So… what does one do in quarantine?
Over the past 5 weeks, a curious calm has dominated this typically boisterous city. Jerusalem. Her ancient stones repose, an occasional siren yawns through vacant streets. Another day in quarantine and isolation. What day is it today? Shishi? Sabbat? Every day somehow morphs into a fidgety hushed Shabbat.
Silence. Days in quarantine are replete with silence. At least, they are in my case.
My sister’s present reality is starkly different. She’s up before dawn, praying and preparing lessons to teach middle school students online, prepping breakfast, cleaning up toys, homeschooling her kids, cooking again, cleaning once more, resolving sibling conflicts, caring for the needs of family. Theirs is a home bustling with noise and activity – long days confined in small spaces with restless family members. Quarantine with precious little silence.
Isolation and imposed restrictions – albeit in solitude or multitude – can be veritably uncomfortable.
Cloud of Witnesses
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… Hebrews 12:1
I am reminded of how many characters in the Bible spent painstaking, yet valuable time in isolation. Whether on the far side of the wilderness, in prison or in a muddy cistern, by a stream, in an ark (sorely lacking silence and fresh air), or exiled on a remote island – surely their stories have glimmers of truth to impart still today.
We can find deep encouragement and instruction from these heroes of the faith, each of whom spent momentous time in some form of quarantine or isolation.
Moses learned identity and calling during lonely years in the wilderness, between the palace and the exodus. Joseph gleaned prophetic discernment, the fear of God and perseverance in his journey from family betrayal to posh Potiphar’s house, then to prison and ultimately the palace. Elijah discovered how the Lord creatively provides in famine, and the ever-practical power of two naps and two snacks when one’s soul is weary. Jeremiah, banished to a well, learned to receive vital help from a friend. Daniel exercised extreme faith in the face of roaring peril, trusting God to preserve his life. John the Baptist attained clarity of message and acuity to perceive the advent of Messiah. Paul & Silas chose joy even in chains. Jesus came forth from the wilderness with anointing and authority, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand.
Now, to be clear, my time in quarantine hasn’t exactly been as intense as these Biblical examples, but the reality is, I haven’t hugged another human being in weeks. Even in isolation, inner noise fills the void.
Silence is somehow a steely mirror, scrupulously reflecting the mayhem of my disheveled soul.
Lectio Divina in Quarantine
In effort to maintain some form of human connection, I have been practicing weekly “Lectio Divina” Scripture meditations over Zoom with a few friends. Over the course of a few weeks, we studied 1 Peter together. The book of 1 Peter is essentially an early church “pep talk”, spurring new believers, many of whom were scattered and suffering under intense persecution, to remain strong in their faith.
As we studied the text, several prominent themes readily surfaced. We can have great confidence in our LIVING HOPE, who encourages us to REMAIN STEADFAST in time of difficulty. We are prompted to intentionally PREPARE our minds for PRAYER and OBEDIENCE, and to be ON GUARD against the things that wage war on our soul. We are admonished to recognize that which is TEMPORARAL in light of the ETERNAL, to actively PURSUE PEACE and walk in UNITY. We are reminded that we have been made ALIVE in the SPIRIT, therefore, LOVE one anotherdeeply, lavish HOSPITALITY, and SERVE diligentlywith the gifts entrusted to us. We are called to ENDURE trials with JOY, and to OBEY the GOSPEL with true HUMILITY.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21
As we meditated on these truths together in “virtual community”, it became apparent that these themes are primal elements of maturity in our faith. These core values are merely the basics – and Peter, as a father in the faith, was issuing a loving, yet firm call to return to that which is vital, priority, the foundations. Peter composed his letter to believers who were facing very real challenges to their faith, even persecution unto death (a far cry from my present predicament). He beckoned them to return to, strengthen and exercise their core spiritual disciplines.
The Beauty and Bane of Discipline
The term “spiritual discipline” may seem archaic and even passé in today’s generation of instant gratification, fad diets, selfies and overnight social media fame, and… dare I say it… even spoon-fed spirituality. Yet lately, I have been sorely reminded of the need to keep up basic disciplines.
Moment of truth. Over the past year, I noticed a sharp decline in my energy and strength level, with more frequent migraines and some unwelcomed signs of, well…flab. In effort to address this predicament, I decided it was time to intentionally focus more on discipline and exercise. So, with great trepidation, I joined CrossFit – and let me tell you, it hurts. Especially that 06:30 class.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
As my friends and I studied 1 Peter together, I couldn’t help but think of my CrossFit coach, who is constantly harping on me to “BRACE YOUR CORE, CASEY!” Some elements of discipline and exercise come easy to me. Lamentably, not abs.
Our core is the basis of our posture and form. These relatively small but vital muscles guard and protect the valuable inner organs so the structure of the body can be held upright and strong. Unfortunately, they tend to sag and tire easily. I can’t help but draw the parallel to the exhortations of 1 Peter.
As simple as it sounds, in these strange and unpredictable times in quarantine, we are all reminded to return to the basics. Brace your core. Intentionally focus on the elemental aspects of maturity that facilitate strength and poise in the Body. What might that entail?
Love deeply – allow the Spirit of God in you, living Hope Himself, to teach you what love looks like in this season.
It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone to volunteer or foregoing some of your own amenities to provide for a family in need. Love may be sorely tested for some of you with fidgety families in quarantine. No judgment. This is an opportunity to pursue peace and choose joy. We really can. Joy is a moment-by-moment choice, just like the 05:30 alarm clock, or 05:59 after snoozing…
Guard your hope. Ask for help when this gets tough and turbid thoughts run wild. Believe me, I’m familiar with this battle. Community may be distant physically, but encouragement is only a text, phone call or Zoom away.
It takes vulnerability and courage to reach out, but we desperately need one other in these days.
Be sober-minded so you can pray. When the discomfort of this season unearths an inner cacophony, deliberately choose NOT to fill it with entertainment, noise or to numb the discomfort with cheap substitutes.
Allow yourself to be provoked to wrestle in prayer. May I encourage you to pray a dangerous prayer? Ask the Lord what areas of your spiritual core need to be toned, and then opt for the life-giving pain of obedience. Humbly reach out and ask for help. Accountability is key to breakthrough. Without accountability, my core is dreadfully weak. My few and painful months of CrossFit have amply reminded me of this truth.
Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:12-13
Let us redeem the time in quarantine; allowing the Lord to bring forth precious fruit out of this season. May we hear the encouragement, embrace the pain of discipline, and intentionally endeavor to strengthen our core in these days – Spirit, soul and body. There are great tasks and trials ahead, beloved, Kingdom-assignments that will require much more of the Body of Believers worldwide than this current and temporal trial.
May we hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches and respond to be prepared. Brace your core.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 1 Corinthians 4:16-18
I may not have a 6-pack yet (or ever) …but each day I’m able to hold that plank position for a few seconds longer.