By The Reverend Canon Martha Tatarnic
Our little puppy Bruce needs to be carried down the stairs every morning for his first outside of the day. He finds this almost unbearably exciting. His older dog brother, Dr. Pepper, walks calmly down the stairs, and Bruce is always eager to be reunited with Dr. Pepper, to check out the yard with him and to have morning treats, breakfast and a play. He is too small to navigate the steps on his own, but this doesn’t register in his puppy brain. Every morning he squiggles desperately in my arms all the way down the stairs. He squiggles with the faith that there are arms there to catch him, with the lived understanding that there is a support system around him that will prevent him from squiggling right out of my arms, falling down the stairs, and hurting himself. He squiggles because he is loved and cared for.
This past year has been a lot of survival and a lot of questions. We have learned to adapt to a situation that is constantly changing, pivoting from pre-Covid days, to online worship, to a strange combination of welcoming limited numbers back into our sanctuaries for services while most opted to continue online, only to go back to online exclusively just before Christmas. Now we are asking questions about what our churches will look like in the anticipated future of a post-Covid world.
We have also asked questions about belief, why it matters, and what our faith might have to offer a world in crisis, a world in recovery, and a world that has come face to face with many of the critical fault lines that have existed across our society and that we have, until now, thought we could leave unaddressed. Not surprisingly, some of our churches have found there to be a new and powerful level of engagement with providing forums for learning and discussion on the core questions of our faith. We’re all a bit (or a lot) wounded from this past year, highly uncertain about the future and asking a lot of questions.
There will be strategic planning to do in many of our futures, as well as major challenges to work out in terms of how we rebuild parishes, balance budgets, and pursue the right technological resources to support our new hybrid future.
In the midst of all of that, I submit this image and invite us not to lose track of the relationship in which everything we do begins, ends and finds its life and guiding light. Jesus tells us that unless we become like children, we can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Elsewhere, he takes that directive one step further: we are to be born again, to become like babies in our relationship with God. His words are not a call to check our brains at the door or to think that knowledge, wisdom, discernment and even some long-term planning wouldn’t have a place too in our lives of faith. They are, however, the insistence that everything that we do, every decision we make, and every step we seek to take forward, is taking place in the context of God’s arms of love.
Jesus doesn’t mention anywhere that our faith is to be like that of a squiggly puppy, but I am sure that in knowing Bruce, Jesus would approve. We can let ourselves, and one another, access our inner Bruce too. Like Bruce, knowing that we are loved and cared for allows us some squiggling. In other words, drawing on that absolute promise that we are held in Love, we can look forward with anticipation, no matter what lies ahead. We can tackle challenges that are too big for us, because we aren’t alone. We can wrestle and wonder and play, we can ask big questions and we can greet the new day with joy because we have learned, and we keep learning, that God’s arms are strong and tender enough to hold us.