05 Jun A Mother’s Message
I have been watching some mother birds interacting with their children recently. Just this week several babies left the nest, and not all of them were making the transition well. One almost became cat food, but mom and dad showed up in the nick of time to get junior to fly away. I saw another yelling at its mother. It sounded like it was hungry and wanted mom to take care of him or her as she always had in the past. Mom was no longer interested. She flew away into a tree and her little one followed, crying out for food. Mom yapped back and flew away again. I marveled at the wisdom of nature at work before me. Mother bird knew when it was time to let her child learn how to be a bird.
With the painful disruption caused by this coronavirus, many of us have had our routines and habits of being profoundly changed. Many people have more time on their hands. Some experience this spaciousness as gift, but others are struggling with loneliness and depression. We are social beings and need connection and support. There also is worry about reduced income for many and fear over the potential of illness or death, especially for people who are physically vulnerable.
As a person who turns to the Psalms for spiritual nurture, I find much relevance there for this time. Prayerful lament is a prominent biblical practice. We are encouraged to bring our most hidden inner states to God in order to work them out, learn from them, and find divine assistance in them. The psalmist often cries out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” Many of the psalms are not pretty, as the brokenness of the human psyche is laid bare for all to see. Many give expression to bitterness and the hope for revenge. But sometimes, you can see the inner perspective of the psalmist change. Somehow the expression of the anguish and the shadow yield to trust, surrender and acceptance. Something new takes place in the one who brings his or her stuff to God.
What a missed opportunity if we do not explore our psyche, cry out to God, and reflect on what this time of disruption is saying to us! Like a mother bird withdrawing her nurture from her child, could our mother earth be withdrawing some of her protection from us for some greater purpose? Someone said that from earth’s perspective, perhaps, we are the virus and that COVID 19 is her body’s way of bringing her back to health. Maybe our mother is trying to get our attention and to redirect us. Perhaps she is asking us to take this time to do some deep reflecting on our lives, our purpose, the consequences of our behavior on ourselves, others and mother earth herself. Spiritual reflection is way undervalued in our culture. Instead of trying to avoid reflection and inner work, this may be our most important work that we can offer ourselves and our world. “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand,” said Jesus. I like to translate this, “Get a new or higher mind, a new way of being human is at hand.” Disruption is painful, and it also is part of the way that God brings about a new creation, a new humanity.
It is difficult for us Presbyterians to simply be. Our bias is for doing. We are used to planning, executing and evaluating. I’ve noticed in myself a hidden messianic complex and have been tempted to over-perform and over-identify during this time of solitude. But, I believe that our moment is calling out for us to prioritize being. Nurturing our souls is not insignificant work. It is not some extra to put onto our lives after we have done what needs to be done. Contemplative work, which seems more passive to us, is actually the most demanding and humbling of work to do. It is there in the empty space of self that we begin to see the core of what is before and within us. It is there that wisdom can get our attention.
As I listen to people in this difficult time, I hear people on both sides of our ideological divide pointing fingers at the other side in dismay. Each side is exasperated with each other and wonders why the other side cannot see what is so clear to them. What is lacking on both sides is a willingness to engage in a different kind of inquiry. Instead of asking why others cannot see what I see, we could ask what are all of us failing to see? From God’s perspective, what is right in front of us that we cannot see? Do we really think that our perspective is God’s, or is there a path we can take and work that we can do that will deepen our listening to and experience of God?
We are like a baby bird, chirping at mom in a desire to go back to what was before. But mother earth isn’t listening to our demands. Will we choose to deal with our frustration and move onto much needed growth as a species, or will we stay entrenched in what we have grown accustomed to and refuse to change? Mother earth may choose to take lots of time for us to reflect. We might as well get to the work which is before us.