A Message by Bishop Mark Bartchak
I heard a story about a couple of retired men in a small town. They would meet every morning at the local coffee shop on Main Street. In the nice weather they would take their coffee outside. One morning they saw a state highway department truck stop along the other side of the street. A worker got out of the truck and dug a hole in the ground. Then he got back in the truck. Immediately another man got out of the truck and filled in the hole with the same dirt. Then he got back in the truck. After seeing them do this 3 or 4 times, one of the retired men went over and asked, “What’s going on here?” The highway department worker looked at him and said, “This is part of state project where trees are getting planted to beautify local communities.” The curious citizen asked, “So where are the trees?” It’s an obvious question to ask where or what is the result of your labor. The highway department worker replied, “We have to follow a certain system and we each have one part of the job to do. The guy who puts the tree in the ground is out sick today.”
That story reminds me of Psalm 133, which has only three verses: Behold, how good it is, and how pleasant, where God’s people dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil poured on the head and running down over the beard, the beard of Aaron, until it runs down the collar of his robe. It is like the dew of Herman, which comes down the mountain
of Zion; for there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, which is life forever.
I read a reflection that explains that this psalm means where there is unity, there is productivity. The concept of productivity sounds too commercial, especially since the words of the psalm describe this idea of living together in unity as an amazing gift, like the precious oil that was poured out on Aaron. There was so much of the precious oil that it was literally running down his face and onto his clothing. The image portrayed in Psalm 133 is the abundant goodness that is present when we live together in unity.
A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization called for unity, worldwide solidarity, in taking action to stop the spread of Coronavirus as the number of cases and deaths across the globe continued to rise. To emphasize the importance of this united effort, the World Health Organization used the expression: We’re All in This Together. That expression is showing up everywhere, including advertisements for all sorts of products and services that have nothing to do with the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s found in social media in the hashtag #togetheralone, which reminds us that even while staying at home and limiting our social interaction, we can be united with others.
My siblings live in five different states. We don’t get to see each other very often in person. Yet we are as close as a phone call or text message sharing news of persons we know who have the Coronavirus or who have been exposed to it. Yes, it has touched my extended family. Often those text messages are accompanied by a photograph, an image of our family members, that reminds us of how we are so blessed that it is like the overflowing oil poured upon Aaron as a sign of the abundant goodness that we share, especially in time of need. Even when we suffer from anxiety, fear, or worry for the sake of family or friends at a time like this, the overflowing oil described in the psalm is available to us.
I recently read a couple of articles online from Edie Weinstein who is a psychotherapist in southeastern Pennsylvania. On March 14, she posted some practical suggestions on how we can face the Coronavirus pandemic. She concludes with the following observation: “We humans are a resilient bunch and throughout history have survived war, famine, epidemics, trauma and tragedy of all sorts. If there are takeaway lessons from this challenge they are that disease knows no international boundaries, love is stronger than fear, a we and not just me attitude serves everyone, and we need each other to survive.”
There is that image of God’s people living in unity with each other as an expression of the oil of healing and blessing that is poured out on us as an abundant gift. Her observation reminds me of one of my favorite saints, St. Peter the Apostle. In his first letter Saint Peter writes, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
In a follow-up article on March 17, Edie Weinstein asks the question, “Is Self-Quarantining an Act of Love or Fear?” Without denying that everyone experiences fear, she encourages us to focus on how we live can be an act of love. This is how she describes it: “As in any time of crisis, we are called on to be at our best, but sometimes fall into being at our worst, with hoarding items, and ignoring the needs of others. Certainly we want to take care of our families, but at a time like this, all differences fade away and we all have the same need for health and survival. We are all members of the human family. There is no room for selfishness. We can, to the best of our ability, help neighbors by dropping off what they need at their door. We can send email messages to nursing homes who are not permitting visitors. We can use this time to clean, organize and purge in our homes. We can remain as calm as possible and be mindful of what energy we are putting into the collective soup pot before stirring.”
Edie Weinstein’s reflection includes mention of the gifts that we should certainly put to use in times like the current health crisis; it’s the gift of faith that should be evident in our prayer. She says, “I have what I call ‘God-versations.’ I ask for guidance when I feel stymied and comfort when anxiety and uncertainty raise their intimidating heads. I think about the statement “Fear knocked on the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.”
In your spare time, think about the words of Psalm 133. The image portrayed is the abundant goodness that is present when we live together in unity, even if we experience being #togetheralone. Remind yourself, your families, and neighbors that with the help of God, We Will Get Through This Together.