…in the early morning when the house is still, the day has not yet begun, and for many in this time of pandemic, even when the day begins it will may only move a few steps from room to room. And that may trace out the whole of the day in quarantine, self-isolation, stay-at-home, and all the other phrases that have become part of the lexicon of our times.
There is a funny meme floating around that days: “People are mad about not being able to go places. Please! I was grounded about 90% of the time between 7th and 12th grade. I trained for this.” I thought it was hilarious. I sent it along to family. One of my nieces replied that she had a hard time imagining me ever being grounded. I mean, hey, I am a holy priest of God, right? …and she wasn’t around when I was high school. Myths are a wonderful thing. Of course, some myths are true…
Grounded as teenager or no, in a way, I was trained for these times. Serving aboard nuclear submarines has a way of preparing one for staying indoors for weeks and months at a time. You might be going places, but you’re not going outside. So these days my steps are few (for the record it is about 100 steps from my bedroom in the friary to the office in the parish without ever encountering the outside world.) I live in a very still and quiet world.
It is not possible to practice social distancing aboard a submarine, but there was a practiced art of virtual social distancing to carve out “space” for yourself and to be alone with your thoughts. That was a time in my life when there were many things that would come to mind in the still of a mid-night watch (the 12 am to 6 am). When a steady unchanging speed and the constant hum of an engine room brought a stillness. What thoughts came in those days?
Years later as a missioner in Kenya, the end of the day brought a stillness to the slums where I lived. The small stores, the road-side stalls, and the open-market vendors had long since retired for the day, people had moved inside, and the thriving slum of a quarter million quieted. The night took on a stillness and stayed so until the dawn. What thoughts came in those days?
What thoughts come these days? One thought is I wonder how much of the still and quiet time I frittered away. Some necessarily so, but others times simply lost forever. But past is past and not necessarily prologue to these times. Again I am given the gift of time wrapped inside an unwanted pandemic, but given nonetheless. Time to let the light of Christ shine within the recesses of my life, to make clear the goodness and sin that live beside one another. Time to invite one to stay and another to leave. Time to submerge, to go deep. Time to be surprised by another’s thoughts and perspective, to sit and reflect.
O God, if I worship you in fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship you in hope of paradise, shut me out from paradise. But if I worship you for your own sake, do not withhold from me your everlasting beauty. —Rábi‘a (717–801), Islamic mystic and poet
What thoughts come in the early morning when the house is still, the day has not yet begun?