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

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

  1. I can definitely relate to this as something similar is going on in my own neighbourhood as well in the midst of this pandemic. First off, during my walks, I have and continue to come across courteous and well-mannered people who greet me with a nod or a quick wave before stepping back or to the side to let one of us go first. (COVID-19 did not stop me from getting out of my house for some fresh air and exercise daily—the only thing it made me do was to put on my mask and to practice social distancing when I am in any public setting.) To me, this is called being mindful and respectful of the social distancing rules in place and caring for the health and safety of both yourself and others. In terms of the advice and words of hope and encouragement I have been getting from people in my neighbourhood, I have seen many creative methods through which they were being communicated and delivered. Although I have not seen advice or messages written on rocks and stones specifically, I have seen them either handwritten/hand-drawn or printed on Bristol boards, tear-off flyers, and as chalk messages on sidewalks. I have seen a white Bristol board created by someone in my neighbourhood, filled with a lot of suggestions on activities we could do to pass the time during our COVID days, especially during lockdown. I have seen tear-off flyers put up on bulletins and poles, allowing readers to tear off a positive message(s) and/or something they are really lacking or missing out because of the pandemic. I have seen chalk messages advising people to wash their hands frequently to stop the spread and transmission of COVID-19. Like Rev. Karin Achtelstetter, I would stop and take a moment to at least read these when I come across them and think about their intention beyond their superficial meaning. I really love these positive vibes, and it always feels good to know that people still care about the mental and physical wellbeing of others during a period filled with challenges and uncertainty. Through all this, I have come to realize that words can often be quite powerful, as they can make someone feel better and/or inspire hope, motivation, and confidence during the darkest of times. Therefore, the fact that people are constantly trying to give out messages and advice as well as coming up with unique ways to deliver them to other people all the while combatting COVID-19 shows that there are numerous ways in which kindness, care, love, and respect for others can be manifested, regardless of how far apart members of a community may be physically from one another.

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