I pray this morning in the holy juxtaposition of life and death. Before the sun was up, I heard the knockety, knockety, knockety of a yellow-bellied sapsucker banging on a beech tree — a call for Love, the fount of all Life. A few moments later, I was reading about medical workers overwhelmed by sickness and death in New York. 

I walked up the knoll, where the sun shines upon a host of vital white pine saplings, reaching for the heavens. Life abundant! There, I read a text from my neighbor, Fred, reporting the death of two friends. 

How narrow the line that separates life and death.

This moment in time is helping us be more aware of the tenuous hold we have on life. Distancing ourselves from human contact. Washing our hands obsessively to remove agents of infection. Covering our mouths so we neither receive nor send the breath of death. Keeping ourselves to ourselves, we live isolated in fear.

We do all this both to protect ourselves, and for the good of others. It makes sense. Yet we won’t be able to do it forever, or we will go mad, as human beings without connection to other human beings do.

We are living in a sacred space, a liminal place where death and life meet, alive in the time of the pandemic. I imagine us, collectively, to be sitting at the deathbed of a beloved friend or family member, simply being present. In this act of presence, we witness, experience, and hallow death. In presence, we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of life. In being presence, we enter into the presence of the Holy. 

If there were no love, death would simply be the end. Because there is Love, death is a gateway into greater Truth. Notwithstanding all the isolation, hand-washing, and masks, none of us will escape, in the end. The only questions are when and how we will cross that threshold, and what we will carry with us.

In this Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus toward the completion of his life, I have just one bit of advice:

Fill your pockets with Love — it’s the only thing you’re allowed to take with you.

From the poustinia, 


Stephen Blackmer

Stephen Blackmer is founding executive director of Kairos Earth and chaplain of Church of the Woods. Steve comes to this with 30 years of conservation experience, having founded and built conservation organizations including the Five Rivers Conservation Trust, Northern Forest Alliance and Northern Forest Center.

A midlife shift led him to Yale Divinity School and ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church, carrying the question in his heart and mind: “How can being a priest deepen my work to conserve the Earth? What does the Christian tradition have to offer to this work? How can the Christian tradition be re-understood and re-imagined in a time of need? How can the conservation movement recover its understanding of the Earth as holy ground?