So how are you holding up in your part of the world right now? Depending on where we are in life, depending on who we’ve got at home right now, depending on what we are used to doing on the average day, the current stay-at-home orders in place for our state may be affecting us all in different ways. The scale may range from, “I barely notice anything different; I’m a homebody anyway” to “I’m going to pull my hair out if this continues for much longer.”
Parents with small kids at home are learning—many for the first time—what teachers deal with on a daily basis in the classroom. Folks who have complained for years about never having enough time off are now complaining that they want to go back to work. And people are worried, anxious, panicked about the economy, about the loss of our favorite past-times, about what all this will mean for our summers.
There’s a huge reset going on—something none of us chose. In my own life, I’m mostly staying busy with my work at the hospital during the week. I’m following a regular routine of work hours and rest hours, with absorbing experiences through the day, and experts say having a schedule and stay busy helps us cope in times of crisis. But on the weekends, when I have longer expanses of time and I’m trying not to go anywhere, a feeling of “Now what?!” creeps up on me. I’m aware of how not-normal life feels. It can make me feel a little lost, untethered, like I don’t know what to do with my time—and I have too much of it.
So far, I, probably like many of you, have filled that time with snacking, with social media, with mindless television (I particularly like Frazier and the Andy Griffith Show). Yesterday it was sunny and I was able to go out and pull some weeds, which felt wonderful—getting out in the warm sun and seeing my efforts make a difference. In one area of the garden, I weeded around the sundial, which offered me a bit of soul wisdom I had temporarily forgotten:
“The time to be happy is now.
The place to be happy is here.”
Such a sweet and truthful focus on the value of the present moment. It is as true now—when we sometimes feel like we have a long, empty expanse of time to fill—as it was when our lives were full and busy and we never felt we had enough time for all we wanted to do.
Perhaps the secret to time—the secret to contentment, even in quarantine–is not the amount of time we have but the quality of awareness we bring to it. In one of our favorite Quaker hymns, poet John Greenleaf Whittier offers this as his first verse:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper rev’rence, praise.
Forgive our foolish ways, Whittier asks, seemingly familiar with the many ways we allow ourselves to be led astray by the needs and emotions of the moment. We can be so easily caught up in the storm swirling around us—visible and invisible, full of dismay and worry and fear. We may do all kinds of things to try to cope with our unsettled emotions in such an onslaught—including eating too much, drinking too much, stirring up drama, or putting our hopes and efforts into things that that seem to have little to do with life and faith and God.
Reclothe us in our rightful mind; shines the light of truth on the fact that we do need an intervention when our fears or outrage is triggered and we are caught up in upset of the moment. Reclothe us in our rightful mind, bring us back to who we really are, who you made us to be. Help us to remember you, God, and find the peaceful solitude within where we can rest and trust and know You are with us.
In purer lives, Thy service find gives us a clue as to what brings a real sense of meaning and purpose to times of emptiness and discouragement. As we let our hearts be quieted, as we see to live more truly in tune with the light God has given us, the way opens for our efforts, our energies, our prayers to make a difference in the lives of others. God equips and comforts and guides us and enlists our efforts in shoring up the hopes and coping of another.
Using this time to let our lives be purified might seem too big, too unrealistic when most people are just trying to get by and stay well, day by day. But here’s how Isaac Penington put it in 1661. It’s not only possible, but God does all the work. We just need to be willing to give over our frantic efforts and let God replace them with peace:
“Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.”
And in the last line of this inspired first verse, I think Whitter gives us the key to getting the most out of the moments we are given: In deeper rev’rence, praise. The word reverence means “deep respect for someone or something,” and when we approach our days with reverence, we recognize each moment is a gift, our health is a gift, our homes are a gift, our love is a gift. Our Friends are gifts. The fact the sun rose this morning—that’s a gift. That we sitting here right now have a hope and a promise—that’s a gift.
How can we not be thankful?
Recognizing as the psalmist, said in Psalm 118, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” reconnects us to the idea that all our times are unfolding in God’s hand. None of this—the virus, the worldwide sweep of it, the impact on lives and families, the economic impact, none of it—is happening outside of God. What we have before us right now are moments of grace and possibility, God-given. How will we live these moments, these gifts, to their fullest, in a way that shows our respect and thanks to God?
In Matthew 6, Jesus is telling those listening not to worry about their lives—what to eat and what to drink—for God knows what our needs are and is responding accordingly. He describes the beauty of the flowers in the field; how tenderly God cares for them. He encourages them—and us—to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness; as Whitter said it, Forgive our foolish ways and reclothe us in our rightful minds. Jesus ends the passage by saying, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
As we turn our minds and hearts to God in just this moment, we begin to notice that right now, for most of us, things are mostly okay. We are being guided, comforted, and led through our days. We are getting by. We have what we need. And if we are going through a time of struggle or pain, illness or loss, people come along side us, caring, comforting, connecting. Whatever may have consumed our thoughts up until now, when we look clearly—with our right minds—at this very moment, we discover so many reasons to say thank you—for beauty, for light, for peace, for protection. There is an awareness of the holy that comes when we allow our minds to be clear-sightedly present. Praise does bubble up from our reverence, our awareness of that holiness, because it is the natural response of our hearts to the presence of God.
You have heard me speak in the past about Brother Lawrence, a 17th century, humble monk who is known today for his devoted practice of faith and his great and intimate love of God. When he was a young man, serving as a footman to a squire, he was bumbling and ineffective. He didn’t have the decorum required of a servant playing such a role in the household. But one day, looking at a barren, gray tree in the dead of winter, he suddenly saw in his mind’s eye the same tree lush and green and full of fruit, and something in his heart whispered, “Such is the love and goodness of God.”
He had such an overwhelming sense of God’s love in that moment that it never left him for the whole rest of his life. He devoted his life then and there to doing all he could to love God the best he could for the rest of his days. In his daily duties—whatever they were—he tried to keep up a continual conversation with God. When he had failures and setbacks, he avoided dwelling on them and just asked God to help him do better.
My favorite line from his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, is this:
“It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
In the tiniest of actions, the most inconsequential of moments, Brother Lawrence wanted to love God more and more. It was an intention that transformed his life and drew him—even though he was humble and quiet and wanted no fame of his own—to be inspiring and enlightening hearts and minds still, 600 years later.
He was able to live this way—truly with his heart in tune with God’s—because he had discovered the holy seed of each moment, the presence of God right in the midst of his daily experiences, whatever they might be. We, too, are invited to seek God first, to notice God’s continual presence with us. As our sense of reverence increases, we will come through this time stronger in faith, more awake than ever to beauty, and full—throughout our lives, from top to bottom—full of praise.
Praise is what we are made for, the natural expression of our rightful minds. Let’s remember to seek God in our moments today—each of them, all of them—and let our hearts respond with their natural song of thanks.
- OT Psalm 118: 24
- NT Matthew 6: 33-34
- The Practice of the Presence of God: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Practice_of_the_Presence_of_God
- The Works of Isaac Penington: http://www.qhpress.org/texts/penington/index.html