Blessing or Curse? What words touch our suffering during pandemic?

“’Bless what there is, for being.’ Whatever it be, bless it because it exists; you need no other reason.” ~Br. David Steindl-Rast

Window On Beech and a painting in progress by JRobin Whitley

Holy Tuesday
questions abound
in a world that was
one enormous question
my word,
NO ONE knows
a thing about the why or what
of suffering.

© J. Robin Whitley

Poems in a Time of Quarantine

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A Plea for you to stay home. I BEG you.

March 2020 – The Quarantine File

Please, STAY HOME.


This is not a short story, but the start of my writing about the life of being a disabled person in quarantine. At first, I will admit that the quarantine did not bother me. Basically, because of my severe allergies, asthma, and fibromyalgia (which affects the immune system adversely), I was already living life as a hermit. March is the time of year that I’ve started getting sick with asthma for the past fifteen years. I used to be able to make it to Easter or April. Yet, it’s been over twenty years that spring stopped being my favorite season.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love flowers, the sounds of birds, gardening. I love how the world seems to come back to life after the blue-gray of winter. Just as the sap rises in the trees, I can also feel the sap of my own life rise to look towards living and life and being outside. I want to see flowers, the buds of trees, the small sprouts as seeds transform from their shells below the cold earth.

My lungs have had different plans for me. I don’t blame my lungs. It is a precious gift to breathe. I must confess; however, this spring is the first spring that I’ve given thanks for allergies. Though I had allergies all of my life, they have gotten worse as I aged. It’s been over thirty years that I learn that I cannot be outside in April in NC. My friend, Stephen, calls it tree sex. It is in a sense, but it’s also every tree, flower, grass, every blooming living thing that makes me sick. I don’t wish for it to make me sick; it is merely something that my temple of a body deals with.

Why was I glad for the allergies this year? Once I was so sick in 2010, I set up pollen notifications at so that I would get notifications in my emails as soon as anything began to pollinate. This allowed me the freedom and ability to keep watch and have days outside but also be careful on high pollen count days to stay inside. It has been hard for my loved ones (friends and family included) to understand why I don’t get outside and play on those spring days. Some of my loved ones, those who have seen how bad it is when I can’t breathe, do get it. They don’t pressure me, and they are kind.

The pollen alerts had already risen to a high level of 8 out of 12 a few weeks ago. 2020 has actually started out as a healthy year for me because Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M.) of Boone helped get rid of the carpet in my condo. The dust and mold didn’t help me remain well in the winter before. In the hope of staying well through the spring, I was remaining inside. I didn’t go to church because Easter Lilies were already appearing in flower arrangements. Though I love Easter, I can no longer go to any church that has lilies. With those, it’s not merely the pollen, but the perfume of the flower. For some of us asthmatics, strong smells such as perfume or chemicals trigger asthma attacks.

In short, an asthma attack is like suffocating.

We want to breathe, take a breath, but we can’t because our air passageways have made it impossible. Yes, we can “take a deep breath” but because of what happens, our air passages cannot retain the oxygen. That’s why all asthmatics carry inhalers. Inhalers are medicines that help our lungs calm down (in essence) and be able to process oxygen again. It usually takes 15-30 minutes for albuterol to do its work and it is only used in emergencies. If you see an asthmatic use an inhaler, give them space and quiet. Touching them does not help even though they are afraid. It causes panic to not be able to breathe. I don’t know of any asthmatic who doesn’t have those panic times when an attack as been triggered.

I’m only writing all of this out so that you will hopefully better understand why there are some of us who want you to stay home, in your own town, in your own home. We are already at risk because of health problems beyond our natural ability to control it and so we have to use inhalers. This is the first time since 2010 that I’ve not had to use my nebulizer even to breathe inside my own home. Yes, there are some people who tell me I should never go outside or live in a bubble. But I love nature. I love the outdoors. My body simply can’t handle it naturally anymore.

For those of you who don’t know me. If you pass me while in church, in a store, or while I’m walking my dog, Birdie, you will never know about my physical challenges. Though I limp sometimes, that is not the health challenge that always endangers my life. Asthma that has developed because my body is so allergic to so many things is what endangers my life. In addition to being allergic to airborne particles, I am also allergic to copious foods. When I was younger, the food allergies merely upset my stomach. However, because my physical body has worn down in these 58 years, the reaction now is that some food allergies cause asthma or anaphylactic shock.

This is a plea.

Please stay home.

I am NOT the only person with asthma. I am not the only person with an immune system that is compromised. There are some who have not even gotten this diagnosis yet because it takes a LONG time and a heck of a lot of doctors before such diagnoses are recognized.

Those are the people that YOU WILL KILL if you are not taking this seriously.

No, it may not be me that you will endanger. But what if it’s your parent who is over 60? Do you want to worry about that if this virus kills them?

What if it is your brother, sister, your friend who has an immune system that is compromised and dies because of the carelessness of your decisions? Please listen to the warnings. Stay in your own home, please.

I have lived an excellent life. I want to say to you, my family and friends that should this virus kill me, I have lived a good life. I am 58 going on 59 if I make it to May. In truth, I want to make it until May. Whether I make it and whether your neighbor, the grocery store clerk, the janitor, the truck driver, the CNA/nurse/doctor, etc. makes it is up to YOU.

Whether YOU make it is up to me. Whether I make it is up to me. I don’t want to be responsible for my early death and I would not be able to stand it if I endangered you.

For more information about Primary immunodeficiency disorders, Mayo Clinic can offer more understanding.

Lists of Immune System Diseases & Disorders

Allergies: Allergies can be defined as an aggravated immune system response to a normally harmless substance. There are myriad allergens such as pollen grains, mold spores, latex rubber, and certain food items like peanuts or drugs like penicillin which can cause allergies. In many cases, there is more than one allergen responsible for inducing an allergic reaction. While allergy symptoms are often a mild consequence, medical intervention is advised to diagnose the underlying problem.

Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a serious and extreme form of allergies. In this condition, the allergen such as food, medication, or an insect bite, acts as a trigger and causes a series of physical discomforting symptoms in a person. Itchy rashes, a swollen throat, and a drop in blood pressure, are some of the common symptoms of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis may lead to an emergency situation if not diagnosed and treated on time.

Asthma: Asthma, a chronic lung disorder, is caused due to an inflammation of the air passage. Allergens, irritants or even stimulants such as physical activity can trigger the inflammation and induce variety of discomforts in a person. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, etc.


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Mindful of Justice – Lent 2020

To be mindful means to remember to let go of compulsive reactivity and realize a nonreactive way of life.

~Stephen Batchelor, “The Art of Solitude

Today is Mardi Gras and I still haven’t decided what my Lenten practice will be. I live alone with my dog so there is plenty of solitude for me. What does it mean to be intentional and mindful when the Lenten season is upon us?

I’ve been working on getting my diet healthier so there’s nothing to give up there. Yet, as I think more about this quote, perhaps the journey in the days to come is to focus on what it means to trust G-d working within my own life.

The practice of meditation is one that requires us to be alone with ourselves. In committing to sit in solitude, regularly and without distractions, we are exploring a new way of being alone—a new way of being intimate with ourselves.

Lenten Intentions Page

Since last summer, discernment of where G-d is leading has put me on an unusual path. Of course, I’ve never been 58 and nearing 60. No, I won’t skip the 59th year, just saying that part of the journey is one of embracing the beauty of aging.

The best thing I’m learning from the aging path is that there is much beauty in going slower. Sometimes it drives me crazy that I am a tortoise now, but there’s always some glittering gem that shows itself when patience breathes into my soul.

Yet, as the season of Lent begins, questions arise for which I have no answer. In my weariness, can I find a way to make a difference? Can making a difference be as simple as being brave enough to ask the questions and put the questions into the stratosphere for other believers to ponder?

Then, that easily it becomes clear what my Lenten task is. This year for Lent, my focus will be on changing and transforming my own heart into a heart of justice. Justice for the oppressed begins with me. We are all in this mess together. Let’s pray and act in ways that turn the tide towards justice, hope, and love.

‘If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.’

~ Marvin J. Ashton

Questions I will pray and ponder over as part of my Lenten journey:

  1. Why hasn’t the Episcopal church taken a stand to be a safe haven for immigrants? What is my part in the action or inaction?

I wrote both bishops and no response at all. Yes, 5 bishops of the Episcopal church are making a difference, but what about the rest of us? Bishop Curry does address what can I do here. The bishops are from the border region, but there are others being deported across our country and some of them unfairly.

  1. We have migrants in NC, what does our bishop say?

Last summer, when I still had a car, I was driving home from church and two carloads of brown people (who were small in stature like many Mexican families) were pulled off to the side of the road. The stunned naked child on the hood of the car made it clear they had to pull over for the child. Yet, all I could think of was what if they were running and trying to find a safe place to simply BE?

They pulled over in one of the switchbacks between the church and Spirit Ride Therapeutic Riding Center. It wasn’t a safe place for anything. What do our people, in this community, know about Protecting Immigrant Families? I do understand that I am still learning the communities here. However, there was a huge migrant camp in Cullowhee before the deportations started. One of our church members got deported with her husband. She could have stayed behind I’m sure because her parents were white. However, she was pregnant and also had a toddler. The marriage was new and obviously, it must have been illegal too. I did not pry. Now I find, In Christ There Is No Border and somehow it eases my sense of justice that the institution is making progress in justice issues. What can we do to become a sanctuary congregation? I am willing to begin the talk if that’s what’s needed.

  1. Resolved, That The Episcopal Church recommend that its institutions and congregations become places of welcome, refuge, healing, and other forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people; and be it further…

I type in a google search for a count of how many Episcopal churches offer sanctuary and at this writing, I’m only finding one and it’s in North Carolina!


  1. I do see that there are LGBT issues that are being addressed a bit. Yet, this government administration seeks to take away what rights we do have. What can I do as a person of faith that will give hope to those who have no hope in rural areas?

Though the Advocate Magazine often talks about issues that are not political here, it also seeks to keep us aware of how the current administrations wishes to take way adoption rights, marriage rights, and also keep us abreast of the hatred spewed by xenophobic attacks. What am I going to do to spread hope?


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On Being Beloved by The Rev. Tamara Franks

This reflection is used with permission.

I’m on the mailing list of some of my favorite churches. Rev. Tamara Franks is one of my favorites. Though it is my hope to respond to Tamara’s message on being beloved is so timely, that I want to share with you now.

Words of Reflection

Beloved-ness by The Rev. Tamara Franks

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you are reading this . . . Celebrate!

  • You are alive — full of breath!
  • Your mental health is able to read and comprehend!
  • Your resources include some form of technology AND you know how to use it!
  • You are invited to continue to know your own belovedness and its powerfulness!

Love is of God. Love is God. God is love. You are God’s beloved.

This “love” word gets thrown around sometimes to the point of losing its meaning and effectiveness.  On this day of purposeful intention of all things LOVE, I wonder —

  • What opens your heart to accept a depth of love that might be transformative?
  • How would your belief in the ‘belovedness’ and sacredness of “each person and thing” impact both – your circles and your greater community?

Your ministry of love has the power to . . .

  • Open up a world not yet known to you
  • Open up lives beyond your own
  • Open hearts to receive a depth of grace releasing tears of knowing, accepting and belonging
  • Open eyes to the beauty of creation as a gift offered every moment
  • Open minds to reimagining theologies that will liberate and redeem
  • Open hearts to respect “those others” too often demeaned
  • Open spirits to examine how Love (G-d – Yahweh – Christ) heals
  • Open avenues to witness strength, courage, and tenacity in places too long weary and victimized
  • Open a sense of humbleness to the Greatness of the Common Good that can and will overcome current polarizing actions

May this same love hold you in rapt attentiveness.

May a love beyond your imagination wrap itself around you tighter than you’ve ever experienced.

May your belovedness offer itself to one in need – and may it be received fully.

Amen and Amen.

The Reverend Tamara Franks is the pastor at High Country UCC in Boone, NC.


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