In a quarantine situation, the disciples found something to do.
Acts of the Apostles 1:6-14
told by Deborah
When they were all gathered together, the disciples asked him, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
He said, “Whens and wherefores are God’s business — not the domain of mortals. But you will receive a mighty power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, as they watched, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
As he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, all at once two men in white robes appeared. They said, “What are you doing, standing there staring up at the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
Then the disciples returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is about half a mile away. When they reached the city, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.
The remaining disciples — Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James — along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers and sisters devoted all of their time to prayer.
Gathered together in the house in Jerusalem, the followers of the Lord had no idea how long they would be waiting; Jesus told them only that the Holy Spirit would come — He didn’t say when it would get there. And, as the He warned them at the outset, timing is God’s domain, not ours. It might be days, it might be weeks, it might be longer until the gift was received. Their job was to wait. And so they waited.
In our terms, we might call it a kind of quarantine. Jesus’ followers were in one place, all together, waiting and watching, not knowing how long the wait would be.
And, we are told, while they waited “they devoted all of their time to prayer.”
Meanwhile, in many of our homes during the Covid-19 quarantine:
[It isn’t me in the illustration — primarily because I didn’t think of trying it.]
Originally, when the quarantine was supposed to last for just two weeks, we treated it like a mandatory vacation and stocked up on chips and dips and candy (and, for some inexplicable reason, toilet paper). But then the lockdown was extended with no end in sight, and it wasn’t funny anymore. We’d eaten all of the snack food we could hold, watched countless movies and tv series, read those “someday” books and novels, and now there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.
At that point many of us determined that we would Do Something Useful with our time. It was the smart thing to do, the wisest choice: when life gives you lemons: make lemonade! When you have empty hours: fill them! Besides, everywhere we looked there were ads for projects and programs: learn a new language, become a great cook, plant a vegetable garden, write a great novel, crochet a bedspread, get your body in shape, etc., etc.
The options were limitless. All we had to do was begin — and then stick with it.
Thus it was that, in varying amounts of time afterward, we, like those first disciples, could be found gazing toward the heavens. The difference was that we were asking:
“How long, O Lord?”
Boredom can be a special kind of hell — or at least purgatory: a six-hour layover between flights, waiting for your number to come up at the DMV, sitting in the exam room at the dentist’s office, waiting for a quarantine to end. You can’t go anywhere or do anything but wait. It is hard on the nerves, and in a weird way seems to affect the brain: it’s difficult to focus on other subjects; nearly impossible to think of anything but the waiting and what may lie at the end of the wait. Some people call it “brain fog.”
We’re half-stunned, bored, but unable to find the energy to actually do anything aside from the barest necessities. And so we snooze and snack and mindlessly stare at the sky — rather like those early disciples in their stunned reaction to Jesus’ departure. Amazed and confused by what they had experienced, they gazed up at the heavens, and no doubt they, too, were thinking: Now what’ll we do?
The answer came to them in the form of two men dressed in white robes — the official uniform of messengers from God. The angels told these anxious souls to stop focusing on what was gone, but to prepare for the days ahead. That is good/godly advice at any time.
It is pointless to obsess on what is gone, or to worry about what may happen next. When life returns to (some semblance of) normal, we need to prepare ourselves, just like those early disciples, so that we, too, may be Christ’s witnesses: voices of hope and compassion, facing the future with courage and optimism.
And so, let us pray. After all, it worked for them.
Just pray. And keep praying.
That’s easy enough to say, but right now, in the midst of this Vast Unknowing, and our own unsettled spirits and attendant brain fog — how can we pray? What shall we say?
“If your only prayer is ‘thank you,’ that is enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart
“On the other hand.…” ~ Deborah
The best place to begin is with ourselves, believe it or not. In times of crisis — at any time, in fact — it is OK to pray for ourselves first. A drowning man cannot save another. Our feet must be on firm ground before we can address any concerns beyond our own strength and soul and spirit. The best place to begin is in quietude and stillness: take a deep breath and seek the Center where you and the Beloved can meet.
Speak your truth. Don’t try to disguise your worries in pretty words or phrases, or pretend to have greater faith than you do. Pray honestly, courageously, candidly.
While one of my favorite quotes from Meister Eckhart speaks of gratitude, my very favorite prayer is much simpler. It goes like this:
And another is like it:
“Here I am, Lord.”
First we listen, then we speak to God: with honesty and love. Perhaps, like so much in life, what matters is that we show up. Here I am, in this Here and Now. These are the things that trouble me, these are the issues I bring to You, O Gracious Beloved; this is where it hurts, this is where we stand in need.
It has often been said that “prayer may not change things, but it changes the pray-er,” which is both true and deceptive at the same time. Of course we can be changed through our conversations with the Lord: calmed, reassured, hopeful, and more, and things — events, situations, and circumstances — can also be changed through prayer. When, how, and why such things come about is known only to God — but they do happen.
Some may call these experiences miracles, blessings, or simply “lucky breaks.” They’re out there, all around us, if we use our (inspired) eyes to see. It is an act of faith to pray accordingly: to “pray for a miracle,” because they happen every day; maybe not in accordance with our wishes, but changing, modifying, transforming the world in ways both large and small.
Perhaps that is part of the key to the Pentecost event: maybe the disciples helped to bring it into being at that time through their persistent, insistent prayers. Perhaps the gift came to them then and there because they were ready; they had prepared themselves, opening their hearts and minds and spirits and souls for a holy, transforming miracle to come to them and to all the earth.
“So I tell you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” ~ Luke 11:9
When the answer to the disciples’ prayers came, the gift that Jesus promised: Pentecost, blew their minds. Unlike anything they expected or could have imagined, it filled them with courage, faith, skill, and strength — and the experience was so delightful, infusing them with such joy, that observers thought they were giddy from drinking sweet wine.
Those kinds of good times can — and will! — come again. Let us pray that they come soon.
Jesus told his disciples, “When you pray, say: ‘Our Father, hallowed be Your name.….”
(You can take it from there.)
A joyful preparation for Pentecost to you!
Persist in prayer.
When we look enviously at those early disciples’ impressive commitment to All Prayer All The Time, we should remember that it took a pair of God’s own angels to set them on the right track. 😉