The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. Terry Tempest Williams
I write this as winter’s cold and ice extend across our country, shattering records unbroken for hundreds of years. Texas’ whole electric grid is failing, basic heat and water cannot be delivered to its citizenry. Coronavirus vaccines are delayed due to the travel constraints of icy roads. Gas is stalled by frozen pipelines.
This disruption arrives with the season Christians call Lent, a time for resetting our compass, looking into past failures and promising fresh starts. Most religions have such a season—a time to fast, forgive, share our bounty and seek a new way forward.
The season of Lent in the northern hemisphere coincides with late winter and the mud and muck of early spring. It is a season of renewal.
Forty days are set aside. Forty echoes throughout sacred texts and the natural world. Forty days and forty nights of rain. Forty years of wandering the wilderness. Forty days in the desert. Muhammad was forty years old when he first received the revelation delivered by the archangel Gabriel. Forty weeks of pregnancy. Forty is a fullness of time. Enough to get our attention. Enough to wrap things up. Enough to change our ways.
I’ve received my first coronavirus vaccine. I was picked through the lottery and traversed Minneapolis to the Convention Center where a multitude of health care workers convened to march us through a streamlined process to get a shot in my left arm. Twenty eight days later I will get my second shot and fourteen days after that I will walk a little freer, able to venture out in ways the past year’s restrictions have not allowed. That is a total of forty-two days. A fullness of time.
Life’s losses show up indifferent to my timetable. There are years when a season of sacrifice arrives at our door unexpected and uninvited, like a surprise package from an unknown sender. Dare I open this? What might it require of me? Will I be able to send it back? Last year the pandemic arrived at our door. All our denial, rage, and simple solutions could not change that.
Life’s losses show up indifferent to my timetable. A cancer diagnosis. A DWI. Death of a beloved. Frozen pipes burst, flooding rooms and cutting off the water supply. The old life is gone.
There are other significant time markers. Jewish tradition marks the seven days after the burial of a loved one to sit shiva, a week of deep mourning. Thirty meetings in thirty days. A new president marks 100 days, a time of energy to begin putting promised policies in place. Like the forward to a book, they outline an agenda and give a peek at what lies ahead.
One of the challenges of this pandemic is that we don’t know what that fullness of time is. How long until we no longer have to worry, to mask, to fast from hugging? How much longer do we need to hole up in our homes? When can we spring free?
Truth is we don’t know how long until it’s over. We don’t know when spring comes until it comes. We don’t know how long we will live until we find ourselves on our deathbed. We don’t know how long the cravings last until they end. We look into a clouded future, murky and muddled. It is only in looking back that I see with some clarity.
That is another invitation of this season we call Lent. It is a chance to look back to see what changed, how I changed, where the road diverged and which path I chose. What challenges did the last year bring? How did I meet them?
Unfortunately, we must lean into uncertainty as we go forward. Certainty is a failed promise. One of the temptations of life is to be certain. Give me the formula to a good life, to a hope-filled diagnosis, to a complete family picture. I am among the first to check out a new how-to book—how to live a long healthy life, how to change in five easy steps, how to manage life’s challenges.
Unfortunately, we must lean into uncertainty as we go forward. Certainty is a failed promise. If I do this or that or something else, bad things won’t happen. A more useful question is what do I need in order to be ready when difficulties show up?
Bad things will happen. The heat will fail. Illness will come. Love will not conquer all.
Writer Sue Monk Kidd says, “Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions. Growth germinates not in tent dwelling but in upheaval. Yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing, instant knowing rather than deliberate waiting.”
We are in a time of deliberate waiting. Even in this waiting time we can begin to see signs of hope, like shoots of new life in my garden. And, like my garden, if I go out too soon, remove the protective mulch, plant too early, a cold wave will kill that new life and set me back weeks. Last year I lost several plants by being certain our last freeze had come. It hadn’t.
I love a pristine winter day, fresh snow clinging to trees, animal tracks across the yard, crisp fresh air. I also love a sunny spring day with purple crocuses blooming, robins digging for worms, cardinals calling for mates. The problem is, to get from that white winter day to the green spring one we have to go through the messiness of March with lingering piles of grey snow, sloppy mud puddles and slippery patches of ice. It’s messy and disheveled, like my kitchen after a family gathering. But it’s the only way to get to spring.
Like children on a car trip, we keep asking, when will this be over? When will we get there? How much longer?
I now see these periods of unknowing, that space between then and now, as a fullness of time. I remember preparing for surgery, not knowing how I would feel, how long my recuperation would take, when, or if, I would return to normal. It took as long as my body needed. Looking back I see that it wasn’t really that long. It just felt like it in the middle, when I didn’t know when it would end.
When you look back, do you remember being in a March-like space? Maybe it was becoming sober, recognizing your own codependency, realizing that this job, this relationship, this way of life was not working. You came to see that this was the time. The right time. The now time. Your future self knew it was time. You listened.
Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Formation Program. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Last Updated on September 15, 2021