What deeper understanding of God and ourselves will we each eventually carry out of this pandemic period?
I'll leave with a deeper knowledge that being embodied means, among other things, that as grateful as I am for ways to keep in touch from a distance, connecting over Skype or Zoom just isn't the same as being in the same room with another living person, or, better yet, a hug.
I'll leave, too, thanks to a talk by Dr. Ruth Lawson-McConnell, with a clearer picture of what frustration can do in us, and how we can let let it exert its effects in us for better rather than for worse.
As frustration builds, she shows, it has to be released, and there are only three places it can go: 1) change in our external circumstances 2) internal adaptation or transformation, or 3) attack, of others or ourselves, ranging from increased levels of domestic violence to our inner critic beating us up for struggling to be as productive as usual during this time.
Since our ability to change the current situation around us is limited, tears, she said, are a key way of keeping ourselves soft and allowing us to go down the track of transformation rather than that of attack. Notice the losses. Let yourself grieve them. Put on a sad playlist to help the tears come if that’s what’s needed.
But what about when anxiety is high or our “safety valve” switches to off and all we feel is numbness? What do we do when we allow ourselves to name and feel the losses and the tears don’t come? How then do we stay soft and open to God and others and ourselves?
There are probably as many answers to this as there are people. Anything that helps to quiet the nervous system will help us stay soft: slow, deep breathing; an early morning walk paying attention to the signs of spring; singing over and over the Taize song, “Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life.”
Being with someone, even on Zoom, with a smiling, open face and a listening ear, can help, as can noticing the gifts in the day and giving thanks. Or finding an image from the Psalms in which we can live, picturing ourselves hidden in God, our strong tower and hiding place.
All of those are part of my regular practice, but this week, as I’ve noticed my need for God to keep me soft and open, I’ve been drawn back again to God's love which he compares to that of a mother: strong but gentle, protective, present.
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Even though she may forget, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
“. . . how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. . .” (Matthew 23:37)
This is a secret that King David knew. In the midst of trouble, the way (or at least one way) to return to peace was to let himself be small and held by the God who loves us with the compassion and gentleness of a mother.
“My heart is not proud, O Lord,
My eyes are not haughty.
I do not concern myself with great matters
Or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul
Like a weaned child with its mother.
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
Both now and forevermore.” (Ps. 131)
And even if we don't feel peace as we turn back to God's arms, in those arms we are safe.