Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.
Give me the joy of you saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
– from Psalm 51
I am in a religious-y mood today, which probably makes sense. In two days it will be Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn week in the Christian tradition. Passover begins next Wednesday – the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and God’s sparing of the children of Israel from a deadly plague. It is a religious-y time. Undoubtedly, much will be made of the experience of suffering and the ultimately hopeful messages in these traditions in the week to come and parallels to our current situation will be drawn.
I am no longer tasked, though, with helping to make sense of such things for others (as I was in my ministry). I am, like many others who are now mostly retired, left instead to simply live the experiences life brings me from day to day. Primarily, the task for me now is to find meaning in the rhythms of the day. This is a challenge for those of us who have found our worth in serving others, or just in doing.
Most of this week has been quiet, with moments of true contentment in our sweet little life. We putter around, we clean and cook, we chat, we go for our walk. We had one joyful delivery of food and one mildly frustrating delivery (the frustration lies in the lack of control over things). Spring – nearly summer here in Arizona – brings beauty and new life. John and I are also celebrating 10 years of being back in contact with each other in just over a week – a reunion for which we are grateful each day.
We are all also living under stress and new circumstances – which change somewhat every hour. We have new rules, new routines. We have new challenges and fears. And we are bombarded with numbers, stories, theories, and fears by the dozens. We see people rising to heroics and people hoarding and buying handguns. We wonder where to look for wisdom and leadership.
So, today, I am sad. There’s no one particular reason. Mortality and the exhausting efforts to stay healthy have worn me down a bit. The world’s grief is palpable, loss is palpable. Danger lurks around every turn.
Oddly, I think part of it is also that my birthday is coming up, too. In adulthood, I have often had an emotional “dip” around my birthday. I don’t think I’m sad about getting older at birthday time. It feels like a grief about how life and gifts and things aren’t able to soothe the soul. Grief that stuff like food, presents, activities don’t deliver joy or healing.
When melancholy sets in like this, I’ve found only the most basic steps will help.
- Being gentle with oneself. Curling up with a blanket and a book or movie, taking a hot bath, having a cry as needed, then a nap. Sometimes writing helps, music helps.
- Subtle, real nourishment. Comfort food helps only a bit, but real nourishing food – like soup or stew – seems to help the healing along.
- It helps to tell a friend that you’re feeling blue, feeling low. It especially helps to talk to a friend who won’t try to fix us, who will just walk with us and be with us as we find our way.
- Words and prayers like the ones in the psalm, above, help me. This psalm has been one I have resonated with since my early 12 Step days. The words recognize that the one speaking them is off kilter – perhaps based on actions, or perhaps based on attitude – but they remind us that the Sacred is waiting, in fact invites us, to reunite and get back on track. Divine Love is waiting for each of us (as needed) with open arms. And I have learned again and again and again that there is nothing (yes, nothing) that can separate us from this Love.
I think we all need to give ourselves a little break right now. A break from high expectations. At least a momentary break from the rigors we are putting ourselves through. Spiritually and emotionally, we each need to be held for a moment in this divine Love and Compassion.
This reality brings to mind a chapter in a beloved book, Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. In this memoir, Anne tells of the death of a beloved friend in her eighties and how it had really brought her to a low point. It was springtime and had been rainy, but her friend, Nashama, suggested that they go for a walk – so they did. Lamott writes:
Suddenly…the ground and vegetation at our feet began to get a little watery, and then we began to hear sucking noises, swampy quicksandy sucking noises, and pretty soon my overpriced walking sandals had been swallowed up by mud…
“Let me help you there, little lady,” I said. “I’ll go up first and then give you a hand.”
“Is this a good idea?” she asked. “Are you braced?”
“Yes,” I insisted, and pulled her toward me, and she lifted up off the ground and moved upward a couple of feet, until I started sliding back down toward her and we both landed noisily on our butts in the mud….
I was laughing so hard that I felt maniacal and not at all sure that I wasn’t about to cry. But I felt like air was bubbling into a place inside me that hadn’t been getting much lately….
Against the sparkly black screen behind my eyes, all these people appeared, like people in a come-as-you-are fashion show, strangers to each but beloved by me. There were all the sick little kids we know, and all the friends who had died…and the old people in my family and church who had grown so suddenly frail.… And I thought to myself, “Well, no wonder you’re this sad.” The silence of the marsh was…profound….
When Neshama and I finally got up to go, I was still sad, but better. This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds. It struck me that I have spent so much time trying to pump my way into feeling…solace.… The truth is that your spirits don’t rise until you get way down. Maybe it’s because this – the mud, the bottom – is where it all rises from…. At the marsh, all that mud and one old friend worked like a tenderizing mallet. Where before there had been tough fibers, hardness, and held breath, now there were mud, dirt, water, air, mess – and I felt soft and clean. (Traveling Mercies, Pantheon Books, NY, 1999, pages 257-265.)
Go easy on yourself and your loved ones right now. We are all raw and hurting. No wonder we are all so sad underneath it all. Life is tough in a big, real way. But love – human or divine – can bring us through. Turn toward love, turn toward the Source of solace, and you will find that you are held.