As many people have, I’ve been taking the opportunity lately that working from home affords me to do the things I never have time for. My latest and greatest effort has been getting rid of much of what I no longer need. I am amazed at how difficult a task it has become because of all the things that I call “mine.” They are not, in the grand scheme of things, what people might see as “treasures” but they are meaningful. to me for various reasons—mostly sentimental. It has been a difficult but freeing thing to divest myself of what I no longer need, and what ultimately helps me to remember that, as the Scriptures say, where your treasure is, there also is your heart. And there is much more space for the inner things that I value. Less clutter = more freedom in every way.
After having read this morning a survey of new spikes of the coronavirus, I find myself swinging on an emotional trapeze between feelings of disappointment and anger at the stupidity of all the people who have disregarded the protocols directed by governments around the world in the face of the disease. While I understand the protests in our country and elsewhere against racism and police brutality, I find it difficult to abide those who disregard the order for the wearing of masks and the 6-foot distance between people in public.
I live in New York State and thereby can testify to the success of following those directives. I have watched the daily reports of the diminishing number of deaths in our state each day which this week reached 24 after peaking weeks ago in the hundreds. Surprisingly to many people, New Yorkers have proven themselves to be obedient citizens!
To be fair, I must admit that I live in a rural area and can work from home so am somewhat protected. There have been a few days when I have needed to abort my visits to the post office (my only excursions that take me out of my house and car) because of forgetting my mask. I learned quickly, however, to be more mindful, even if only to realize that I could leave a mask in my car to avoid such frustration. It is said that learning a new habit takes 29 days. If that is true, there seems now – after day 100 of this new reality – that we would have learned the processes of masking and standing 6 feet apart.
I can only think that living in the United States of America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” has accustomed us to blurring the lines of freedom toward license when things become difficult. It’s hard to always do the “right thing” or even to know what that thing is. There are situations in this country and elsewhere that demand dangerous responses to the situation and courageous actions in the face of this pandemic. First responders and healthcare workers among many other groups deserve our respect and admiration. Moreover, they deserve our compliance to what has been asked of us for the common good.
It is not a choice; it’s a necessity! So please: put on that mask and forego that hug, even when it hurts! It may just be that you are saving a life by doing so.
I wasn’t sure yesterday that I would be able to write anything ever again in the face of all the devastation around us (see yesterday’s post). Of course we have seen devastation before. I just think of all the fires and the slow oozing of volcanic lava last year on the island of Hawai’i, and the floods and/or drought across the United States. These are natural disasters; we survive them and rebuild. What is happening now in our country, however, is of human origin that is not happening because of one event. It is, at its core, a result of prejudice and distrust leading all the way to hatred that has once more erupted into violence. And it has happened before. But this time it seems different.
The violence that has spread across the country (not unlike the fires of last year) goes deeper than the catalyst: the death of one man caused by another. Brutal as it was in itself, George Floyd’s death was also a symbol, the last straw in a long line of events that speak of racial hatred, white privilege and the failure of understanding of what freedom means in our democracy. Freedom is linked to disciplined living, not to license to do whatever one wills. We have clearly failed to comprehend the depth of our responsibility to others when we ignore the strictures of self quarantine in the present pandemic and obedience to curfew in the face of the violent protests.
It seems that we have come to a crossroad. If we fail to face the crisis of the present moment, it seems clear that we will have failed far into the future. It will take a mighty effort to even begin to face all the issues that we must confront: racism, police brutality, personal responsibility as citizens and lack of love – which is at the heart of all other issues. To be fair, there have been extraordinary acts of kindness and care during the pandemic that underlies much of the anxiety in the country and even during the violence that has followed over the past week. But we will have to dig deeper for the courage we need to face ourselves and one another at this juncture.
I said at the beginning of this post that I wasn’t sure I could write any more after yesterday. I have truly been heartbroken and feeling powerless over the past week – as I believe most of us have been. What has motivated me this morning is my “go to” practice: the daily Scripture readings. Today it was Psalm 90, especially the refrain for liturgy: In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge… As I read that phrase and what followed, the words of a modern hymn by Janet Sullivan Whitaker kept repeating in my mind. When I found the song on the internet and let myself feel the words and music, I was reminded of where my strength comes from…in every age. Here are the words:
Long before the mountains came to be and the land and sea and stars of the night, through the endless seasons of all time, you have always been. You will always be…In every age, O God, you have been our refuge. In every age, O God, you have been our hope…
May you have the strength today for whatever you are called to be or do for the world. May it be the same for all of us.
Lately I often have to look at the date at the top of my phone screen to see the day and the date because nothing is routine right now. I also keep the calendar where I write and can see an entire month spread out before me. No surprises that way. It is my “safety net” and keeps me somewhat up to date.
Speaking of dates, however, it surprised me to realize that Memorial Day is this coming Monday at the end of this weekend, rather than the next! It seems so early and it is true that it is as early as it possibly can be since the next Monday begins June. (Not rocket science, you may say!) I wondered why there was so much distressful conversation about “social distancing” already in the lead-up to the holiday. Pictures of crowded beaches give me a sinking feeling and I wonder what the infection numbers will show next week and beyond…
I’m disappointed at the need of people to disregard the precautions that we must take to be safe, but our difficulty with the concept of such restriction and lack of freedom of choice is understandable for those of us privileged to live in the United States of America. We have been founded on the notion of freedom as essential to life in all manner of things. I feel the pull myself when I receive coupon in the mail for sales at my favorite store and realize it would put me at risk to go there. I miss meetings with my Wisdom Practice Circle (soon to be by Zoom) or my book study group (already by Zoom – but not quite the same). I’m getting used to the internet life that we are left with but will never be satisfied with virtual meetings over handshakes and hugs.
All of that having been said, I hope we can reflect on what Memorial Day is about and think of the sacrifices of all those who died to keep us safe. Might we not be able to find ways to live for the same reason?
Today is one of those rare Saturdays when the possibilities are endless. There are no meetings to go to, no workshops at home or elsewhere for me to attend. The hours spread out before me like “a deep breath of life.” Ironic that I pulled the book of that title off my shelf just now to find a great page for pondering. Alan Cohen always has good advice for a day of deep breathing and reflection. Here’s part of what he offered for me today, definitely worth repeating. First the reflection, second a prayer of intention and then an affirmation for release.
Have you been punishing yourself or someone else for something that happened a long time ago? Any payoff you perceive for holding a grudge is an illusion: there is no value, only a weighty price. A friend of mine in chiropractic school showed me a diagram of what happens to a human body in the throes of anger or rage. All kinds of chemicals are released into the system that exact a heavy toll on our health and vitality….
Jesus was asked, “How many times should we forgive — seven?” Jesus’s answer was clear: “Seventy times seven,” meaning just keep on letting go. We must remember that forgiveness is more of a gift to ourselves than to the person we are forgiving.
“Give me the willingness to let go. Let me perceive no value in holding hurtful thoughts. I want to be free.”
I release the past and get on with my life. (A Deep Breath of Life)
Today, just a short prayer for the 24-hour journey in which we find ourselves. J. Philip Newell is the author.
Hope and fear, laughter and tears have been part of our journey. Joy and pain, longing and doubt meet on the pathway. Often we do not believe, O God, and sometimes we doubt that your promises can be true. Grant us and our world the freedom to laugh, the courage to cry, the heart to be open and the faith to believe. (Celtic Treasure: Daily Scriptures and Prayer)
The readings for today are all about transgressions and the need for forgiveness, from Ezekiel to the word of Jesus about the need to forgive 70 X 7 times. Synchronistically, John Philip Newell has a Prayer of Awareness for Thursday morning in his book, Praying with the Earth. Simple and short, it is sufficient for my reflection for this day.
We wake to the forgiveness of a new day. We wake to the freedom to begin again. We wake to the mercy of the sun’s redeeming light. Always new, always gift, always blessing. We wake to the forgiveness of this new day. (p. 34)
Sometimes it’s difficult to get in touch with all the extraordinary blessings we experience as citizens of a free country. If I stay in the peaceful village where I live and don’t access the outside world through the “marvels” of technology it’s possible to enjoy a picnic or a good book while sitting outside in the sunshine. These days, however, in a political climate that is totally untenable, where hate is blatant and civility is often missing from human discourse, one wonders where it will all end.
When I was young, among the many things I learned about morality was the important axiom that freedom is not the same as license; we are not allowed to do everything we want just because we can. We must consider the common good as well as our desires. As the technological age has put us in touch with the world such that we now know what is happening everywhere – sometimes at the exact moment it occurs, our responsibility to the freedom we have inherited has deepened. At the same time, in a country as largely populated and diverse and a society as complex as what we still call the United States of America, we find that freedom can be what some have called a “hard grace.”
There is a tendency in me this morning to lament the “state of the nation” but I know that would be unfair to all those Americans around our country and the world who are responding to crises today, to all those health workers and researchers who are working to overcome disease, to teachers and farmers and mothers and fathers who are teaching their children what a privilege it is to live in this country and how we must work to assure justice for all. It would be unfair as well to people who are gathering in places of worship today – in churches, synagogues, mosques and the wide open spaces where the Holy is found – to give thanks for what we have been given and to ask for guidance as we go forward. I add my prayer to theirs as the music and the words rise in me, giving me confirmation of my gratitude for this country and the life that is possible here.
God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light from above. From the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home, sweet home. God, bless America, my home, sweet home.
Yesterday afternoon the sun was so inviting that I decided to go for a walk. I was pleasantly surprised at the mildness of the breeze but still grateful for the layers of clothing I had decided to wear. There were no cars at the golf course next to our land and the path onto the 10th hole – close to the road – called me to abandon the street and walk the quieter path down to the river. The grass had been well tended so that it looked like a gigantic blanket of still vibrant green decorated only with numerous pine cones dropped in areas inhabited by the gigantic evergreen trees. I walked along the river and it seemed the river was keeping in step with me; we were definitely going in the same direction. The silence was profound and calming. I stopped often on my way back along the winding paths meant for the golf carts to listen to the silence and pay homage to the towering trees…
My foray into nature only lasted about 25 minutes but the peace that enveloped me there remained. The gift of the experience far outweighed for me anything I could have garnered from a “traditional” Black Friday at the mall. As I write that, I know that the small prepositional phrase “for me” is essential. Each person is different and I have no right nor desire to judge the value of any experience for another person. For some, the mall offers a yearly opportunity with friends or a special family member to leave the crowd at home watching football and enter a whole other universe of “shop till you drop” humanity. I’m just glad we have the freedom to choose the experience that best fits us and I am so content with my choice!
Late yesterday after a glorious five-hour drive through the beauty of Upstate New York and then the Green Mountains of Vermont I arrived at Hallelujah Farm, a beautiful, sacred place in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, just over the border from Brattleboro, Vermont. I have come here for a week of retreat. This time with a small group of people is to be totally silent, filled with centering prayer, sacred movement, the conscious work of preparing silent meals and cleaning up after ourselves, other small household tasks that provide us with opportunities to pay attention to what we’re doing when we’re doing it…as well as our own private time to pray and reflect. I have the privilege of rising early to provide coffee for my companions. Knowing how important that is for myself, I am happy to provide it for those who share this experience with me.
Silence is a rare commodity in our world today. Noise comes in many ways – from inside us as well as outside. Multi-tasking keeps our minds busy and our hearts asleep, at least sometimes. It has been suggested to us that this time be a week for us to be totally “unplugged” from all our normal activities so that we are not – for any reason, however admirable – diverted from our silence. To this end, I will suspend this morning activity until next Monday. It’s interesting to me that even writing that calls me to the discomfort of surrender – a tiny awareness lesson to start the day. The flip side of the surrender is the feeling of freedom – not to be bound by any need other than to listen deeply to the stirrings of the Spirit of God within and around me.
Light is coming to the landscape outside where soon I hope to see the presence of the “four-footed” friends who inhabit this land. I will take them and all who are reading this into the silence of the week with me. Blessings to all until next Monday!