There’s a small cluster of aspen trees on our Green Lake lot. They stand just downhill from our building site, safely protected by the setback rule. (Distancing firmly enforced, not just in quarantine, but construction codes, too.) At first glance there appear to be a half dozen trees, sleek and pristine, standing tall. But once, when Kyle and I were clearing brush, we counted, close to twenty scattered throughout the grove between our house and Marlyn’s next door.
Aspens are special. Their leaves shimmering in summer like trees of the field, clapping their hands. But below ground is the real wonder. Roots connected as one living unit. (One such grove, found in Utah, claims to be the largest single organism on Planet Earth.)
This image of aspens has become for me a sort of metaphor for what’s happening in our current world. We’re all connected. I’d said this to Luke on the phone a week or so ago, and my son agreed. This virus unites us. For better or worse. No man is an island, so to speak. Your decisions may be directly related to mine, and mine yours. We talked, briefly, about the mindset of youth. Thoughts of being invincible, beyond the reach of illness—just might be the undoing of Grandma. I laughed, later, at the headline of an article, bemoaning the challenges of parenting a “quaranteenager”—and no kidding.
But it’s not just germs doing the connecting. There’s something else transpiring in all this pandemic that feels like blessing. Maybe you’ve noticed. Or maybe it’s just me. This feeling of human awakening in spite of doors being closed. I jog the streets of my neighborhoods—the one at the townhouses, and the one at my future home out at the lake—much like I’ve always done. Except now it’s different. Now everywhere I go I am AWARE of the people. Dads playing in the yards with children. Moms in lawn-chairs passing out sticks of sidewalk chalk. Elderly couples strolling slowly, side-by-side. Dogs with their owners, tails wagging, tugging at leashes. All of us looking up and looking AT, not missing our chance in all this social distancing to SEE and be seen. We need each other.
Maybe this is truest here in Minnesota. Land of 10,000 lakes and the longest winter. Spring has come to us early this year, a gift beyond describing. We who quarantine (it seems) six months of every year, are given permission in this stay-at-home order to go outside, breath fresh air. And dare I say we are so elated by April, some of us have hardly noticed our isolation.
There’s this, too. Our connection via the realm of technology. Of course, it’s not as if we didn’t have it before. Even the great-grandmas had their Facebook. But this is a whole new level. Zoom meetings and FaceTime calls—and I’ve checked in with more people in the past two weeks than the past year combined. If we can avoid letting social media scare us to death, we might just become the most close-knit folks this world has known.
Yesterday Grammy joined Kyle and me for online church in the townhouse basement. We watched our services back-to-back. Constance Free, where I’m on staff. Revision Des Moines, where my son leads worship. And then Grammy tuned in to her own First Baptism, while I checked out a west coast favorite. It was a bit much, I’ll admit it. But sweet nonetheless. As Grant reminded his Revision viewers on this unusual Palm Sunday, what we’re really doing hasn’t changed a bit. Worshipping together, followers of Jesus, the whole world over, bond of the Spirit, this is Church.
God is moving. This Pandemic. Not on anyone’s radar at the start of the year, no surprise to the One who holds it all together. The One in whom we live and move and have our being—whose breath gives us life and whose Spirit, like the root system of an aspen grove, binds us as one Beautiful Body. We are connected in Him. And if this COVID virus doesn’t kill us, no doubt He will use it to make us better Jesus-followers than ever before.
Every night since returning from Florida to our townhouse home, I have awakened, sometimes briefly, sometimes longer. Awake to pray. The first time it happened I had an overwhelming sense of invitation—wonderful privilege of joining God in all this work He is doing. Mystery of Love in all this chaos. Every night since, my first conscious thought is to THANK HIM. It’s weird, I know, but my soul senses the most beautiful connection in this hardest season. Behind the scenes or hidden in heaven or just beneath our fertile ground. Something GOOD is growing.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12