for over ten days. I have been sheltering in place since March 10th just in case I unknowingly carried the virus, after arriving home from a writing trip to California on March 8th. So far, so good—no symptoms (although it remains possible that I am an asymptomatic carrier). Sheltering at home is now mandatory as it is in many states.
Shawn and I, like many others, are having to homeschool: instruct, answer questions, and engage while I am trying to finish a book and while he is teaching all of his university classes online. Many of us are in the same boat. It makes it hard to get work done which I need to do so I can get paid. In addition, my mother had surgery to remove a mass from her right lung on March 12th; I have been unable to go see her because of the pandemic. We are waiting to find out if the mass is cancerous. My dad also has a compromised immune system. He already has breathing issues. I worry about them both. If they catch the virus, I fear they won’t make it. This is the background and context of Lent 2020 for me in conjunction with this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. It is an extraordinarily heavy Lent for our family.
Fasting from Fasting
When I was in seminary, my peers dubbed me a “modern-day mystic”. Indeed, I am inclined toward monasticism. My normal is a Lenten life and disposition. Before we had our daughters, Shawn dubbed our apartment ‘Hermit’s Cave’ because it functioned as a cell. So, because I engage in disciplines of disengagement regularly, I decided that this Lent I would engage. Usually, I fast from social media and from sweets. This year I fasted from fasting.
I am putting extra effort into engaging in life, with my family, and with others. I am engaging my gift, working my tail off to earn income with my writing, and also helping others who seek to write. Yet in all this, honestly, I feel disoriented. The job loss and the pandemic, with the schedules thrown completely off, have taken me for a spin. It is chaotic with everyone home and off their normal schedules. What is saving my life right now? It is going outside into nature.
Thankfully, the lockdown, or the sheltering in place, doesn’t prevent that from happening. Staying cooped up in our house isn’t good for any of us. When I go outside into nature, even if it is 30 degrees outside, I am returned to myself. I feel myself becoming more whole. The fresh air—nature—reminds me that God is in charge and that somehow, as Teresa of Avila has reminded us, “All shall be well.” What is saving my life right now? It is going outside into nature. Click To Tweet
St. John of Damascus observed that “the whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.” I found that to be true early in my life. As a child I escaped all the noise inside of my house and would hide under a bush or inside of it and peer outside on the world. I’d walk in the forests and fields. There I felt very close to God. There I’d love to pray. Sometimes I would lay down in the field and look up into the sky at the clouds, see them moving. Yes, the whole earth is indeed “a living icon of the face of God.” It is where I go to meet God as often as I can. I notice Jesus did, too. You’d find him on the mountain praying, on a boat preaching or sleeping, and walking on water. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). 'Part of your problem is that you are always inside in air conditioning away from the earth. It affects your theology. It affects who you are.' Click To Tweet
I actually think part of the sickness in society results from being cooped up inside on our screens or surrounded by the works of our own hands. When I was at Duke Divinity’s Summer Institute in 2010, a Ugandan pastor actually said as much. He spoke to the group and said, “Part of your problem is that you are always inside in air conditioning away from the earth. It affects your theology. It affects who you are.” I agree with him. So, I am going to get outside as soon as I am able. I haven’t been out today, and I can already feel the poison in my system. It is 39 degrees Fahrenheit, but no matter. I’ll get out and consider the birds, and the flowers, and the trees (see Matthew 6:25-33).
I am disoriented and need to be re-oriented. Getting outside into nature, moving my body, and resting my body in nature’s cathedral is where I meet God. It is saving my life this Lent and during this pandemic. I recommend it to you, too, if you are able. Even if that means just stepping outside of your front door.