The later-afternoon sky fills with cirrus clouds again. The expected snow has not yet arrived, but my rheumatic joints inform me that it’s only a matter of time. That will mean yet another turn at the snow-thrower, gripping it tightly as it skids on ice, while it hurls fresh snowfall off our driveway. My arms throb in anticipation. An admittedly curious rumination, considering that it’s almost a week into Lent 2021.
shaken in a passing wind
Curious or not, this rumination reminds me: how do I participate in Lent this year, when the world continues the one begun last March? I have taught remotely since November, when a spike in new cases triggered the closure of New York City schools. My eighteen-year-old son has spent his senior year since October attending school in person twice a week. My wife Mira still watches cases, incredulous at the rise in new ones and the deaths that continue, even as vaccinations proceed. The United States commemorated the 500,000 people that died from COVID-19—more than all the fatalities the country suffered in all her 20th century wars. Several relatives of my students and colleagues are among those COVID dead. One student lost three relatives in one week. My supervisor lost her cousin and childhood best friend days apart. In times like these, how do I “do Lent?”
cry in the dark
a mother hugs her child
for the last time
This long tumult reminds me of the intense aftermath that followed September 11th, 2001. The country stood in collective shock, simultaneously horrified and in numb disbelief, after the attacks. Friends of mine fled the collapsing Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. One ran uptown, racing the white cloud of dust that enveloped him and those with whom he fled. Another sprinted downtown toward Battery Park, guiding her panicked students as best she could. I could not tear my eyes from the TV, as desperate for the latest developments as anyone. By the end of the first week, utterly drained and with no hope in sight, I did something totally unexpected. I attended a Centering prayer workshop.
lapping the rocky shore
Our facilitator, a Marydell sister from the center hosting the workshop, sat with eight of us in a circle of chairs. She explained the prayer’s origin and history, introduced its principles, and then guided us together in prayer. We closed our eyes, breathed, and sat still. Whenever we became aware of any conscious thought, we were to “turn ever so gently to the sacred word,” a one-syllable word of our choice that represented our commitment to “consent to God’s presence and action in our life” during the period of our prayer. I returned innumerably, ever so gently or no; My obsessive thinking about the attacks was a levy breach not easily sealed. Nevertheless, I experienced something in those scant seconds when I silenced my mind. I cannot describe it. All I can say is that I felt a serenity then, perhaps what Jesus himself described as the “peace the world cannot give.” I continued through the rest of the workshop, then through the days that followed. And the days after them.
somehow the time
Almost twenty years later, after almost a year of this pandemic, here I am again, surrounded by the noise of this ordinary living through an extraordinary time. Seeing my students and colleagues only through Google Meet, consoling students who continue to lose family and friends, struggling with educating students through this new medium, living these days of social distancing, bearing the continued degradation of our society’s increasingly psychotic culture war: the weight of it all threatens to overwhelm me. I am once more among the twelve in a storm-tossed boat, crying out with them to our sleeping rabbi, “Master, do you not care that we are perishing?” He answers me, as he answered the twelve then, with the words that calm any storm: “Quiet. Be still.”
a tempest calms
this sudden cessation
I have my path forward through this Lent. It is time to renew my commitment to interior silence. It is time to “be still” and know that God is God. It is time to center, to welcome, to listen, so that I truly consent to God’s presence and action in my life, during Lent and beyond. Then I can meet the challenges of life in these Coronal times, knowing in my bones that I do not face them alone. I can focus away from the noise and hear the “small, still voice” that is the Holy Spirit, whispering to me through my conscience, gently guiding me to the best course of action—the one leading to communion with our God and each other. This path leads through this “spiritual desert” to the joy of Easter living. I just need to walk it, day by day.
even through these clouds
Image: Adobe Stock