How do you shelter in place when you have no place to shelter?
How do you wash your hands when you have no clean running water and some days you can't even count on having a drink for your kids?
Those are the questions many of us, as caring people, are pondering, I am sure, as we pass out of a weekend that left us with the instruction to... "shelter in place."
We find ourselves in the fashion capital of the world, some say the art capital, the center of the universe, the modern Gomorrah our critics chime in, home to the world's diversity - and now the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.
The epicenter: What does it mean to be at the center of something?
I remember in the days and months following the attacks of September 11th, everyone spoke about New York City and the site of those attacks as "ground zero" - the point on the earth, so the definition goes, closest to a detonation or explosion of some kind.
For me, as we worked through all the shock and horror of lives lost and never finding anything to remind us of those loved and lost, gradually it became less about the detonation and more about what emanated from that spot. Now, looking back, what I remember is the mayor and governor at that time saying things like: there are no gay people or straight people, there are just people who need each other's care and concern. I remember New Yorkers taking people they did not know into their apartments and homes to shelter them in the aftermath of losing everything. I remember some of the stories of New York's bravest, who refused to leave a woman trapped in stairwell in one of the towers, and that of a man who refused to leave his co-worker trapped because he was in a wheelchair. I remember all the messages texted and emailed from a doomed plane, one saying to those they might never meet again in this life: remember, I love you.
Love is what emanated from ground zero, the epicenter, as we marched against a violent, misdirected war. "Not in my name, " I remember chanting in the streets with Rev. Kristen and some of you.
Epicenters/ground zeros: they tell us about who we really are and what we really believe in and value.
Right now, I really value all the clerks at stores like Rite-Aid and the corner deli folks, all the pharmacists and first responders, all the grocery store clerks and delivery people, who are emanating love and care and some semblance of normalcy in this city that has never before slept like this.
I really value all the spiritual leaders who have found their way back to a Gospel and Holy Scriptures that are more about God's love than anything else, and who are striving to guide and sustain us with a word, as Isaiah says.
I value all those leaders who are trying to calm us and keep us focused on moving through this pandemic, [like] Gov. Cuomo urging us to remain "spiritually connected" though "physically distanced."
I really value YOU: all of you who have texted and emailed and called and reached out. I give thanks everyday for Mike, Brett, Sergio, LaDedra, Mississippi, Monique, Andrus, and Kayla, who help keep our services to those in need up and running; for Bob, who helps keep the office functioning; for Amy, Allen, and Gus, who volunteer. I value, deeply, all who by their donations are literally keeping food on the tables of the most vulnerable and a roof over the heads of our LGBTQI youth downstairs at Sylvia's Place.
I hope and pray each day that we can remain spiritually connected, though physically distanced. Now, as much as ever before, we need each other in our lives.
We remember your counsel to give praise always,
and so we thank you for this day
and all the promise and potential it holds.
We thank you for all the people who, by their care and compassion,
shelter us in your abiding presence.
Help us to move through this day before us, open to all the ways,
small and large, that you remain present to us,
sustaining and guiding us.
Strengthened by what we know and trust is your undying love and will for healing,
may we become for others what we most need ourselves:
a sense of connection, good neighbors, compassionate caregivers,
those who share resources, spiritually connected while physically distanced.
We continue to lift up to you, O God, those hardest hit
and without needed resources
the people of Gaza, the people of Italy and Iran,
the homeless on our streets and at our borders.
Help us to remember, that in caring for each other,
we are caring for you,
and in this way keeping your healing and life-giving presence among us alive.
Calm our anxieties and focus our energy on creating
safe, holy, and healing spaces for all God's children.
Help us to shelter together in the power of your love.
In Jesus' name we pray,
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York