By Zac Koons
Dear isolated brothers and sisters,
I write with a simple invitation. One way we at St. Mark’s in Austin, Texas are staying sane at the moment is through something we’re calling The Pass the Peace Project. And we’re inviting any and all to join us in the fun. We invite you not because we think we’re clever or worth imitating (we are not) but because we’re lonely and discouraged, and genuinely in need of messages of hope. It is not anything ambitious or complex; it is what many of us are already doing, just transposed into a liturgical vocabulary.
Here’s the idea: My own experience of the last two weeks or so is that the combination of social isolation, a global crisis, and unfettered internet access is a pretty reliable recipe for a panic attack — at the very least for a low-boil stew of unsettledness. Each day we are confronted with a new barrage of facts, figures, and tactics, and, given the paralyzing irony of helplessness we are being asked to live in — that precisely what we can do to most help is to stay away from the fray — we’re left easily lured into thinking the best way to channel our fierce desire to be helpful is to stay as vigilantly informed as possible.
Of course we must be informed. Of course that is a way we care for our neighbors. But I’m wary of our losing our own souls and sanity in the process. This project simply seeks to carve out spaces of peace amidst this chaos. It is not intended to be a denial of chaos’s existence. It tries instead to be a durable, stubborn peace that simply sits beside it. I have in mind St. Paul when describing the character of Christians on the day of our salvation as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). Paul, it seems, does not see sorrow and joy as necessarily competing to take up the same space. They can be instead each equally true, equally real, equally substantive realities on their own; each standing on its own two feet in our hearts. It occurs to me that “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” is just another way of saying “already but not yet.” The Pass the Peace Project seeks to point out the joy that sits next to the sorrow; to cultivate the already in the face of a towering tidal wave of not yet.
In the liturgy, the passing of the peace is the culmination of the ministry of the Word. Having been confronted by God’s Word in Scripture and sermon, having then responded with faith (creed) and hope (prayers of the people), our response is made complete in love (confession, absolution, and peace). In the coronavirus age of virtual experimentation, we’re finding reliable ways pathways to being confronted by the Word; we’re still proclaiming faith and hope in creed and prayer — in many parishes even more often than before. This Project is just our creative attempt to keep this church-wide theological improv experiment moving in faithful and hopeful directions.
What we’re doing and how you can join is simple: We’re sharing those things that are bringing us peace; where we’ve found love in a hopeless place (forgive me); where we are finding meaningful sources of connection to God and neighbor. For me, it has meant simply sharing videos of myself reading poems by Christian Wiman, letters by Vincent Van Gogh, or excerpts from Robert Capon and sharing them on our website, Facebook, or Instagram. Our organist has been sneaking up to the choir loft to record consoling pieces of music and sharing his personal and theological reflections. For our parishioners, it has meant sharing photos of their needle-work progress, their gardening victories, their violin improvisations, or their children’s quarantine creations. We’re using the hashtag #PassThePeaceProject, but we aren’t in this for the credit. Plagiarize away. This isn’t exactly novel or new. It’s the kind of thing that is cropping up in every beautiful corner of the internet right now. This is just what we’re calling it. And we commend it to you.
The point is that we need peace now more than ever, and we shouldn’t let our inability to gather in person keep us from passing it back and forth. After all, the peace we share rests on a deeper foundation than the temporary convulsions of evil and disease in the world; the peace we share, in the words of Sam Wells, is something more infectious than the coronavirus; the peace we share enacts a togetherness that can weather this temporary physical separation; indeed, it may be precisely here, in the wilderness, that we discover the utter depth and eternal durability of the peace we pass in Christ.
The Rev. Zac Koons is rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.