This blog post is written by Marion Williams, Trinity Episcopal Church, Lime Rock, and was originally published in a newsletter for her place of employment. It has been slightly adjusted to fit the context of this blog and the audience of the wider ECCT.
Life is changing rapidly. One thought which has stayed in my mind throughout this time is that in addition to the primary task of keeping safe from the coronavirus, keeping hope alive is of great importance.
How to keep hope alive when so much has been taken away? I think of the clergy and the religious practices they brought to our residents at my work, of the community of faithful who met and supported each other in worship, and of the rituals at the core of belief- rituals that in their very nature require physical presence. We don’t know when or how these will reappear.
Trappist Monk Thomas Keating writes that the absence of his (God’s) physical presence can increase Faith; “I repeat, the absence of the felt presence of The Lord is his normal means of increasing our faith and getting us to believe in the power of his word alone without signs and wonders, that is to say without feeling of his presence or external props” (1996, 16).
The catholic ritual of the Eucharist, the wine and candles at a Jewish Shabbat service, the physical presence of the community of worshippers in any tradition are difficult to replicate in a Zoom service. On the internal front, a lack of felt presence- when we pray and do not feel the consoling connection with God- can feel disconcerting. The lack of either may be a divinely inspired nudge toward spiritual maturity.
During the first few weeks of this crisis, stripped of the familiar – surroundings, community, ritual, music- my prayer life felt difficult and dry. After sitting with the terrain of lack, I was able to take in the meaning in the words in a new way. Staying with uncertainty is not very comfortable. Richard Rohr, OFM, writes about Knowing that We Don’t Know. He explains, in terms of two ancient methods of prayer, how faith can develop from allowing God to fill in the empty spaces.
“Alongside all our knowing must be the equal and remaining “knowing that I do not know.” That’s why the classic schools of prayer spoke of both kataphatic knowing—through images and words-and apophatic knowing-through silence, symbols and beyond words. Apophatic knowing is the empty space around the words, allowing God to fill in all the gaps in an “unspeakable” way… Strangely enough, this unknowing is not a new kind of understanding. We do have a word for it: the old word faith.… With faith, we don’t need to obtain or hold all knowledge because we know that we are being held inside a Much Larger Frame and Perspective.” (Rohr, 2018)
This larger perspective can help pull one out of despair and also awaken one to an understanding that extends beyond personal concerns. While all are suffering a lack of community and a lack of freedom, there are those who may be directly living with (the/an ?) illness, concerned about or acutely grieving a loved one.
Maintaining one’s own spiritual condition through prayer and meditation, whether it be a TV or online service, a Zoom meditation or scripture group or on our own, enables us to be there for others through a phone call, a handwritten card, an email or Zoom chat. Rohr writes that ‘Love must always precede knowledge”. Tapping into this love can help one / us all? to weather these tough times and be there for those in the community who need support.
Keating, Thomas, 1996, Crisis of Faith , Crisis of Love, Continuum Publishing, New York
Rohr, Richard, 2018, Unknowing: Week 2, Knowing that We Don’t Know, Center for Action and Contemplation