COVID-19 has taught me to see my neighbourhood with new eyes & ears 30 August, 2020

COVID-19 has taught me to see my neighbourhood with new eyes, and to listen to its message with new ears. And therefore, I invite you to come with me on one of my walks.

People, whom I have never met before, are suddenly greeting me, they smile or wave at me. And then we respectfully step back, or one of us crosses the street to keep the 2 meter physical distance. We are giving signals to each other. Their body language is telling me: “we care for you.” Thank you that you are also taking care of us, thank you for keeping the physical distance, thank you for keeping us safe.”

How is it possible to signal ‘genuine love’ and ‘mutual affection’ in pandemic times? How to signal social proximity and care in times of physical distancing?

Wherever I walk in my neighborhood, I see painted rocks along the pathways: smooth stones brightly painted with images of a star or a heart. Sometimes there is a ladybug or a rainbow.

They are hidden on fence posts, under trees and bushes, and along stone walls. Some of these colorful stones have messages:

“Be brave” “Be Happy” “Stay at home”

“Wash your hands” “Have fun”

“Go away COVID” “You Got This!”

I am seeing my neighborhood with new eyes; and I am also listening to my neighborhood with new ears.

Whenever I pass by these “talking rocks,” I slow down, stand still for a moment – and I am listening to their messages.

And before I continue on my walk – I look up and smile in the direction of a window or a door – “thank you,” I am saying quietly, “thank you for your messages of hope and encouragement.” “Thank you that you care.” And, as I am listening to the messages of these colorful rocks, I feel a new tenderness in my neighborhood.

There are people, who are reaching out to me and to others through these messages

– and they are doing this despite their own personal challenges.

Every day I find more and more of these colorful rocks and they tell me stories about what counts in the lives of my neighbors – peace, a smile, kindness, happiness, family …

The colorful rocks tell me about hope and very often in the center of these clusters of stones – there is the rock of love.

Reading the messages of hope and encouragement written on these colorful stones

– I realize that the community where I live, is becoming a rock for others.

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in

hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not

claim to be wiser than you are,” reminds Paul to the congregation in Rome.

Love should be genuine, and it should be an expression of mutual affection. Love according to Paul, is the glue, which not only holds the community together, but love helps us to navigate everyday life and to face our daily challenges.

To illustrate how actions of love help establish a community based on mutual respect and affection, Paul supplies a comprehensive To-Do-List:

  • Be genuine;
  • Hate, what is evil;
  • Hold fast to what is good;
  • Show mutual affection;
  • Show honor;
  • Be industrious;
  • Be ardent in spirit;
  • Serve the Lord;
  • Rejoice in hope;
  • Be patient;
  • Persevere;
  • Pray;
  • Help;
  • Extend hospitality;
  • Bless your enemies;
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice;
  • Weep with those who weep;
  • Live in harmony;
  • Don’t be haughty;
  • Associate with the lowly;
  • Be humble …

The To-Do-List is endless and concludes with the ultimate challenge: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

For Paul love is not just an emotion or a feeling. Love finds its expression in actions. And therefore, it is not surprising that the Apostle Paul is transmitting some sort of an action plan to the congregation in Rome. And this action plan, this To-Do-List is ambitious and quite overwhelming. – It is Love in Action.

“Let love be genuine; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor,” writes the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the congregation in Rome. “Do not lag in zeal,” he reminds the congregation. “Rejoice in hope.”

I think that Paul was quite aware of the fact that his “action plan” was not only very thorough and comprehensive, but that it required almost superhuman

capabilities in its implementation. And therefore, he reminds the congregation – almost in the centre of his To-Do-List – “to be ardent in spirit and to persevere in prayer” and hope.

It is God’s love, that captivates, embraces and fulfills us and that empowers and inspires us to share this love with others. The love of neighbour, which includes the love of your enemy, is not simply an expression of the Christian faith, but also the foundation for community and communal life.

During the walks in my neighborhood, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the congregation in Rome. His advice and words of instruction fit so well into our present situation.

I often look at the colorful stones in my community – and they are growing in numbers, because their supportive messages of love and care inspire others and inspire actions of mutual affection. Looking at them, I am reminded of Paul’s action plan for the congregation in Rome: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” …

“persevere,” “give to those in need,” feed the hungry.

During the past few weeks, I am seeing new initiatives.

“Give what you can. Take what you need.”

All these small initiatives to support those, whose health, mental, social and material well-being have been affected by the pandemic are an expression of this “mutual affection,” Paul is talking about. They are an expression of Paul’s Love in Action program.

For the congregation in Rome Paul wishes perseverance and joy in hope despite the challenges that they are facing – and I pray that you all may experience in the forthcoming weeks and months this inner strength in faith and this mutual affection Paul is talking about.

Or – as one of the painted rocks along the pathway put it – You Got This! AMEN

by Rev. Karin Achtelstetter, Immanuel Lutheran, Philadephia

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