For years, I longed for a child. Due to health concerns, I was unable to have a baby for years - yet, I remained hopeful that one day a child would enter my life. I held close to my heart the potential name I had chosen for a daughter for seven years. Through times of challenge and celebration, the name was etched in my mind. To my joy, I did become a mother, and I gave my daughter the name I had chosen for her so long ago. My daughter knows this story well - she is aware that her name is unique and has been inscribed on my heart for decades. But more than knowing the story of how her name came to be, she knows that my love for her runs deep. I can think of nothing that would stop me from loving her. This deep love gives her comfort during goods times and challenging moments, especially during this pandemic.
Inscribed On The Palm of Yahweh’s Hand
As I think of the story of my daughter’s name, I am reminded of the story of the Israelite’s hearing from Isaiah that their names had been inscribed upon the palms of God’s hands (Isaiah 49.13-16a NRSV.) The Israelites had been struggling. They had experienced the loss of their Temple, the separation of families and friends and the challenge of being exiled from their home. The Israelites were grieving and had questioned where God was. They had felt forgotten amid the journey of being exiled.
Yahweh tells them that they have been anything but forgotten during their challenges. God shares with the Israelites, “See; I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49.16a NRSV). Hearing this message would have brought joy to the Israelites. They understood that to know someone’s name meant that they were known on a deeper level. Yahweh held them close, and the Israelites had not been forgotten.
COVID Challenges A Year Later
We have reached and moved past the first anniversary of the pandemic entering the United States. More than 500,000 people have lost their lives due to the COVID-19 virus in just a little over twelve months in the United States alone (time.com/5941537/us-covid-19-deaths-500000). Some families have experienced the traumatic loss of one or more family members. Other families have been separated for months due to visitation restrictions. Older adults who have been isolated from family over the last year are more prone to feeling the effects of isolation acutely. According to an article from the Cleveland Clinic, because of the loneliness and isolation, “‘we’re seeing a lot more patients with anxiety, depression and worsening memory loss.’” Such loneliness and isolation may have brought to mind for some of us over the past year, like the Israelites, the question, “God, where are you?” Some of us in our feelings of isolation may have and may still feel forgotten this Lent.
Lent is a time of remembering, pondering and looking back at our journey. Many people use spiritual practice to focus on their relationship with Christ during Lent. Journaling is one such practice that people find useful as they journey toward Easter. Helen Cepero, in her book Journaling as a Spiritual Practice, writes that “using your journal as a camera lens will allow you to zoom up close on a particular aspect of your own journey or take a step back and see the bigger picture of what might be going on within you and around you” (page 8, 2008.) Writing allows one to name their feelings, tell their stories, and to look for the Holy along the way, even when we feel forgotten.
Journaling As A Spiritual Practice
One way to begin journaling is to take a scripture passage and to write about what you are reading. Which words stand out to you? What did you see in the passage that you may have overlooked in previous readings? In Isaiah’s passage, what does it mean to you to read that you are inscribed on the palms of Yahweh’s hands? What feelings arise as you write about being inscribed and carried on the hand Yahwe? How many names can you think of for God? What if you inscribed those names in your journal - how would it feel about writing your name in your journal as you think about your relationship with the Holy? Maybe you could go further and inscribe the names of family, friends, co-workers, members of your faith community, clergy, your caregivers, community members, pets, neighbors, etc. You could pray for those names listed and give thanks daily for those named in your journal. It may be fun to write a letter to those on your list and let them know you have inscribed their name in your journal. Such acts may help ease feelings of loneliness and isolation this Lenten season.