“Moving Day (in Old New York)” ca 1827 by an unknown artist. Public Domain. Here’s a short excerpt from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Beginning in the colonial era, leases in New York City expired on May 1, dubbed Moving Day. This deadline lasted throughout the nineteenth century. On Moving Day, trade in the city stopped entirely as New Yorkers transferred all their possessions from one location to another in a tumult exacerbated by pervasive housing shortages.”
“I hear there are people who actually enjoy moving. Sounds like a disease to me - they must be unstable. Though it does have it’s poetry, I’ll allow that. When an old dwelling starts looking desolate, a mixture of regret and anxiety comes over us and we feel like we are leaving a safe harbor for the rolling sea. As for the new place, it looks on us with alien eyes, it has nothing to say to us, it is cold.”
- Jan Neruda – Prague Tales, 1877
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
It feels odd to say that we’ve been home for two months. The last time we’ve gathered for worship in person was March 8th. Our children were last in school on March 16th. On March 24th, Governor Scott released the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. For those who are not going into work at hospitals, grocery stores, and other essential service locations these days, being at home all day, all week, all month is the reality.
Perhaps not a lot has changed for those of us that were homebodies before the pandemic. I’ve spoken with folks that have been able to check off the backlog of home fixes and garden plans during this time. Others have found something new in working from home, and imagine that their jobs will include more working from home even after the pandemic lifts. Some people have also talked about this time as a reset, a time when what it means to live a well-balanced life can be brought into view, and changes can be made. Personally, having time with family in our new homestead is welcome. Projects are being imagined, and some are even being completed.
Of course, we can also acknowledge that staying at home is not welcomed by everyone. Extroverts are bouncing off the walls. To varying degrees, kids are struggling as this cute “Shelter in Place” video from six-year-old Jack Keet illustrates. Others have had to forgo necessary medical treatments during this time. Some are at higher risk of domestic violence and neglect. And others do not have actual homes where they can stay home and safe.
Today’s lessons call attention to folks that cannot stay home because they have had to move during this already difficult time. We’ve lost neighbors to a recent move. Set up long before any talk of a pandemic, our neighbor was transferred to Oregon. She, her husband, and two small children have spent the pandemic navigating the sale of a house, moving across the country, and finding a place to live while maintaining social distancing practices. Because her job is in an essential field, she cannot defer until a more convenient time. Like our neighbors, many others have had to navigate an already stressful experience – moving – with the added complexity of the pandemic.
Moving in the ancient Near East was also done under stress and at great peril. Family and tribe protected individuals, and few wandered far from their ancestral homes. Forced migration because of violence was the primary cause of movement. Drought, famine, or changes to natural resources were also considerations. But Abram moves from the safety of family and community for another reason. In Genesis 12, Abram is called by God to leave the land of his ancestors and sojourn to a land that God will show him. “Pick up and leave, west-ish” is God’s command. And Abram does it. Risking everything, Abram packs his household and leaves. Later, when the Laws of Moses were developed in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, providing hospitality to sojourners became a precept. “Do not oppress the sojourner, for you were once sojourners” is a repeated command.
Today would be a good day to pray for those that have to undertake a move during the pandemic. Packing, moving, and nesting are more difficult right now. If you have someone in your life that has to move during this time, give them a call and see how they are.