Wandering in the Desert of COVID-19
A Letter from Bishop Mariann
“For forty years I have led you through the desert, and in that time your clothes and shoes have not worn out.” Deuteronomy 29: 5

Halfway through the Christian observance of Lent, we join the world in the desert of COVID-19. “I had not planned to give this up for Lent,” someone ironically posted on social media. None of us had, and losses, both large and small, continue to increase. And although we know that Lent ends on Easter Sunday, we have no idea when we can leave this desert of COVID-19.
The “not knowing” is precisely what makes this a wilderness experience in real life.
These are times when we can experience God in ways that sustain our hope and give us courage to persevere and grow. For most of us, this is not the first desert we have experienced, nor will it be the last. We know that a desert experience changes us, for better or for worse. How we are changed is determined, to a large extent, by our response to circumstances beyond our control.
Jesus’ time in the desert is similar to the 40 years that the ancient Isrealists spent in the desert after escaping from slavery. The Biblical books of Exodus and Numbers tell their stories in the desert, so wonderfully human and spiritually powerful. They underscore various lessons in the desert for all of us to learn and spiritual tasks to master.
The first task in the desert is acceptance. 
No matter how we got here, we are all in the desert now and there is nothing to be gained by complaining or blaming. We are forced to experience a wide range of emotions in response to this new reality, sometimes in a single day. We must allow ourselves to feel that emotional range is part of what it requires for acceptance, while recognizing that not all emotions should be acted on or taken as the sole interpreter of reality. The sooner we accept our new reality and establish our home here, the better off we will be.
A second task in the desert is to focus on daily sustenance, distinguishing between wants and needs. 
God provided desert food for the ancient Israelites in the form of manna, a simple substance that fell from heaven every night. It wasn’t fancy food, but it held them up. They also couldn’t accumulate mana, because every time they tried, the food rotted. Similarly for us, simple meals and simple pleasures are what will sustain us, as we must put aside so many expected events and celebrations. We also can’t plan far in advance with certainty. Focusing on the gifts and tasks of each day helps us experience God’s grace through little things that we might otherwise lose.
A third task in the desert is learning to share the responsibilities of caring for the community at large. 
Originally, God called Moses to lead people from slavery in Egypt through the desert to their promised land. But the burden was too much for one person and Moses cried out to God for help. God commanded Moses to gather 70 others in one place, and then he took some of the spirit of leadership entrusted to Moses and gave it to the 70s. For those of us who have the resources, energy, and gifts to share, now it is the time for us to enter the leadership circle and provide any help we can.
A fourth and most important desert task that I will mention here is learning to trust that God is present. 
While we get rid of so much, we can experience a completely unique deep spiritual connection to God in the desert. As we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and completely honest in our prayers, our relationship with God in Christ becomes more real, a source of daily guidance and permanent love. I personally love the fact that the people of Israel felt completely free to complain and protest against God. “Can God serve a table in the desert?” They demanded to know. (Psalm 78:19) In the end it turned out that God could and still can. It may not be the table we expected, but it will be enough.
More than once, biblical writers describe the ancient Israelites as people who wandered through the desert. So if you feel like you are wandering these days, rest assured that you are not alone. We all walk more by faith than by sight now. But just because we are wandering, does not mean that we are lost, because we are always walking in the sight of God. Keep following the light that shines in the dark and trusting in the One who promises to always be with us. We will cross this desert together.
+ Bp Mariann