Since this pandemic started, I’ve been asking, “How do you endure times of profound uncertainty with courage and faithfulness?” I have spoken with therapists, organizers, artists, theologians, priests and parents. We have spoken about their approach to this lockdown, but focused more on their past experiences of enduring extended suffering. I have now heard many stories, strategies for survival and ways of emerging on the other side of trauma. I have been oddly comforted to find that a single, unifying idea has not emerged as the key to gracefully surviving challenging times. The lessons of loss and the pathways through pain are many and varied. Just as I believe that the ocean of God has depths that no one person or religion can fathom, so too does the forest of trouble have many trails through it.
However, hearing each other’s stories and listening to one another’s lessons can help us to get unstuck from the loops that we so often find ourselves in during crisis. So, I want to share a few rich morsels on what I’ll call a “spirituality of endurance” that have emerged from the conversations I’ve been privileged to have over the past few months.
One: “Sound it out.” Rev. Osagyefo Sekou grew up in an Arkansas town of 35 people. As a child, he would sit on the porch and read the mail to one of his aunties, who could not read herself. When he came to a word he did not know, she would invariably say “Sound it out,” and that’s just what he would do. We are all facing things we have not known before. The only way through it is to haltingly, imperfectly, humbly “sound it out” and stumble our way through the haze before us. Ideally with the encouragement of an auntie or two.
Two: “Resilience is not reversal.” Dr. Jan Holton, a professor of pastoral theology at Duke University, has counseled people undergoing forced displacement and the trauma of war for decades. She shares that virtually everyone has a stage where they pine for the past. In our imaginations, resilience (the power of overcoming) can only come through reversing time to bring back the past. In reality, resilience leads us to a new self, a new way of being and, sometimes, a new society.
Three: “This still is life.” Marcus Harrison Green, the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald, has been through many struggles before this one and reminds us that “this may not be life as we knew it, but it’s still life, and it’s still a gift.” It is easy to idealize alternative lifestyles that we once had or imagined that we could have. The way to endure amid uncertainty is not to chase a fantasy, but to seek to be the most loving, brave, honorable person that we can be, given the fact of our circumstances.
I have stopped trying to preach these days. In its place, I have discovered the riches of sharing deep conversation about the many paths through the shadow of the valley of death. As we walk through this valley, may we open ourselves to hearing and sharing our stories of endurance and be carried through on strength and wisdom beyond our own.
Read more in the May 13-19, 2020 issue.