We spoke last week of a few ways to sustain a sense of sacred self worth, while acknowledging our experiences of weakness, mistakes or failures, and recognizing that we cannot always have that sense of worth at a feeling level. We mentioned in summary that such ways may include attention to breathing, meditation in solitude, the world of nature, kindness to self and others, enduring friendships, and struggles for compassion and justice.
One aspect of this whole process can be expressed by saying that there are many seasons in each person life. In this time of pandemic, there is for many of us, an abiding feeling of weariness and uncertainty and doubt, as well as a sense of isolation and deprivation. This experience so common today can lead us to question our own sacred worth. Henri Nouwen has written that the greatest challenge everyone of us faces is the tendency to self-rejection, though it is often disguised from one another. It contradicts the inner voice that calls us sacred, which he sees as the core truth of our existence.
It may be helpful to think of such difficult times (whether occasioned by the pandemic or other stages or experiences of our life), as a season of our life which will eventually give way to another brighter season. I recently listened to an On Being interview with a Katherine May, who wrote a book called Wintering. She says that “wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather.”It brings up lots of emotions, such as sadness and failure.
She adds that “the hardest thing to believe when you’re in the midst of that dark place. Is that there is a summer on the other side.”Yet sadness is a part of life and sometimes we need to acknowledge our own sadness and have friends who allow us to be sad without always trying to cheer us up. Such times can be a crucible for transformation, for recuperation and renewal. Taking our cue from the animal world, we can see that there are times of rest that are needed. She mentions that in many children’s books, the winter snow is a time of transition, as for example when the children cross into Narnia.
Wayne Muller writes in a very striking way both about sadness and about the need for rest and renewal, which he calls Sabbath time. He tells of his experience of sadness on a week long silent retreat. He allowed himself to feel this sorrow in a silence that gradually deepened. “And I began to sense something beneath even the sorrow,” he writes. “I could feel a place inside, below all my names, my stories, my injuries, my sadness–a place that lived in my breath. I did not know what to call it but it had a voice, a way of speaking to me about what was true, what was right. And along with this voice came a presence, an indescribable sense of well-being that reminded me that whatever pain or sorrow I would be given, there was something inside strong enough to bear the weight of it. It would rise to meet whatever I was given. It would teach me what to do.”
He concludes: “All my life I have felt this presence, but at that moment I could feel its fundamental integrity. …Neither my pain nor my confusion can stop the relentless companionship of this true and faithful voice. Something more vital, strong and true lies embedded deep within me. Sometimes I barely see it, can’t quite touch it. Then I experience a starry night, a forest after a rain, a loving embrace, a strain of sweet and perfect melody–and that is all it takes to remind me who I am: a spirit, alive, and whole. It helps me remember my nature, hear my name.”
In his book, Sabbath, he writes: “If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time – effortless, nourishing rest – can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us.”
“We, too, must have a period in which we lie fallow, and restore our souls. In Sabbath time we remember to celebrate what is beautiful and sacred; we light candles, sing songs, tell stories, eat, nap, and make love. It is a time to let our work, our lands, our animals lie fallow, to be nourished and refreshed. Within this sanctuary, we become available to the insights and blessings of deep mindfulness that arise only in stillness and time. When we act from a place of deep rest, we are more capable of cultivating what the Buddhists would call right understanding, right action, and right effort. In a complex and unstable world, if we do not rest, if we do not surrender into some kind of Sabbath, how can we find our way, how can we hear the voices that tell us the right thing to do?”
I would just add that our sacred worth does not depend upon our being better than we are at the present moment, or on being busier, or on anything external. It is always there as a gift to be accepted, cherished, and shared. Sometimes a quiet space in our heart or in the heart of another can help us recognize and accept this inner voice of our sacredness. Whatever season you are now in, may you be at home to your sacredness and to others who need your presence in whatever ways are now possible.
Norman King. January 30, 2021