“Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”
—Philippians 4: 6-7
For weeks since we’ve been under quarantine, I’ve posted a question each day to my Facebook page. It has served as a prompt of sorts for my friends to chime in on topics profound (How much is enough?), reflective (What is your six-word memoir?), and breezy (What movie can you watch over and over again?).
One day I asked: What do you want?
Overwhelmingly, my pals yearn for peace. And really, who can be against that?
If I’m being honest, my desires on most days aren’t so lofty. I want nice weather for my walk. I want to see people wearing face masks at the store. I want in-person worship. Wait. Maybe that’s it. I want my desires to be heard — as in prayer, as in liturgy, as in communal singing.
I wonder if that’s what author Karen Bender had in mind when she wrote her short story about cell phones that spontaneously begin to ring during a Rosh Hashanah service. Embarrassed worshippers answer the phones in an attempt to silence them only to hear different callers expressing a want for a job or relationship, or other everyday worry. Each congregant hangs up, not wanting to disturb the New Year service. It isn’t until the protagonist listens to a want, and shows empathy for the concern, that his phone stops ringing. And isn’t that what we all want, to be heard? We want to be heard by each other and to have the assurance we are heard by God.
I am a Christian woman — an Easter person — celebrating resurrection and yet mourning my perceived unmet wants. I find myself caught in the same trap as ancient Christ-followers: “I believe; help my unbelief!” I want to be with my community, because I am created to be in community. And while I’m grateful for all the means for staying connected during this time of physical distancing, I’m learning that just like in that fictional synagogue, my wants are tightly interwoven with the telling and the hearing of them to others in the community.
“Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” Perhaps my friends are right. Maybe it really is all about peace after all.
Anita Ford, a cradle United Methodist and former resident of Northern Virginia, is a newly minted Episcopalian living with her husband in Pensacola, Florida.