As the societal shutdown drags on, I find myself on tumultuous seas. I am tossed between troughs of despair and crests of equanimity. I do not think I am alone. All around, I hear groaning — expressions of fear, anger, helplessness, yearning and anxiety. And yet, I see grounding — people finding centering, calm, awareness and even awakening amid chaos. Everywhere, there is groaning and grounding.
I did my share of literal groaning at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, when I fell down a flight of stairs. I was running up to grab something with the hope that my children would not get up to mischief in the moment I was out of the room. My foot slipped on the top stair and I tumbled head over heels down the staircase. My head smashed a hole in the drywall where the stairs turn, and when I finally came to rest on the floor, I let out some mighty groans. At the sound, my children came running up to me, worry and wonder on their faces. My partner wasn’t home, so I asked them to check if our housemates were around. When they came back with the report that it was just us, I took another look at them from my prone position on the floor. My pain was significant and the prospect of needing to go to the hospital for concussion, broken bones or bleeding seemed possible and dangerous since our city of Seattle was the epicenter of the national pandemic. But in that moment of groaning, I became grounded. My mind became clear and I knew what I needed to do, what to ask for, how to speak to the children and so on. Later, I was able to get the physical and emotional care I needed from the adults in my life, and I’m OK now.
I don’t know how many of you have had a good cry, a freak-out, a raging lament over all this, but I bet it is a lot of you. I don’t know how many have had moments of clarity and inner peace and wonder about the possibility for a different world. But I wager it is a lot of you. Groaning in pain and grounding in peace may seem like opposites, but in mystical spirituality, opposites are more often complementary than competitive.
In the mystical liberation story of Moses and Miriam leading the Israelites out of slavery under Pharaoh, the story begins with the “groaning” of the oppressed. The story repeatedly mentions that they “cried out” and “groaned.” Their lamentation seems to pave the way for the spiritual grounding that follows from Divine encounter. When Moses and his people express skepticism that their position could ever really improve, God does not debate them. Instead, God reminds them that “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This callback to their ancestors is a grounding move. It reminds them that they are not the first to live in anxious times.
In times of doubt and fear, may we find the courage to groan and the daring to be grounded. May we accept our own vulnerability and imperfection, and call upon the strength of our ancestors. May we live such that some day, those who come after us can remember our perseverance in these times and find grounding in their own.
Rev John Helmiere convenes Valley & Mountain Fellowship. He can be reached through www.valleyandmountain.org.
Read more of the Apr. 8-14, 2020 issue.