Pastoral Letter: Inspiration for this Wilderness, 2020

Dear Church Family,

I am going to share on this page the resources you send me that are inspiring you or comforting you or making you laugh, whatever is helping you get through this wilderness of Lent, pandemic, financial and social and earth upheaval.

Also, we invite you to share your own thoughts/poems/drawings/recordings/videos—anything you create in response to this time we are in, or also joys, concerns and prayer requests.  We invite both children and adults to send things.

This will expand as you send me more.  I will be adding new ones at the top so you don’t have to scroll down each time you look.

Thank you!

Grace and peace,

Martha Manheim directed us to this poem by Emily Dickinson:

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When Light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye —

A Moment — We Uncertain step
For newness of the night —
Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect —

And so of larger — Darknesses —
Those Evenings of the Brain —
When not a Moon disclose a sign —
Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead —
But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

Martha says, “We will get through this darkness!”  You can find a good, brief introduction to that poem at


From David Webb, “Social Distancing”

From Danette Harris:

A poem by Gus Speth, first the recording of him reading it and below that the text (Gus shared this with us on Sunday, March 29th, in our Zoom Joys and Concerns gathering).


a new day underway
building in the shadows
just over the horizon
piece by piece
place by place
stunning in what it asks of us
in cities not well known
in churches with half members
in councils long forgotten
in families grown apart
in unions nearly crushed
in co-ops gone to seed
we see new life
rising up
up rising
many local initiatives now
coming together as new systems
systems of ownership by workers
of health care and education without division
of needs met without consumerism
of economy without growthmania
of  energy without pollution
of reverence for nature’s miracle
of commitment to climate’s protection
of coping together with pandemics
systems of popular sovereignty
yes democracy of by and for all the people
all the people
sharing supporting caring giving loving working creating
participating debating voting demanding protesting provoking
listening learning playing worshiping trying crying trying again
tolerating respecting empathizing honoring hugging being people
people of all races and genders and religions
bound together by good laws and good fellowship
laughter and song.

by James Gustave Speth

Sent by Maggie Hooker:

“The Deer’s Cry of Love in these Challenging Days”
Adapted both from St. Patrick’s “Breastplate Prayer”
and Rev. Maren Tirabassi’s “The Deer’s Cry in these Times of COVID-19”
Chaplain Susan Gregory-Davis
VA Medical Center, WRJ, VT
March 2020

We arise today
With Love’s shelter to steady us—
Love’s hope to lead us, Love’s wisdom to calm us,
Love’s word in our prayers,
Love’s hands in the soap and water we wash with,
Love’s way in our virtual meetings,
Love’s presence in our face to face encounters,
Love reminding us that we are never alone,
Never have been and never will be.

Love hear our cry, like the cry of the deer today
Against the passage of this illness.
Love be with each of us
That we may truly be a human community of love.

Love in China, Love in Italy,
Love in Iran, Love in South Korea,
Love in Washington, New York and California.
Love in New England, in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Love at our VA and with all our Veterans and our staff.
Love with our Palliative Team and all our patients facing the end of life.
Love in the ICU, on One South and West, in the OR, on GE and in the RRC.
Love in all our clinics and each corner of our hospital where health care is being provided today.
Love in our whole VA community, in every neighborhood nearly and across the globe.
Love in every hand that is honoring sorrow and offering hope, recovery and healing.

Love in the heart of everyone filled with fear,
Love in the mouth of everyone who speaks comfort,
Love in the eyes that notice a need for help,
Love in the ear that listens to a patient.
Love in the souls of everyone we are holding in our hearts this day.

We arise today with a humble spirit and a mighty strength—
To Love.
We arise today with gratitude for the gift of loving and of being loved.
Blessed be.

From Danette Harris and others:

And the people stayed home and read books, & listened, & rested, & exercised, &,

made art, & played games, & learned new ways of being, & were still.  And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows.
And people began to think differently.And the people healed.
And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, & heartless ways,
the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, & the people joined together again,
they grieved their losses, &  made new choices, & dreamed new images
& created new ways to live & heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
written in March, 2020 by Kitty OMeara, former teacher and palliative care chaplain, Madison, Wisconsin
Highly Recommended by John Hawkins:

Here is a letter from Bill Burden from March 22nd:

“I started with the On Line Service this morning and will continue through the day.  I went to the Sanctuary to get something this morning and, as I do may times, while in the Sanctuary I picked up a Bible and opened it to Matthew and ended up at random on Chapter 14  verses 22-33.  The tone of this passage puts us all in that boat, frightened/terrified and struggling with our faith.  The part that really reached me –  “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying ‘it is a ghost.’  And they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said ‘take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.'”  And when Peter walks on the water toward Jesus. “But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and, beginning to sink, he cried out ‘Lord, save me’  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught and caught him, saying to him ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?'”

            Many, many times when something bad happens and not often enough when good things happen, I just open my Bible and usually find a chapter, a verse or a parable that helps me though.  It amazes me how many times just opening the Bible at random produces what I needed most, even though I know that action is just what we need to do – talking to Jesus in times like this.  I guess that we forget time and again that, in times like this we need to turn to the “instruction manual” for help!


Danette Harris shared this beautiful and hopeful short video:

Susan Hodges shared another poem that is gaining wide readership on the internet:

“An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans”

“Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.

We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop
the planes
the trains
the schools
the malls
the meetings
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.

We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.

Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel     deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?

Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Ask why.

Stop. Just stop.
Be still.

Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.”

by Kristin Flyntz

Read Mark Kutolowski’s letter on the spiritual opportunities of this time of pandemic by clicking here.

The Rev. Deadra Ashton suggested the great poem by the great Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things.”  You can hear Berry read it as part of an interview with Bill Moyers here:


Susan Hodges received this beautiful poem by Father Richard Hendrick from a friend–you may have seen it on facebook:

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

~Fr. Richard Hendrick

From Katy Botsford via John Freitag:

This also has been on facebook and other places, and has been recommended by Danette Harris:


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

(Sent from a Shalom Center, written by Rev. Dr. Lynn Ungar, poet and
minister and editor of Quest for the Unitarian Universalist Church of the
Larger Fellowship.)

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