My Melancholy Spirit: Reflecting on a Pandemic

It’s July, 2021, and we (at least for the moment and the foreseeable future) seem to be climbing out of the world changing COVID-19 pandemic. But as we climb out I’ve had a strange spirit of melancholy about me, which I cannot seem to name, articulate, or even understand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to be able to see people in the flesh again, order a Sticker Fight from my friends at Steel Toe Brewery, and hear the sound of a congregation mumbling the Lord’s Prayer along with my worship leader and I. The vaccination in the US may be the best example I’ve ever seen of when science, government, and industry come together for the common good.

But as we climb out I still have this melancholy spirit about me. It’s been quite a year. We’ve all been through what I believe is a truly traumatic 15-18 months. It started with very real anxiety, bordering on panic, as the virus began to spread. Then we realized this was going to be much more than just a couple of weeks, and a whole other kind of fear and anxiety settled in- a slower one- one where all we could do was, well, bake sourdough bread and start binge watching Schitt’s Creek. Then the pandemic got political in the middle of a presidential election year, all of which was exponentially compounded by a racial justice uprising after the murder of George Floyd, just a mile and half from where I grew up and went to high school. And then, as if enough wasn’t enough, we had to deal with an presidential candidate refusing to conceded an election for the first time in American history, turning up the heat on socio/political polarization beyond what I knew was possible, which hit a tipping point with an actual insurrection attempt on our government. All of that happened in an 11 month span. 11 months.

Put it all together, friends, and it only makes sense that we all might be feeling a bit melancholy at best. We’ve all been through a lot and lost a lot.

In the midst of COVID-19, I stumbled on a book for my congregation called “Acts: Catching up with the Spirit”. It was published in March of 2020, which means it was written before COVID, which makes it quite remarkable, if not prophetic, that Matthew Skinner wrote about the “church in uncertain times” when he did. This book and study is all about how the work and formation of the early church in its uncertain times has a lot to teach us in ours. And as I am now preaching a sermon series based off of this book, I had a startling revelation in preparation for this Sunday’s message that I think speaks to why I feel so melancholy these days:

How can I catch up with the Spirit when I’m so busy trying to keep pace with the world?

The world keeps on spinning, no matter what. But do we need to? When COVID hit, there had to be a shift in our values system to manage through it. We had to slow down, evaluate what is essential, and make personal sacrifices for the common good. I would never wish a pandemic on the world again, nor do I believe some cosmic force brought it upon us this team to teach us lessons, but I do believe there are lessons to be learned.

I don’t want to go back to pre-COVID pace and values, but it seems we are. I long for a simpler society, where a care for the common good rises above a drive for personal gain; where the world is a singular connected whole rather than a collection of independent teams racing against each other for the top; where spiritual connection matters more than religious affiliation; where a family can easily live with one car and the earth can more easily breathe; where we make time to love rather than hurry to make time.

Yes, the world keeps spinning, and if there’s one thing we learned in COVID times, it’s that it doesn’t need us to do so. I want to catch up with the spirit, but I fear that as we climb out of COVID, the demands to keep pace with the world again will be unavoidable. I feel them taking over already. And maybe that’s what my melancholy spirit is about. Do I dare rebel against it? What does that look like? I’m not sure. But I’m sure has hell gonna try and find out. If you’d like to join me on the journey, I welcome fellow travelers, but just know, it will be slow, will not have measurable goals, and if there is a destination, I have no idea what it is, nor am I concerned with it.

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