Dear Friends, We are truly living in unusual times. Month after month, most everything has been up in the air, with no resolution, and no resolution even in sight. Now add to the pandemic a surging social revolution, where a growing number of Americans are a reexamining what are, for many, fundamental elements of “the way things are” or, “what society looks like, and needs to function,” like having police forces, like assumptions of justice and decency in our legal structures, like blithe unawareness/denial of systemic racism. In times like this, just staying grounded and keeping our hearts open takes an enormous amount of focus and energy. Some days, it is all we can do.
In monastic orders, postulants take the vow of stability, among others. This basically means “I will stay put, even when the going gets tough, in my interior life, in my walk with God, in my life in this community- I will stay put, until my Mother/Father Superior allows or asks me to do otherwise.” The pandemic has afforded us practice in the vow of stability. All of us who are not essential workers working outside the home have to stay put. Christopher has never spent so much time in his home space in his entire adult life, and although Angi experienced being mostly homebound because of illness, this staying put has a different tenor to it. And we are witnessing people chafing at all this staying put, this being in a place of not knowing, of everything being up in the air. We feel it ourselves; we hear it from others, we witness it in the behavior of those unwisely going out and not practicing physical distancing, so much needing to feel like we are back to something “normal.”
Stability invites us to be present to what is. Our range of distractions is limited. Our habitual ways of disconnecting are not available. This is an opportunity.
In his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem, a Black psychotherapist specializing in trauma stored in the body, posits that all of us retain trauma in some form, particularly around issues of race. He states “We need to ground ourselves, touch the pain or discomfort inside our trauma, and explore it-gently. This requires building a tolerance for bodily and emotional discomfort, and learning to stay present with-rather than trying to flee-that discomfort….With practice, over time, this enables us to be more curious, more mindful, and less reflexive. Only then can growth occur.”
Christopher and Angi have both had experiences of bodily trauma emerging in this time of spaciousness, of stability, of enforced lack of distractions. We have been taking this opportunity to explore what these experiences might be wanting to teach us.
In this time of enforced stability, we all have the option to explore what we carry in our bodies, what we have been too busy or too distracted to welcome with curiosity. We may never in our lifetimes have another opportunity quite like this one. How can we best use it?
This time is our opportunity to “sink down to the Seed,” using the language of Pennington which we Quakers are so fond of.
That Seed, planted within us at our birth, awaits.
Two things came to us to share with you. The first is this poem by T.S. Elliot:
Wait Without Hope
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
- S. Eliot, East Coker
The second is this song by Carrie Newcomer,
Learning to Sit With Not Knowing
Love to all, as we sit without knowing, and sit without hope, waiting.
Christopher and Angi