Last fall, during a memoir writing class in Berkeley, I had an idea. Still too timid to publish my work into print, I could begin sharing my writing on a blog. I would name it 2020 Hindsight, and I would reflect back on key moments in my life from which I gleaned pieces of wisdom.
I wrote my first entries in December, but didn’t want to post them until I had the website perfected.
Today is April 7. Bernie’s campaign has co-opted my tagline but even more important, the world has changed.
Today, much of our world is indoors. We are physically distancing ourselves from each other in the hope of containing the spread of a worldwide pandemic. Today, there is no cure or vaccine for this coronavirus which grows in clusters and kills many whose immune systems are already battling other diseases.
Today, the idea of publishing this blog seems to fall somewhere between folly and hubris. Who cares about my little insights in the face of daily tragedy? Yet I am reminded of a young girl whose diary captured generations to live in her uncertainty, to mourn her loss, to galvanize our resolve to never again let our complacency allow such a holocaust to occur. I am no Anne Frank, but today I’m pushing “publish” on all the drafts.
I stopped just now, and stepped outside to take a deep breath of ocean air. I noticed a constriction in that breath, my lungs not able to process as deeply as normal. I’ve had a raging sore throat for the past couple days. Coughing if I try to speak for long. A slight fever. Is it Covid-19? Strep? Do I risk going out of the house to have it tested? Is it safer to stay inside and focus on self-care?
These are questions I wouldn’t have asked in January.
No one knows how long this forced separation will be necessary. No one knows how life itself will change in the wake of this pandemic. No one knows. Except One.
I pray for wisdom and healing. Gobble some more vitamins. Resolve to look at online options for medical care.
For all of us staying at home right now, there seems to be a similar struggle. We are used to being busy. The larger questions of life have been easily drowned out in our busyness. But now, being home, these questions remain and our distractions are fewer. Unresolved conflicts in our relationships emerge multiple times a day. We are facing ourselves in ways we have avoided for years. It is a good thing, but it is not pleasant.
Today, for me, I’m looking at my own tendency toward procrastination. Case in point: committing to this blog. I deceive myself if I simply label it sloth or perfectionism. There is some truth to both, but at its root, my procrastination is an avoidance of conflict. A conflict of belief.
For me, writing is therapy. It is holding a mirror to my own thoughts and actions. It is looking deeply. It is discovering, sometimes, what I haven’t wanted to see.
In his Confessions, Augustine said God was nearer to him than he was to himself. God sees our true self better than we do. The good news is that even in seeing us as we are (without excuse or pretense), God loves that person better than we do. God sees our reality and loves us without reserve. God loves our past and future selves just as much as our present selves.
In my American evangelical experience, I’ve been taught to despise my past sinful self, to beg for forgiveness and cleansing of my present self and to put my hope in a future, holier self. I imagine God rolling His eyes and shaking His head at that picture and just picking me up in His arms. God does not differentiate as we do; God is not constrained by our concepts of time and space.
My procrastination, my avoidance lies in the conflict deep in my soul: Do I believe that God loves me unconditionally? Do I believe I am accepted, welcomed as I am, or am I still trying to earn that love? It is a humbling thing to believe. We Americans, who value our independence, who proclaim our freedom as an inherent right, for us to take ourselves down from center stage, to submit to a greater Other and acknowledge His authority as Creator…. humility is a small word for that submission.
We look for God in times of crisis. Sometimes to scream at Him at the unfairness of our situation, sometimes to beg for supernatural help. Even the staunchest of atheists, upon reaching the limits of human knowledge, may wonder if there is more beyond this existence. Many of us reject the Santa Claus version of deity we were taught as children. We decide, if there is a God, His invisibility and seeming indifference to the circumstances of our lives justifies our disinterest in Him. We arrange a life that has little to do with God. We may feel a superiority to the masses still bound by religion or a mild curiosity for those we respect who still adhere to faith.
But then. A global pandemic stretches the boundaries of resources and knowledge. Every person on the planet is affected in some way. Some cling to denial, others step up to offer help. We are together on this planet in an unprecedented commonality of physical chemistry and vulnerability. We, who have spent the past years fighting each other over climate change and political power, are now stuck together, for better or worse. Our priorities are shifting. What has lain hidden in our hearts is being manifested for others to see. Alcohol sales and domestic violence stats are up but so also are unprecedented generosity and community-building activities.
We are being invited to look into our own hearts. We are being invited to face our own fears. It may be ugly at first, to sift through the layers, the defenses we have erected to guard ourselves. It is neither easy nor pleasant. We will be tempted to distract ourselves with technology or escape into media binges.
I name this as an invitation because we always have a choice. We can choose not to look. We can choose to continue with our busyness at home. We are amazingly proficient at adapting. But I believe this time offers a critical opportunity for our growth as individuals. I believe God is waiting to show each of us what He sees when He looks at us. If that image causes you to cringe, then I believe this invitation is especially for you. You are loved, deeply, intimately loved. You were created in love. You were put together with unique abilities, amazing capacities.
Today, and for however long this period of isolation lasts, I invite you to look with me. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking back, or forward, or in this present moment. God is there with you. He will help you notice.
Today, with the authority of Jesus, I bless you in the noticing. Don’t worry about what to do with what you see or feel. You don’t have to discern or change a thing. Just be. Just acknowledge God’s invitation to be with you in it. If you feel condemnation or fear, give it to God. He will hold it for you. This isn’t the time to make lists for self-improvement.
Start small. Five minutes. Find a quiet corner (or headphones or a pillow if needed). Close your eyes. Breathe deeply, aware of the breath filling your chest and letting it out slowly. After your breathing slows, imagine the space around you filling with the light of God. Feel His presence with you. He is not judging, not lecturing. He is just being with you, smiling on you because He loves you. Like a toddler tucked in her grandpa’s arms, rocking on the front porch and staring out into a summer afternoon. If that familiarity is too uncomfortable, imagine Jesus as a close friend just hanging out next to you, a comfortable silence between you. There is nothing that needs to be done or said, being together is enough. Like a Christmas afternoon following the flurry of unwrapped excitement, adrenaline slows and contentment hums a soft song. Stay in that moment. Stay in that Presence for the remainder of your time. Nothing more is needed today. As you continue in your day, remember that light, God’s smile on you.