I have become more than a little lax in recent years about attending all of the rituals of the Easter holy days. This is particularly true if they happen to conflict, as Holy Thursday foot washing services often do, with spring break activities that I consider, in my increasingly rag-tag belief system, to also be holy.
Faced, for example, with the choice between coming off the beach to shower and dress for church on a sunny vacation evening and settling in to sunset cocktails on the beach with my beloved, our spirits washed by the nearby water in its enormity, its mystery, and the way it flows from its source, and our feet firmly grounded in warm sand and knowing gratitude, well, I have been unapologetically known to choose the latter. It is worth noting that we always invite God to join us and that He has never not shown up. But I understand that this is not exactly the norm.
I also understand that this particular theology may seem to be flawed and full of holes, and I can only say with a shrug: maybe. This pandemic has exposed the holes in so many things: our relationships, our systems, our supplies, ourselves. So it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s exposed some holes in my belief system, too.
For example, even though there has clearly never been more time and more need for the kind of rote, devotional prayer that I know well, and which is such an enormous consolation to so many, I am failing at it. The only prayers on my lips these days are brief and on the fly: “Oh dear God” when I am despairing and “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” when I am appalled. As I wake in the morning, and remember what we are dealing with, there’s often a “God help me” as my feet hit the floor, and as the afternoon and days grow long, the tone can grow challenging: “How much more??” To be clear, these are not the salutations or the openers to my prayers: they are the entire thing. They are all I can muster. It seems like even I, the justifying-cocktails-on-the-beach girl, should be able to do a better job for Holy Week, considering I have so few distractions this year, considering we are in a quarantine.
Two nights ago in my kitchen, a flexible pipe under the sink broke off from the cold water feed. The broken line sprayed gallons of water in all directions, drenching the cabinets and kitchen rug, leaving inches of water on the brick floor. It was a mess. It is unclear how long it will be until it is fixed.
The pandemic and the resulting quarantine are, it occurs to me, causing things to break and making messes of things we didn’t know were near breaking. Most of us do OK most of the time and when we crack, it is not from the enormous mess but by the fact that in the context of the enormous mess, our socks are now soaking wet. We wonder how we will clean it all up, and we bicker over whether the beach towels or the Shop-Vac are what we need, as if it could possibly make a difference. Secretly, we worry about how many things will, like the Brillo pads in the now-soaked cardboard box, be ruined for good.
So I’m feeling the holes more than the holy this Thursday, and the paucity of celebratory rituals that I may or may not have chosen to attend is making me feel unsettled, and surprisingly sad. I know that the quarantine provides an opportunity to really dive into the mystery of Easter without the bunny, the baskets, all the distractions. I know that I should be doing a better job, that maybe you even could say that I should be trying harder. I’m working on it. All I’ve been able to manage so far is to think about some things in a new way: the last supper with friends, the foot washing, and what we are going to do about all the holes.
It was more than a month ago now when we met our good friends Toni and John at a local oyster place. Toni and John are very fun, so we had a lot of laughs, as we always do when we are with them. But we didn’t think of it as the last anything; we hugged as we left each other, agreeing to do it again soon, and Toni and I made plans to have coffee. Only now, looking back, do we see that none of that would happen, that everything would change, that that dinner would be the last for a while. And that there was an enemy among us, one which would use our friendships, of all things, against us. One which threatened to kill us, betraying us with a hug and a kiss. It’s no wonder we are all so unsettled.
I am also thinking, on this Holy Thursday, that if all water is holy, then what of the cold kitchen water on our feet? Could having our socks soaked by the waters of an expensive and inconvenient and so-far-still-unrepaired plumbing problem counts as a foot washing of sorts? Not in the most rigid sense to be sure, but I think we have already established that I do not have the most rigid belief system. What I can tell you is that despite the total cancellation of the beach vacation, and my persistent habit of skipping Holy Thursday services, I found myself this Holy Week standing in water in my bare feet, humbled and vulnerable and exposed, and this seems at least part of the message. Perhaps bidden or unbidden, we are cleansed by the water for the wait.
Maybe, even as things in the big world feel disastrous and things in our little worlds grow holey and messy—what with us totally making things up as we go along, and driving each other crazy and sometimes losing it over little things and not really being able to string together prayers of more than three or four words at a time—maybe even then, the holes will let the light in. Maybe the holes, and their holey and holy light, will be just enough for us to peek through, to see past the ongoing suffering of Good Fridays, and the ongoing, interminable wait of Holy Saturdays.
And eventually, bring us all the way to the rising.