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The Wonder Report: March 19, 2021
Our Common Life
Happy Friday! We’ve made it to the end of another week, which for me means the joy of compiling another Wonder Report. I’m glad to share this week’s edition with you.
For the past 20 years or so, whenever I can, I buy my food from local farmers and producers. Often that means going to farmers markets, where I talk to growers about which melon is the ripest or how many acres they devote to sweet corn or what breed of cattle they raise. But over the past couple of years, and especially during the pandemic when getting out in crowds has come with more risk, I’ve bought food from local farmers through an online farmers market called Market Wagon.
Each week, I scour the website to find out who has hamburger on sale or who’s offering lettuce out of season. Sometimes I buy breads or English muffins from local bakers, and there’s even a rice grower who offers bags of brown and white rice for just $3.99. Once I make my selections, I add them to the virtual cart, pay with my PayPal account, and then wait for them to be delivered … either to my door or to a local market just a couple of miles away.
The delivery to the local market is free, so most often I choose that option, which also means I have to remember to pick up my purchases on Thursday afternoons before the store closes at 5. This part is critical: because most of the meat, eggs, dairy, and other perishable items come in cooler bags and sit on a shelf behind the counter until I get them. And if I don’t pick them up, they will be disposed of, according to the Market Wagon website.
Of course yesterday was a busy day, like many are lately, and when Steve and I were rolling back into town around 7 p.m. after grabbing a carry out dinner to eat in the car, I remembered my Market Wagon order. The little store where they were delivered was closed. I wanted to cry thinking about the $60 worth of pork roast and chicken breast and other perishables thawing behind the counter. I tried calling, just in case. And of course no one answered. I apologized to Steve over and over, and finally, about 8:30, I said out loud, “I’m just going to have to let this go. I didn’t mean to do it, and there’s nothing I can do about it until morning anyway.”
And mostly I did let it go, deciding instead to go at 8 in the morning, see if the bags were even still there (did they really dispose of them?), and salvage what I could. Even if they did throw the food out, I said to Steve, I can’t be mad at the employees. It was my fault.
Well, I’m making this story way too long, so I’ll wrap it up by saying this morning when I went in, the store manager greeted me with a smile, and when I began to apologize, she said, “No problem. I just stuck the meat in the freezer and the rest of the stuff in the cooler. I’ll go get it.”
This time, I almost did cry. In part, because of her kindness. But also because the world has felt like a lonely place lately, and sometimes it seems like I’m all alone to face the pressures and uncertainties life throws at me. And here was God’s reminder that He always has my back, most often through the kindness and provision of others.
If I take time to notice, I’ll see that life is full of people God uses to look out for me … and he uses me in the same way in others’ lives. I’m thinking of the nurses at Mom’s long-term care facility, the mailman who carries treats for our dogs, my neighbor who texts when a package is sitting on the front porch, and the woman at the furniture store who gives us updates on our much delayed couch we ordered last September. Without a prompting from me, all of these and more take notice of my needs and attend to them, and it’s a glorious thing to be cared for like that.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing a lot about Tish Harrison Warren’s new book Prayer in the Night, which is based off one of the prayers of the Anglican compline liturgy. We’ve been using that book to talk about the Middle Level of life where we wrestle with “the questions of the uncertainty of the near future, the crises of present life, and the unknowns of the past.” These aren’t life or death issues, and they’re not things we can solve with an equation or a simple set of instructions. The Middle Level is where we live the majority of our days, and according to George C. Hunter III in The Celtic Way of Evangelism, it’s “a 'zone' of human concern that Western Christianity and other world religions have ignored."
There’s another prayer in the Anglican compline liturgy that also touches on this Middle Level; it literally made me catch my breath the first time I read it.
“O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
So much of the Middle Level of life feels hard because it seems like we’re slogging it out on our own. We worry if our hours are going to get cut, if our kid is going to pass Algebra, if our couch is ever going to get delivered, if we’ll waste $60 worth of groceries, and the worry is hardly worth a mention to a friend, much less a prayer request to the Lord.
Yet, this compline prayer reminds us that even in these tedious concerns, we are connected. Our effort effects another person and theirs influences another. And even a woman taking a minute at the end of her work day to put a pork roast in the freezer links her labor to mine. Our common life depends upon each other’s toil.
Yesterday, I also said goodbye to a dear friend I may never see again. I’ve known him for the past 13 years, and he’s been present with me in some of my darkest days. He’s also celebrated some of my greatest joys with me. He’s one of my oncologists, and after monitoring me for 8 cancer-free years, he’s decided to set me loose.
It’s a good thing that I won’t have to get annual scans and have two appointments every year, though I’ll still get blood work every six months and continue seeing another oncologist annually. I’m not totally done with doctors. Still, when I said goodbye for what might be the last time (Lord willing), I couldn’t help but think of the way God used Dr. Leagre in my life. He fought for me when I needed scans insurance companies didn’t want to pay for, and he put his own reputation on the line when other physicians thought the treatment plan he was recommending was too unconventional. He took time to explain things to me that patients don’t normally want to know about, and he was the first person to tell me that I should go ahead and get married when my cancer came back just weeks before my planned wedding to Steve.
It’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be where I am today (or even here at all) without Dr. Leagre, but it’s also exactly the kind of relationship many of us have with a nurse or a neighbor or a police officer or a teacher. We all have people whose labors, whether paid or unpaid, directly affect our lives.
It’s part of God’s care for us, especially in the Middle Level, that our common life would depend upon each other’s toil.
When we meet here each week to talk about wonder and faith and all the mysteries and curiosities of life, you might say that you and I are connected in the Middle Level, too, that our toils contribute to the common life we share. And for that I will always be grateful.
Whose toils has your life depended on this week?
It’s not a matter of if our common life depends on the toils of another, but how. We can’t flourish or even function without the effort and attention of others.
Here’s the challenge: While the compline prayer we’ve been exploring asks generally for the Lord to watch out for those who are working on our behalf, try to pray more specifically for all those you can think of whose work keeps you safe and fed and cared for. Consider writing a thank you note to at least one person you identify.
This and That
Here are a few articles, essays, and more to give you hope, to make you think, to grow your faith, and as always, to help root you in love.
Courage, Citizenship, and the Limits of Autonomy by Dhananjay Jagannathan for Breaking Ground. This essay explores the ways the pandemic highlighted our interconnectedness but also separated us because of fear. Using COVID-19 vaccines as one example, the author makes a case for the need for courage as we reengage in our common life.
From the essay: “The truth that we need one another, practically and existentially, has become steadily more vivid during this pandemic. First, we needed one another to stay home, except for those of us who keep our community alive. Then and even now, we have needed one another to be prudent—to follow public health guidelines, to be watchful of our breath lest it endanger others.
“Now especially, we need one another to be brave.”
The Empty Religions of Instagram by Leigh Stein for The New York Times. One of the reasons I love this essay is because it highlights the opportunities for the church to reengage unchurched Millennials or “nones” in the common life God has created us for. The sad part is that this essay points to a need that seems to be going unfilled in the lives of many in all age groups.
From the essay: “I have hardly prayed to God since I was a teenager, but the pandemic has cracked open inside me a profound yearning for reverence, humility and awe. I have an overdraft on my outrage account. I want moral authority from someone who isn’t shilling a memoir or calling out her enemies on social media for clout.”
How to Help Combat Anti–Asian American Violence by Angelina Chapin for The Cut. If we all belong to each other (and I’m trying to make a case that we do), then we belong to each other in the tragic moments as well as the transcendent. And this week, our Asian American brothers and sisters are reeling after the horrific killing of eight people in the Atlanta area, six of whom were Asian women. This article offers ways we can toil together for the AAPI community.
From the article: “These horrific murders come during a surge in violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans. Over the past 11 months, there have been nearly 3,800 incidents reported to the forum Stop AAPI Hate, a disproportionate number of them directed at women…Here’s how you can help fight the violence on Asian Americans in the wake of yet another tragedy.”
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It feels like a familiar scene as Massar describes sending out queries and fielding email responses while dropping her son off at science camp or waiting in line for a ride at Universal Studios. For most of us, writing is something we do in the middle of all the other responsibilities of our lives.
I especially appreciated her description of one six-month period when her querying stopped altogether as she helped her son navigate a particular difficult period of anxiety and panic disorder. That didn’t mean she stopped being a writer; it just mean setting aside the work temporarily. When life calmed down again, she picked up the process where she’d left off. And shortly after, she signed a contract.
Writing isn’t one of those things we do in a bubble; it’s very much part of the Middle Level of life. It drips with “the questions of the uncertainty of the near future, the crises of present life, and the unknowns of the past.” And like other Middle Level issues, even in our writing life, “Our common life depends upon each other’s toil.”
Sometimes, that means others are depending on us to do other work besides writing. In those seasons, we tend to our families and homes and outside careers because we’re needed there, too. But just as often, that means people in our life need the toil that comes with writing, they need us to keep showing up on the page and working at our craft and contributing to the lives of others through our words.
Are you a mom (or dad or caregiver) writer thinking of quitting? Then as the title suggests: Read This First.
By the way, if you’re struggling to write in the middle of your everyday life, I’d commend a series from Ann Kroeker from a few years back: Write in the Middle.
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report! Thanks again for sharing this time with me. If you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. It’s one of my favorite features of this platform.
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Until next time,