By Rev. Melinda Giese
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, one of my biggest mental health challenges has been the loss of celebrations. When all your plans are canceled, what do you look forward to? When people can’t gather, how do you mark life events in a meaningful way? This year, my parents celebrate their 50th anniversary, my husband turns 50, and my son graduates high school. Will all our 2021 milestones consist of eating cake together in our garage with the fans on? In January, who can say?
The pandemic reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ description of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, when it is “always winter but never Christmas.” Technically, we celebrated Christmas this past year, but a subdued and isolated version without crowds or congregations, parties or potlucks. We felt the losses of all who have died from Covid-19 and of so many others who were sick, unemployed, or spending the holidays alone. Despite what the liturgical calendar might say, it feels as if last year’s season of Lent never truly ended. The waiting for real and joyful resurrection, resurrection celebrated with singing and hugs, continues on. How do we make it through this time that can feel like never-ending Lent, day after day?
The week of Christmas, I called to check on an older congregation member. She lived alone; she wasn’t sure if she would see her family in-person for Christmas. When I called to ask how she was doing, she surprised me by excitedly responding, “I’m enjoying the rainstorm!” I had barely noticed the gusts of wind and raindrops pelting my window. But her enthusiasm was contagious, and I began to pay attention to the drama of the storm going on outside. Suddenly, it hit me – this was how you survived never-ending Lent! My congregation member already knew one of the ways to make it through. You celebrate rainstorms. You make the most of the small surprises and unexpected enjoyments of daily life.
In early January, I experienced my own moment of surprising joy. My husband and I were out walking when we heard the frenzied barks of our favorite neighborhood dog. This particular dog gets so worked up by strangers walking by that he occasionally jumps into a small tree, which allows him to see you over the fence in his yard. As we passed his house, Tree Dog managed a personal best, jumping into the tree not just once, which would have been great, but twice, which was amazing. It’s not a celebration I would have recognized before the pandemic, but as we laughed together, I got it.
Even Lent can’t be Lent all the time. The liturgical calendar intentionally leaves space for mini-Easters on Sunday. Only Mondays-Saturdays count as Lent; Sundays are for celebration. We can’t abandon joy completely, even in our lentiest seasons. We need these small moments of enjoyment, unplanned and surprising. While they’re not exactly the celebrations we miss, they still count. They break up the landscape of sameness, making room for the laughter and joy of the Holy Spirit to sneak in, even if just for a brief moment.
It’s been a long, long season of isolated pandemic waiting, and I am more than ready for it to be over. But until it is, we can watch for the moments that sustain our sense of joy, the dramatic rainstorm or wildly enthusiastic neighborhood dog worth celebrating.
Rev. Melinda Giese serves as Minister of Discipleship and Pastoral Care for Puyallup United Methodist Church in Puyallup, Washington.